X2: The Threat Review
publisher: Enlight Software
developer: Ego Soft
PIII 800, 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 800MB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Nov 23, 03 (released)
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Remember how fun it was playing Elite back in the good old days of DOS-based gaming? Back then, of course, visuals weren't necessarily the key to a good game. Yesserie, designers focused open-ended gameplay and the numerous challenges players were compelled to handle throughout a complex and time-consuming space saga. Nowadays most games center on pure action and ground-breaking 3D graphics, offering hardly any advancements in terms of gameplay. Ego Soft's latest space flight simulation, X2: The Threat, proves to be one of the rare exceptions to this rule. In short, it's kind of a combination of the aforementioned classic Elite and Digital Anvil's recent title, Freelancer. The concept is quite simple: you trade, fight, explore galaxies, and, eventually, become highly regarded throughout the universe.
The story itself is not as appealing as we hoped it would be. X2 takes place approximately 25 years after X: Beyond the Frontier. Humans are forced to coexist with numerous alien species, some of which are hostile and extremely violent. You take on the role of Julian, a simple fellow, obliged to do a little time thanks to an inopportune spaceship theft. After a while, Julian is hand-picked by Argon Federation's Security Force to perform a series of tasks for the so-called TerraCorp. Rather than spending the rest of your sentence digesting prison food, you embrace this chance for redemption and head out on a couple of transport missions. Before you know it, the story takes an unexpected turn and Julian stumbles on more than he bargained for. Soon, he learns the identity of his father as well as his own purpose in what appears to be a really messy situation. The story unfolds as you progress through the game, revealing more information about Julian's background and the kind of work his father is involved in. Although the entire game has an admirable epic scope, I'm afraid that the plot evolves into a somewhat corny storyline, with second-rate dialogue and relatively weak characterization.
X2: The Threat is a bona fide space odyssey. By the time you're finished with the game, you'll be able to transport passengers, accumulate resources, trade, smuggle, gamble, fly 70 different spacecrafts, blast your way through pirate-infested star systems, assemble and control an entire fleet of starships, build space stations, set off intergalactic wars, and so on. It's a huge universe out there and you are a part of it. The trick is to work your way up from a small-time trader and explorer to a corporate big-shot. And, believe me, you'll have to go through a lot before you get your paws on some serious currency. The most appealing aspect is the variety of things to do outside your primary objectives. In due course, you'll become an expert in navigation and trading. After that, your desire for more ships and a powerful economy will most likely take your mind of the slightly tedious story.
Whether players prefer trading, ship acquisition, dogfights, epic battles, or the simple joy of space exploration, X2: The Threat will deliver it all. The sheer delight of space travel is something players will get to taste frequently in this game. Rookie pilots, however, may have to invest a lot of time in mastering the navigation system. For example, when a mission is related to a specific sector, there's no way to continue unless you've located it on the universe map. This may take some time. Additionally, there's really an incredible amount of information players need to keep in mind almost constantly; which resources are tradable, essential trajectories to specific systems, weapon storage, starship and building maintenance, etc. Before you learn your way around, chances are you'll need to go through quite a steep learning curve. Consequently, it may take several hours of playing until gamers get used to essential commands and features of each and every ship. Once you develop into a professional dealer, you'll be able to accomplish diverse challenges all over the galaxy. You'll need a lot of credits, however, before you can commence the development of a larger fleet. The best way to obtain credits is by building space farms, solar power plants, ore mines, and other means of resource production. Going on different side-missions is another good way for pilots to gain experience, get new ships, and earn some serious cash. Each station, mine, or shipyard you land on has its own personnel with whom you may communicate after being docked. Any personnel that require assistance will contact you immediately via the bulletin board. Aside from cash prizes, the accomplishment of these side-missions improves your standing as a trader and pilot.
The open-ended style of play stretches throughout the entire game. You may take a detour from your main tasks any time you wish. The best way to survive is to trade and maintain stable diplomatic relationships with neighboring races. Earning their respect is possible by completing certain assignments within a specified amount of time. Establishing steady diplomatic relations opens up additional trade routes, ensuring swifter production and more resources (space weed, meatsteak cahoonas, crystals, etc.). On the other hand, if you prefer a more aggressive approach, you can let your lasers and turrets to do all the talking. Of course, if you should resort to such methods once too often, it would be wise to consider the grave consequences of an all-out intergalactic war. It's also possible to gain valuable resources and supplies by plundering pirates and merchant ships. Choosing the peaceful way, however, doesn't mean you should neglect the importance of military might. If you take too much time trading, gambling, and fooling around, your homebase becomes vulnerable to enemy attacks.
X2: The Threat has a commendable array of imaginatively designed galaxies for players to visit. After a while, players will be able to install a jump drive into their space ships, which gives them an opportunity to use hyper-space as an ultra-speedy means of transport. This way you don't have to travel across every single star system in order to get to a particular location - just hit shift-J, specify the desired region, and presto, you'll be transported there in no time. This aspect of gameplay has been well-balanced thanks to the inclusion of so-called energy cells, which help keep your jump drive operative. Unless you've acquired the proper amount of energy cells (via trading or otherwise), using the jump drive will not be possible.
A highly involving and incredibly complex experience that takes forever to complete, impressive visuals, open-ended gameplay, solid AI at work;
Poor frame-rate during more GPU demanding scenes, mediocre storyline, high learning curve, no multiplayer support, poor character animation.