If you don’t know why just about everyone in the strategy community is feverishly excited at the prospect of a UFO remake, check out our Games That Changed The World feature in issue 115 for a full run-down on everything that made the game special, including some fascinating insights from the Gollop brothers (creators of the original game).
The new title, formerly known as Dreamland Chronicles, and previously in the hands of the Gollop brothers, is now being developed by Czech outfit Altar Interactive, apparently with the assistance of Julian Gollop (which is a good sign). While Aftermath is going back to the original UFO strategic combination of global exploration, resource management, and tactical ground-based combat, there is one very noticeable change, and yes you’ve guessed it, every aspect of the game will now be in full 3D. The good news here is this will open up a whole new array of tactical options, with the ability to zoom and rotate the landscape as you see fit in order to see your targets more clearly, although the combat system itself will be a somewhat familiar one...
If It Ain’t Broke
The tactical combat sections are to be given a huge overhaul graphically (as you would expect), though interestingly the pseudo turn-based system used in X-Com: Apocalypse will be making a return. Jiri Rydl, Altar Interactive’s inhouse press guru explains why: "We use a turn-based system with simultaneous turns and planning, which in our opinion successfully combines the good things of both turn-based and real-time systems. As in turn-based games, you can completely control your characters. They have no volition of their own; they will not do anything they are not explicitly told to do. As in RTS, you get visually interesting action and more believable situations - you have a living, dramatic scene. Moreover, you never have to wait during the enemy’s turn."
It's a system that worked well for Apocalypse, and we dare say it will work well for Aftermath too. We’ll hopefully be bringing you a more in-depth look at the game in a future issue when the boys and girls at Altar Interactive are ready to unveil their project in all its glory. In the meantime, just looking at the screenshots here is enough to make us want to blow the dust off our old copies of X-Com and give them another whirl. For true X-Com veterans, Aftermath simply can’t come quickly enough.
Download UFO: Aftermath
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
IF CAST Your mind to last issue's Retro Zone, you will recall the two-page X-Com love-in that was Back In The Day. two pages all about a isometric turn-based strategy.
This game began as a tribute to the X-Com games made by Mythos Games -the X-Com franchise's creator. But the game's development stalled, until it was bought out and the task finished by ALTAR Interactive.
UFO: Aftermath and UFO: Enemy Unknown similarities are striking -both mix strategic planning with tactical combat with various aliens; require you to research tech scavenged from aliens; and (obviously) are set during an alien invasion. The big difference is Aftermath starts after a successful invasion. It's your task to gather some of the few remaining humans and form a resistance force who will kick the aliens off the planet. (Like War of the Worlds; except with Tom Cniise fighting back, rather than running away.)
The gameplay in Aftermath also changed to use real-time tactical combat. While some of the tension from X-Com's turn-based battles games is lost, the aliens always outnumber and are much better equipped then your forces, so victory is never guaranteed.
Another element that was added to Aftermath was RPG-like levelling for your soldiers. This allows you to ensure squads have competent soldiers and specialists, rather than lucking into them (as with X-Com games). Unlike X-Com games there's no base-building - you can only use existing military facilities, which are discovered during the game.
Pie main downsides to this game are the graphics - even for its time, Aftermath looked dated - and that the game starts slowly start (you begin with two civilians, including one incredibly annoying hillbilly).
While Aftermath is flawed, it's a damn good title. At least until the X-Com series gets a reboot.
Few Games are certain to melt old-timers into a sticky puddle of nostalgia as much as UFO: Enemy Unknown - the first and best in the legendary XCOM series. Offering a different angle on the most cliched of all gaming premises (Earth is invaded by aliens and you must stop them), it was a turn-based strategy of massively addictive proportions to rival Champ Man for sleepless nights. There were a couple of sequels -the last proper one, Apocalypse, all the way back in 1997 - before it disappeared like everything else beloved by us anti real-time strategists. We were finally going to get an update a few years back, when the Gollop Brothers (the brains behind the original) started work on Dreamland Chronicles. The game got canned, the brothers moved on to Laser Squad Nemesis and X-COM-heads everywhere wept bitter tears - until Czech developer Altar Interactive landed the job, that is.
But enough with the history lessons. What matters is how Aftermath stands up right now. And I can tell you right now, it is impressively erect. Not that I was convinced straight away, mind you. Despite the warm glow of recognition you get upon first seeing the world globe on the main strategy screen (an XCOM staple), Aftermath has little of the charm that Enemy Unknown possessed in such vast buckets. After the first couple of hours and half a dozen missions, it seemed the cynical snarl etched on my face was doomed to be permanent. Twelve hours later and I could have posed for another feature article on gaming addiction: no sleep, gaunt eyes, poor diet and even worse hygiene. Those damn aliens had got me again.
It's easy to see why, really. Aftermath has its fair amount of flaws, but no one can take away the things that make XCOM truly great: the very best technology research, RPG character development and world expansion, all wrapped up in a succulent apocalyptic X-Files scenario.
As the title suggests, your job isn't to repel invading alien forces as much as finding a way to kick them out after they've succeeded in making Earth their new home. You start off with only a couple of bases and two soldiers, but already there are plenty of things to do. You have to begin researching new technologies to combat the aliens, investigate what's going on, send off jets to down UFOs and go on tactical missions. Since downing saucers is pretty much automatic (with success depending on research), the meat of the game is the 3D missions, and you will be underwhelmed when you first start playing them.
Like XCOM: Apocalypse, the action isn't so much turn-based as real-time with lots of pauses, and it's these pauses that are the first cause of irritation. Reaching a waypoint, seeing an alien, running out of ammo and a plethora of other things all trigger a vocalisation from your soldiers, after which the camera automatically moves to them. This means you can't take two steps without a cacophony of voices and constant interruption as the camera flies off in all directions. You soon realise you can filter most of this, but you'll need a couple of missions before you know what you need switched on. The second annoyance is that your soldiers' voices are unbelievably irritating, boasting some incredibly idiotic accents. Add to this a restrictive 3D camera and outdated graphics, and you can see why there's no love at first sight.
I Think You're Growing On Me
Luckily, Aftermath gets better with every passing moment. The more bases you capture (you can't build any) the more missions there are, and the more varied they become: kill a certain number of aliens, rescue a downed pilot, infiltrate a crashed UFO, capture alien bodies for autopsies or live ones for experiments and interrogation... This has a knock-on effect for the things you can research and, as your weapons and armour grow and improve, the missions become more enjoyable. The information your research uncovers keeps you wanting to find out more and, most satisfactory of all, your soldiers improve all the time through experience and training in a wide variety of skills and attributes.
Soon enough, you find yourself not caring what's happening in the real world. All that matters is that you complete one more mission and maybe recover a more powerful laser rifle this time. Or that your best soldier reaches his potential in every area. Or that you get enough bases to expand to other continents and thus get to see different backgrounds for the tactical levels. And then you discover there's an alien biomass spreading across the globe, which you have to research and stop before it consumes you. Oh, and you start developing psychic abilities. And could you just go away so I can play some more?
It might not have Enemy Unknown's charm and there are some annoying niggles (those voices, poor pathfinding), but there's more than enough here to keep the XCOM spirit alive. Let's hope we don't have to wait so long for the next one.
Your Murderous Little Babies
They're Ruthless Killers. But You'll Grow To Love'em
Few things are as addictive as levelling up (how else to explain the popularity of Diablo?) and there is great satisfaction in developing your own set of characters through a variety of missions, watching them improve in the areas you want them to. You end up growing so attached to your favourites, not even their intensely irritating voices can stop you from mourning their deaths. But dying is what new recruits are for. For everything else there's the reload button. As you can see, there are tons of skills to work on, from marksmanship to healing and stealth. What weapons and gadgets you kit your men out with will also have a great impact on the missions. And add even more to the dressing-up-Barbie fun of it all.