UFO: Aftermath Review (PC)

Sigh, let's face it. You can't fend off the callused hand of Time. I am only going to say this once, as it has been said again and again; UFO: Aftermath is based on the 1995 hit X-COM, which was a work of art for blending a strategic level and tactical level into an outstanding game. UFO: Aftermath bears some comparisons but at the end of the day one has to look at as a game in its own right. For those who remember X:COM..well raise a glass with me to the sleep we missed playing but don't go and buy UFO: Aftermath if you are trying to re-capture those magic days. UFO: Aftermath (not unlike some Presidents who shall remain nameless) is a pale shadow of its father. More bitter is the pill the player has to swallow because of it.

UFO: Aftermath (for here on out UFO:A), is another game which has built a two tiered strategy and tactical system. However, unlike Chariots of War that I reviewed during the summer, UFO:A clearly misses the bar.

The game starts off in the post apocalyptic world after an alien invasion which nearly annihilates the human race through biological warfare. You begin the game in a single sector with a few bases in which to build, research and train your troops to begin the long haul of re-taking the planet from the nasty green menace.

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The game installs alright but there are bugs (the trouble with switching weapons to name a nasty one) which do not start me off on a happy note right away. I can only hope that the developers release patches that addresses them.

The game starts at the Strategic level where you have the planet earth which you can turn and zoom in/out to control your forces. At this level your main interest is in building your forces into a fine E.T. killing machine. You have sectors with bases (which you can convert) which research, produce or house troops. You direct technology development, build better kit and outfit your lads/lasses to go out and start making trouble for the little butt-probing buggers.

The Strategic Level felt a little shallow to me. You really have a bit of hands off approach here, which makes sense because as you begin to take over more sectors a micromanagement based interface would quickly drive most players mad in double-quick time. However, it also removes a lot of the immersion into a role of The Commander of the Earth resistance movement. It becomes more of a chore to simply make sure you have research happening or production on the go rather than balancing resources in order to make it all happen. The designers seem to have thrown the "tank-grown-baby" with the green sludge, so-to-speak.

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So that leaves the Tactical Game to take up the slack and here you will also be disappointed. The Tactical Game takes place at the squad level and brings you face to face with the alien invaders. The Tactical Game is set in different places that nicely show snow, hilly terrain or towns but I found that no matter where you might set the fights they all pretty much wound up the same. Trudging searches followed by quick slugfests in order to try and take out the The urban combat was very stale, you can't enter houses and the environment didn't feel "plastic" enough for me. Base defence missions can be quite tense but the number of tunnels, nooks and crannies will quickly get you frustrated. All in all after about 6-10 missions you will find that the Tactical Game gets a bit old.

The interface itself at the Tactical Level isn't bad but won't knock your socks off either. Combat happens in continuous time but you have the ability to pause at whim by pressing the space bar. This give the whole Tactical game a "stuttered" fell to me.

Granted that if there was no pause I would probably complain that the game felt rushed (damn reviewers are never happy, we hate everything really. A more condensed collection of twisted coal-black souls who hate the light, you would be hard pressed to find.). A long while back a true piece of genius, that no one played, called Space Hulk was released. This game was another classic "bug-hunt" set in continuous time but it left the player with only so much "pause time" in which to spend on a battle. This added another entire level of stress as the player had to decide whether to issue new orders and spend a precious resource or hope for the best.

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The reason that UFO:A can't do a "pause-time resource" idea is that it pretty much lacks "blue" (read: friendly) AI entirely. The "red" AI is no great shakes to be perfectly honest, as the game seems to make life miserable through snipers vice truly nasty and clever alien attacks. So the player in now forced to think for his/her squaddies in order to have any hope of surviving. It is a shame really, as AI has come so far and processors can handle a whole lot more than in the past but UFO:A missed the boat on AI development.

I could go on at length about the shortfalls of the Tactical game but let's just leave it at; "Adequate but not fun", and move on.

Graphics are very nice, if muted. The environment is modeled in 3-D and is well done. One strange thing; I saw in the Preview a First Person view for your squaddies. This was taken out of the final game (or at least hidden) and I can't for the life of me understand why. I found it very engaging in the Preview, in that you could look down the barrel of your troop's weapons and really get an immersed feel for the creepy urban fights they get dragged into. Why the developer took it out is simply beyond me.

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The sound is a mixed bag. The background music is well suited but I found the weapons downright sad. I have fired a lot of the weapons in the game and I can tell you they sound a whole lot more "meaty" in real-life than they do in the game. The pathetic pops and "blams" were very disappointing and "under"-whelming.

I was disappointed in UFO:Aftermath. Not only as a spiritual successor to X-COM but as a game in its own right. The game is not a total write-off but falls short in so many areas that I simply cannot recommend it on the few merits it brings to the table. If you really need to get a visceral alien combat fix, I would rent Aliens or at least wait until UFO: Aftermath hits the bargain bin, which should be fairly quick. Well so much for the good ol' days, I think I'll go squeeze into an old college T-shirt, drink some bad wine and try to figure out how to play X-COM on Windows XP. Now, where did I put that Nirvana CD?

by Capt