Incubation

a game by Blue Byte Software
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 6/10, based on 2 reviews
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With its unique spin on the turn-based strategy genre, this game should have been called "Innovation." Providing an intense story line and dead-on gameplay, Incubation strands you on a hostile planet with aliens around every turn. Unlike the X-COM series' larger scope of saving the world, Incubation is about fighting to survive. Unfortunately, doing so isn't simple due to the many puzzles you'll face, which make this game more cerebral--and fun--than most.

The graphics, though chunky, are slick and satisfying. While the voice acting isn't great, the other sound effects keep things jumping. The outstanding control has an accurate, intuitive interface. Best of all, the game is both challenging and fun, proving that real-time strategy isn't always best. Incubation definitely ranks as a winner.

ProTips:

  • When a Cy'Coo's firing at you, stay on the move. One shot from this guy can turn a soldier into pulp.
  • Early on, you're given a choice of missions. Pick the Street Fight Area mission--two soldiers will join you there!

Game Reviews

Overview

Every once in a while, when things seem formulaic and predictable in this industry, somebody releases a game that threatens to reinvigorate it. This is just such a game.

You play a Space Marine named Bratt who is tasked to lead his squad of armed troops into the deepest corridors of Scay-Hallwa, a human colony twisted into a grotesque menagerie of carnivorous forms by some type of insidious virus. As you play the campaign, the story unfolds.

Gameplay

Incubation sees you commanding your squad-level forces through 30 single-player campaigned levels where experience carries over. Troops can be equipped with better weapons (all quite distinct and realistic), armor and equipment by utilizing the skill points they have acquired via blasting the mutant Scay'Ger and from being given commendations by the player. Each level is an enclosed 'puzzle' environment requiring you to deploy your squad at the right moment to key positions to perform necessary actions. It is a turn-based affair in the fine tradition of X-Com, incorporating action points that may be used to fire weapons, move objects, heal injured units, etc.

At first I was skeptical about such a 'puzzle' approach to tactical gaming. I thought that this could turn out to be far too much like the old 'puzzlers' of my bygone console days where the only two-syllable word sufficient to describe the phenomenal actions required of you began with "bull." I am pleased to report that my experience has been one of joy. An example to properly convey this curious reaction: a mutant called the Cy'Coo can only be hurt when it raises its amazingly hard carapace to attack you. In any other game this is a gimmick to shamelessly extend the life of a product bereft of any replay value. Here it is not only acceptable and playable, but a competent part of the game. Even though it is simple when compared to other tactical contests, cross Quake with the first X-Com and you end up with a refreshing, engaging product.

Despite its puzzlish nature, the game is mechanically dynamic enough to hook you. Attacks can miss, damage is variable, and a simple but effective form of LOS causes multiple plays to be subtly different; basic tactics for victory may be the same but the flow and outcome of those tactics will vary. Movement and combat is handled with a clear, rock-solid mouse interface -- to move I merely had to click on the destination, hold, and then drag in the one of eight directions I wished to have the troop face when he arrived at that point. Firing was even easier. Just place the cursor over a visible target, gauge whether you want to make the attempt by observing the elicited to-hit indicators, and, if so, click. Effortless. Combined, these make Incubation a tremendously entertaining title. And the difficulty curve is a comfortable gradient: never did I feel unfairly challenged.

All Marines and enemies are distinct and vibrantly designed in polygonal 3D as is the entirety of the Incubation world, an observation you can make for yourself when you choose to view the action from the 360 degree first-person perspective (a convenient on-the-fly toggle available for useful employment at any time). The perspectives available are extremely versatile and welcome for viewing the action: the isometric perspective may also be rotated and tilted at any time with minimal effort, and the valued overall battlefield situation may be quickly grasped by switching to either of the two overhead perspectives. A nice thing about these overhead views is that you need them only occasionally, affording you the opportunity to play the game in the other infinitely more entertaining perspectives.

On the downside, one must lament the lack of depth of action available to the player. There is no duck, no climb, no grenade tossing option (though the launcher for such exists), and more. Frankly, though, this game really doesn't need all that: one of the reasons why it's so good is because of its simplicity. Don't get me wrong; I love the depth of Close Combat 2 or X-Com, it's just that there is room for less intense and less hemorrhaging games when you don't want to sweat your way into the record books.

Multiplayer Support/Experience

You can play by mail, over a LAN, and over the Internet with up to four players in a deathmatch type of game where each player controls his own squads. You can even play in a hotseat on a single machine with up to four people. Unfortunately there is no campaigned co-op play, and frankly this is where I want to play this game. I would await more complex mechanics for any type of engrossing versus play that any gamer would come back to after the first night; think eight-player original X-Com in a large town setting and you get the idea.

Graphics

The color palette chosen for Incubation is vivid; if you hated the original Quake palette (which I did not) then you will like the crisp SVGA look.

Cinematics are well done. The visuals cannot compare to the rendered stuff from something like Jedi Knight, but they do figure admirably into the Alone in the Dark family of poly-engine theater. Throughout the game mood is conveyed very well. The strength of the drama is something, however, which is more attributable to the strength of the audio.

Audio

Sound effects do what you expect them to do when confronted by the appropriate visuals. You could always ask for a few more ambient sounds, but this is no big deal.

The music is some of the most effective I have heard. Definitely classical in nature, the themes remind one of Aliens, replete with all the tension and epic tones of such a desperate drama. Upon exiting the game, I found that a different composer had put together the single track played during the roll of the credits, a well-done 'Incubation Rap' that I can always quickly ... kill.

Spoken audio is some of the best I have heard, quite far beyond some of the performances at certain points in the '97 gaming megalith Jedi Knight. The storyline is moved ahead both believably and maturely. Some good scripting.

Documentation

Instructions are nicely put together in full sumptuous color. Some omissions of gameplay procedure occur, but are easily forgotten after you learn them in-game. More substantial than many other skinflinty products on the rack.

System Requirements

Required: IBM PC or 100% compatibles, 90 MHz Pentium, Windows 95, 16 MB RAM, 70 MB free hard drive space, 2X CD-ROM drive, 2 MB graphics card (DirectX compatible), mouse

Patches/Updates

A patch is available at Blue Byte's site, and as in any gaming instance it is advisable to play with the newest version. I did, and had absolutely no technical problems whatsoever pretty much out of the box (a nice change from the Quake/Blood patchmania mentality...). New single missions are available from Blue Byte's web siteas well, but they are not campaigned, so experience means nothing. Still, a nice addition.

Parental Warning

This is a product that contains swear words and a sexual allusion or two. They are totally in place/at home here, but you may not be comfortable if you object to such. Small children should be steered away from this military carousing atmosphere. Overall, though, tastefully done and not at all gratuitous.

Bottom Line

Is it turn-based? Yes. Is it tactical? Yes. Is it terrifying? No. But it is a fun breath of difference in a 3D shooter and real-time world. Interested parties should try the demo for themselves. The bad news is that it isn't quite the complex arch-masterpiece to one-up the original X-Com. The good news is that this is Blue Byte, a company with a proven track record for doing sequels and producing successively better versions of their popular games. This is very promising indeed.

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