UFO: Enemy Unknown
By: Tristan Jones on March 26, 2006  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
 
Credits
Platform: PC
Also available on: Sony Playstation
Developer: Microprose
Year: 1994
OFLC Rating: G
I have come across few games that have been as obsessively addictive as those comprising the X-Com series. Beginning way back in 1994/5, the X-com series introduced gamers to Earth, circa 1999, where the world has found itself under threat of extra-terrestrial hostility from a variety of alien races. Only the X-Com (Extra-terrestrial combat) forces stand between Earth and total domination. It all sounds fairly straightforward and as though it's all been done before, but no one ever really nailed it as well as Microprose.

UFO: Enemy Unknown is essentially separated into three separate modes of gameplay. Between missions, you will find yourself surveying the entire Earth itself, having established a location of your choice to base your operations. From here, you monitor any possibly alien activity via radar, intercepting alien craft, monitoring landing sites and possible terrorist activity, along with dealing with the occurrences of attacks on your base and construction of alien bases here on Earth. Whilst out in this Geoscape, you have access to a fairly in depth micro-management system, which is integral to your successfully eliminating the alien menace. Under the micromanagement areas, you are able to hire, fire and train soldiers, technicians and scientists, research new technologies and alien specimens, purchase armaments, deal new technologies, monitor relations between global governmental bodies, manage funding situations and a slew of other options. Finally, there's the combat system. Once a craft, base or terror site has been intercepted, or your base invaded, you are presented with a three dimensional, turn based battlefield that will vary in size depending on the mission. Here, each soldier will have a different amount of time units, energy, health and moral, allowing them to move certain distances, carry certain amounts of equipment, prepare for and carry out attacks and withstand alien assaults. These can be played out however the player sees fit, but like any turn based game, each move must be carefully thought about as strategy is key to coming out on top. Sooner or later, you will find yourself with the daunting task of having to capture as many live aliens as possible to advance your research against them, which is most effectively achieved by weapons that require the soldiers to be right next to the alien targets. Basically, unless you can truly afford to (which I guarantee will not happen until you've played for a very long time), going in guns blazing is extremely ill-advised.

The gameplay itself varies so much throughout the game that it never really becomes tiring to play. Each map is randomly generated, so no two missions are the same, and each of the ten or so alien races employ different strategies and weaponry, forcing the player change strategies constantly depending on the terrain an the race they're up against at the time. In spite of its appearance and turn-based combat system, the game becomes and increasingly tense experience, especially when soldier's numbers begin to dwindle and the aliens are attacking without your knowledge of their whereabouts. I must say this though, even on the lowest difficulty setting, saving constantly is highly recommended, as one wrong click of a button can turn the tide very quickly, and you'll find yourself seething as you watch your men get picked off and the ones left alive are either panicking or under alien control. The same can be said in the Geoscape, as poor management of the alien threat and of dealings with particular governments will suddenly see you spiraling into financial Hell, and very soon out of business in the worst possible way. Vigilance, composure, and patience are key to survival in this game. If you think you lack any of these qualities, you should probably find something else to play.

Being an older game, the graphics system is extremely dated. It's bearable, if you can deal with a Gameboy Advance or play a lot of emulated games, you'll be able to cope with this. It's not that the graphics are ugly; they're just really low resolution, without the option to alter it. That being said, there is some promising work being done by fans to create a high resolution multiplayer version of the game, allowing players to play against others over the internet and choose between any of the races that appear in the game. The animation during the opening sequence is extremely slick, as is the detailed imagery found throughout the research files. The research files also show exactly how much research was actually put into this game, applying vast amounts of known alien mythology and more obscure information scattered throughout common and uncommon UFO conspiracy theories and mythologies, along with a large amount of real world physics and technological data.

The sound, though somewhat repetitive suits the game perfectly, with each alien race having their own vocals, and every weapon having its own sounds. The music, though fairly low-key and midi generated, works really well helping to intensify what progressively becomes an increasingly tense gaming experience. The only music that doesn't gel is the music played whilst attacking an alien craft out in the Geoscape… midi-rock… 'nuff said.

The game is not without its little problems though. In a game as large as this one, small mistakes are understandable, just a tad annoying given the standard set. Occasionally you may find yourself firing at a larger monster at point blank range, and finding that the shots are actually missing the creature and going through the ground. The game is also prone to very rare crashes, but these problems occur so rarely that they don't really interfere with the score, it's just really aggravating when you haven't saved in a while or don't have a chance to run away from the creature, as you were positive you'd take it down before you took the shot. The only other problem with this title is its difficulty. It really is quite a challenge, and the leap in difficulty between beginner and experienced (the next one up) is huge, but you'll find that once you reach the end of the game, the final moments are a touch disappointing (basically because the final objective is so damn easy to achieve!).

UFO: Enemy Unknown (or X-Com: Earth Defense) is unanimously touted as a classic PC title, and it's very easy to see why; a flawlessly involving style of perfected gaming that is guaranteed to keep even the most ardent gamer in front of their screens for a very long time allows UFO to stand head and shoulders above just about every other strategy game to date. A perfect score from me.

Just as a finishing note, being as old as it is, the X-com series is no longer available to buy in Australian retail stores, meaning you'll either have to buy it from overseas, or you can generally find the games on any decent abandonware site.
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