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.
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.
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.
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.
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?