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UFO: Aftermath Review
developer: Altar Interactive
PIII 500, 128MB RAM, 32MB video, 1.25 GB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Oct 16, 03 (released)
|» All About UFO: Aftermath on ActionTrip|
It's always fascinating how exceptional PC oldies can sustain their popularity even after so many years. Long ago, back in 1993 to be exact, X-COM: UFO Defense earned critical acclaim and was handpicked by many as the finest turn-based strategy to hit the scene in a good, long while. Coupled with several expansions and other incarnations, the franchise endured over the years. The first addition to the series was X-COM: Terror From The Deep, which didn't bring any particularly fetching gameplay improvements and failed to expand upon the excellent concept established by UFO Defense. Even though it kept a number of fans happy, Terror From The Deep raised the difficulty bar to some extent but never really reached the level of popularity enjoyed by its predecessor. But the X-COM universe struck a chord with numerous publishers and developers, a lot of which tried to shift the franchise to different genres - for example, in the late 90's we had X-COM: Enforcer (an arcade action game) and two years ago there was X-COM: Interceptor (a space simulation).
Throughout the last few years, a brand-new turn-based strategy set in the X-COM universe had begun to take form. The project was delayed many times and had gone through several developers until at last it settled in the hands of ALTAR Interactive, a competent Czech development team. After about eight years or so, UFO: Aftermath finally saw the light of day, and there was much rejoicing. (Yaaaaay. - Six)
So, what's the story all about? Take a wild guess... Yep, it's UFO's! The game opens with a very creepy horror-like cinematic, showing off mutilated human bodies lying lifelessly in an abandoned movie theater... it's a dreadful sight (But a perfect way to start a videogame! - Six). Some time ago, an unidentified alien vessel entered Earth's atmosphere and sprayed huge clouds of spores into the air. In time, these spores completely blocked out the sun and forced humankind to live in darkness for years. This period was called the "The Twilight." Deadly spores began raining down from the sky, systematically eradicating most higher forms of life on the planet. Several scattered pockets of resistance remained underground and managed to survive through this crisis. Now the time has come for somebody to drive away these uninvited guests, unite the remnants of mankind, and discover the secrets of the alien technology. This will be your ultimate goal throughout the entire game. Not much of a plot, I'd say. And it would've been a lot more interesting if the lads at ALTAR considered expanding a bit on characterization, dialogue, NPC's, etc. This doesn't have any drastic influence on the gameplay itself, but it does make the game seem a bit shallow. Players have hardly anybody or anything to involve them deeper into the storyline, which leaves the game feeling flat.
At its core, UFO: Aftermath still carries a gameplay structure very similar to old X-COM games. The easiest way to describe how this game works would be to compare it to titles like Fallout and even Bullfrog's Syndicate Wars. You control a group of characters, all of whom can act individually or as a team. Players should also understand that even though you are allowed to move your characters in real-time (you have an option to keep the clock running continuously - 2Lions), the core of the gameplay focuses mainly on team-oriented, turn-based tactical combat. Generally, it still revolves around fending off alien attacks on land, and sending strike teams into battle by assigning them to different outposts across the globe. Of course, there's a lot more to it than just taking out alien baddies.
Sticking to the game for several days made me realize its depth and addictiveness. There are so many issues to tackle with and it all fits perfectly into a well thought out strategy premise. To begin with, your primary concern is to complete missions with higher priorities; like protecting a base, expanding territory, rescuing pilots, etc. Going through the missions improves your team's experience, so it's good to take part in as many as you can. But, almost constantly players are required to look at the bigger picture. There are technologies that have to be researched, weapon systems that must be developed, troops that need to be trained, and so on. In order to fortify your positions on the main world map, you'll need to build military bases, research facilities, engineering centers, and such.
The main interface is not that hard to master. The same thing goes for combat. The main GUI features all the necessary info and readouts concerning the vital functions of your characters. Also, you are permitted to switch from turn-based movement to real-time with a very effective control system (kind of like the one in SimCity 4). If you get tired of clicking around with the mouse, a lot of actions can be executed via several properly designated 'hot keys.'
You should be warned that the experience changed somewhat since X-COM: Terror from the Deep. For the first time, players are able to manipulate their characters and take them on missions through full 3D surroundings. Because of the game's complexity and a relatively large number of missions, the development team resolved to leave some elements out, which were unfortunately a rather catchy aspect of the previous games in the series. I noticed several players complaining about the omission of options such as crawling. Also, many X-COM devotees tend to object to not being able to enter all the buildings and structures that are placed across certain maps. It occurred to me, however, that these components have been left out for a very simple reason. If characters or aliens could enter any structure they wish the missions would become unnecessarily time-consuming. Besides, you'll be able to play a wide variety of missions that take place in plenty of outdoor as well as indoor sections.
UFO: Aftermath appealed to this editor for a number of reasons. But one of the most gratifying happens to be the freedom to make your own choices in almost every aspect of gameplay. For instance, if you're too busy to attend to each mission at a time, you can delegate a CPU-controlled team to do the job instead. Another great addition to the gameplay are the RPG-like elements. Each and every one of your troops is susceptible to improving on various attributes and skills. In order to advance the skills of your troops you are able to choose from a verity of training programs. The good thing is, you don't have to rely on the training program to make a particular character more efficient in, say, grenade lobbing. You can just practice the skill throughout the course of a mission and watch his skills improve all the way. The game also has a wide selection of weapons and items, both alien and human. Precious time is not wasted on collecting enormous amounts of cash for upgrading weaponry. Instead, any items that are left lying on the ground are immediately transported back to the base after the mission (regardless if you achieved victory or not).
Using weapons is also something players should think about before heading off into combat. There's a number of handguns and rifles that can do very little damage to your opponents. So, the idea is to bring some heavier stuff into the fray until you've researched or obtained more advanced weaponry to deal with such matters. The positive aspect of weapons is that once the action begins, you can put almost any weapon to good use - rocket launchers, alien plasma rifles, alien laser rifles, incendiary grenades, smoke grenades (perfect for ambushes), and more.
Your enemies should be considered as worthy opponents. Aliens often spawn in places where you'd least expect them and they can hide cunningly to avoid contact. There are various alien creatures that act cooperatively in combat, surrounding you and your team in the blink of an eye. For example, a particular species can isolate and immobilize a member of your squad, while another alien would come along and finish him off with a deadly weapon... Things did not run smoothly all the time however. Now and again I noticed a few weird AI glitches. If you manage to outsmart and pin down a single alien, it can refuse to defend itself, admitting defeat without a decent fight. This was not a common occurrence, but it did thwart my overall impressions somewhat.
For a turn-based strategy, it's safe to say that UFO: Aftermath possesses a satisfying visual quality. Characters, buildings, trees, cars, and varied objects in the background are all in 3D. The animation looks good enough to watch and everything appears to work quite smoothly (in terms of frame rate) even with multiple opponents on screen. Moreover, explosions look very nice, especially if you manage to damage several objects in the environment. Regrettably, some sections in Aftermath were very poor in texture detail - an aspect of the game that's noticeable when you zoom closer on the action. Also, the game could've put more contemporary visual effects to use, such as advanced lighting, reflections, more particle effects, etc.
Throughout the missions I never encountered any visual bugs that might've obstructed the gameplay. Sadly, this doesn't mean that the game was not without its share of nasty bugs (and I'm not referring to the aliens). UFO: Aftermath booted me to the desktop on a several occasions, which came as a rather annoying impediment to the gameplay. This, unfortunately, proves that the developers launched the game hastily before setting such issues straight. The developers recently asserted that crashes are mostly related to driver issues. Apparently, if you have a GeForce graphics card, NIVIDIA's latest drivers should fix the problem. Similar issues occurred on our system, which is equipped with an ATi Radeon 9700. The crashes persisted even after we installed the latest Catalyst drivers, and we were only able to solve this issue by installing the recently released v1.1a US patch. After applying the patch the game ran without any major hitches.
The game's audio is average. All through the game I was under the impression that the sounds were handled with haste. Naturally, we all know how important sound is to convey a good atmosphere (think of big-name games like Halo, MoH: AA, NWN, Warcraft III, etc.). Character voicing is another disappointment. While characters speak out rarely, I got the impression that even that was too much to take. The petite range of clich'd catch-phrases and somewhat repetitive responses from your team makes the game slightly dreary. Also, there's only a very small number of sounds emanating from aliens, while some of them don't seem to produce any sound at all. (Hey, maybe they're telepathic! - 2Lions) The soundtrack isn't particularly enjoyable either. Granted, a few pleasant tunes can be heard occasionally that blend very well with the game's bleak ambiance, but that's about the only thing I could make out as an interesting moment in the sound design.
The multiplayer wasn't anything we'd recommend losing your head over either. In fact I'd strongly advise against buying this game solely for multiplayer amusement. Why? Well, because there is no multiplayer mode. Duh!
I think it's fair to say that UFO: Aftermath is a decent rehash of the X-COM oldies. Its gameplay is complex, fun, and engaging enough to keep you behind your PC for days. That's the sole reason why it's getting a positive score here. Unfortunately, weak sounds, sub par story presentation and certain aspects like crashes and occasional flops in the AI might put off some gamers looking for a more immersive cinematic experience. Times have changed and even old classics have to adapt. On the upside, old-school X-COM players should feel right at home with this one.
A nice and refreshing comeback for the franchise. Core gameplay is fun and addictive, satisfying visuals;
Poor sound effects, story presentation and voicing. AI and other more serious bugs, no multiplayer.
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