UFO: Aftershock Review (PC)

Aliens, guns, cyborgs, squad-based tactical turn-based strategy game play … what else do you need!? Well, apparently a lot because UFO: Aftershock falls short of the mark in several areas. Which is unfortunate because the original UFO: Enemy Unknown released by Microprose a few hundred years ago was one of the undisputed strategy champions of its time.

Rendered 3d models??? Talking?? Storyline!?? Wow!
The graphics have admittedly improved considerably

Aftershock is rather uninspired, offers disjointed game play in more than one respect, and offers very little new which wasn’t offered by UFO: Aftermath two years ago. The engine has been beefed up, the graphics look nicer, there are intimate dialogs with rendered characters before and after each mission, but that’s about it. It’s a bit of a shame because it appears as though one of the goals Altar Interactive had set out to achieve was to create more of an immersive storyline engaging the player (hence the 3D characters talking to you outside of missions). Obviously they didn’t succeed because immersion is the kind of stuff which really gets me excited about games and I’d already be slapping a 9 on their backside if this game had grabbed me.

For those unfamiliar with UFO, it’s a squad based strategy game with two essential layers. The first is a strategy overview of the planet Earth which allows you to see where your bases are, where your territories are, where aliens have been spotted, and so on. The second is a tactical turn-based screen in which you control a bunch of marines milling around a 3d environment trying to flush out and fight with the aliens – think Jagged Alliance but with more weapons and aliens.

It’s worth making a note about my use of ‘turn-based’ to describe the game. It is true that in some ways one could refer to the game as real time. The way it actually works is you have four speed settings at the top of the screen – pause, slow, play and fast play. The game begins in paused mode, you get your guys orders and click slow, or play, or whatever. They carry out their orders and whenever something happens the game pauses again and you have to reissue your orders, additionally you can pause the game at any time of course, and you can issue orders while the game is playing.

I prefer the old dark, dank, depressing globe from UFO: Enemy Unknown
Research and the sci-fi info has always been one of the best parts of the game

The problem with Aftershock is it seems that almost everything in the game causes the game to pause; someone has completed their orders, someone spots an alien, someone doesn’t have line of sight, someone has walked in front of someone else (breaking LOS), someone has lost sight of an alien, someone has killed an alien, etc. You can, in fairness, customise when the game pauses for these kinds of events. But strangely it actually doesn’t seem to help, the game seems just as jumpy and disorientating with all the pauses off as it does with them on; much more so than the game’s prequel – Aftermath – which is even more bizarre.

As for the strategy overview side of the game, it’s pretty much same old same old really. There’s a whole bank of new techs to research, new weapons etc. and a few new touches in an attempt to ‘make things a bit different’, but rather than being inspired innovations they seem just that, a pale attempt to make the game ‘a bit different’ than Aftermath. For example, the game now uses three resources (high tech, low tech and alien – don’t ask me what this is all about, I think someone lost the plot somewhere when decided on that way of grouping resources) instead of just one currency. Differing amounts are gained from differing provinces and they are required to produce weapons, build labs in your bases, and so forth.

You take part as a group of humans who fled (via spaceship *cough* - hey, it’s a sci-fi game, they’re allowed to have stuff like this) from the attacks on Earth which took place during Aftermath. Now you return to find all kinds of crazy things going on. The Earth is split into provinces most of which are inhabited by one faction or another – humans, cyborg-mutants, psionics, and so on. Running alongside the task of destroying aliens you also have the challenge of conducting diplomacy with these various groups in order to gain their support and recruit new soldiers from them, gaining enough influence with a faction will increase the likelihood that regions controlled by this faction will join your ‘commonwealth’ and the region will come under your control. This is one of the ‘new touches’ I mentioned previously, and it’s actually quite nice apart from the fact it has almost no diplomatic depth at all. It’d be nice to be able to engage these faction leaders in some kind of conversation instead of just being able to recruit from them, ask for resources or give them resources.

A sniper rifle is all a game needs to be a hit; as long as it’s coupled with outstanding game play
Looking at this game makes me wish it was better

Positives? Well there are plenty of weapons, aliens, and things to research to keep someone interested for a week or so. But none of this is new to UFO fans and it’s doubtful the almost identical reincarnation of the things they’ve played and lived in the past will be enough to captivate that audience.

Look, it’s not a really shoddy game. It’s just a bit dull and disjointed compared to almost all of its predecessors. The problem with this is that fans on the series will notice its impotency in this respect. It’s possible someone new to UFO will enjoy this game for all the reasons long-term players have enjoyed it since the eighties, but frankly I’d recommend buying one of the earlier incarnations.

Top gaming moment: Researching stuff and reading the blurb.