UFO: Enemy Unknown
You'll find nothing in this game that hasn't been done before. There's basebuilding (cue Sim City), there's turn-based, isometric-view combat scenes (cue Laser Squad), there's gripping plot development (cue Dune), there's space-style buying and selling (cue Elite) and there's global strategy (cue 'God knows how many world-domination strategy games'), but UFO has turned out to be more than just a rip-off of half a dozen game styles. Incorporating all these game elements in a single game is certainly an ambitious project, since all it takes is for one aspect of the game to be wrong for the whole thing to fall to pieces.
On the other hand, just imagine the possibilities if it works. There can hardly be a pc games player in the world who wouldn't positively drool at the prospect of playing a game that successfully combined elements from many of the games they have played and loved. It's the sort of stuff game-playing dreams are made of. You have probably already guessed from the fact that UFO has been awarded classic status that Mythos, the games developers, have got everything right. Each facet of gameplay beautifully complements all the others. That's a good thing too, because this game is huge. There are so many different areas of the game to describe it's difficult to know where to start. I suppose the beginning is as good a place as any.
The year is 1999. Sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects (ufos) are coming in with disturbing regularity. Reports of human abduction and horrific experimentation have struck terror into the hearts of millions. The entire population of Mother Earth is on the verge of hysteria. It soon becomes clear that the aliens are attacking Earth with the aid of vastly superior technology. Many countries attempt to deal with-the problem unilaterally by sending large aerial-combat forces into the night skies to take on the alien invaders. After months, the combat units still haven't intercepted a single ufo. Representatives from the world's most powerful countries gather in Geneva and decide to establish an independent body to combat the alien threat. This organisation is to be equipped with the world's best pilots, soldiers, scientists and engineers, working together as a multi-national force. The organisation is named the Extraterrestrial Combat unit: Xcom for short.
UFO puts you in command of Xcom. Your task is to build and manage Xcom bases and forces throughout the world and ultimately to rid Earth of the alien menace. The project is financed by the larger countries in the world who have all agreed to 'do their bit' by providing Xcom with a certain amount of money every month. Naturally, the amount each country provides depends on how successful you are at keeping the aliens at bay in their immediate vicinity. There fore, it's of paramount importance to establish bases near the countries who are giving you the most cash. Before you can do that, though, you need to build a centre of operations, and that's your first objective at the beginning of the game.
Basic management concepts
At the start of each new game, you are asked to choose a site for your headquarters. You will want your first base to monitor as wide an area as possible, so it's wise to choose an area with a large land mass like Europe or North America. You don't have to build individual facilities for your first base as the game supplies you with a 'here's one I made earlier' h.q, to get you started. The facilities at your disposal include a small radar unit for ufo detection, two interceptor planes to chase after the buggers once you've spotted them, a Skyranger (troop transport plane) to take your troops to any alien crash sites, a handful of scientists to conduct research, a few soldiers for ground assaults and a few engineers to manufacture any goods that have been successfully researched. In addition to this, you'll have five million dollars of Xcom funds to play around with, but there's no point in building more bases at this early stage of the game.
Your first priority should be researching new weapons to replace the puny tanks, rifles and pistols your soldiers are using. This is a three-step process. You'll never get anywhere with a meagre ten scientists allocated to weapons research, so you need to spend as much cash as you can afford on recruiting more scientific wizards to join your team. The next step is to assign them all to laser-weapons research and wait for them to come up with the goods. They'll start by designing a laser pistol and move on to laser rifles, cannons and tanks. The final stage is to get your engineers to manufacture each new weapon type once it's been researched. If you have enough scientists and engineers working hand in hand you'll eventually end up with a fairly respectable military arsenal with which to challenge the alien troops. This is by no means easy to accomplish. The more scientists you have, the more laboratory space you will need. The more engineers you have, the more workshop space you will need. You constantly have to build workshops and laboratories for your staff to work in and then living quarters to accommodate them all.
All these aspects of the game are managed through the base information screen. Much of the game is spent accessing the different options on this screen, keeping tabs on your bases, making sure they have enough money to operate and constantly improving the facilities at each one. When you're reasonably satisfied that you're getting the most out of the facilities your base has to offer, you can start thinking about the matter at hand: finding the uros and giving them what for.
Search and destroy
All your attempts to track down the aliens take place on the Geoscape screen. This shows you a 3D view of the Earth which can be rotated and magnified to give you a closer look at any part of the world. If your radar detects a ufo, a red cross will appear on the globe to show you where it is. When this happens, you can order one of your interceptor planes to fly to the ufo's location and attack it. If your plane is at a base on the other side of the world to the ufo, it will lose track of it completely. If it's relatively close, it will probably catch it and the air-to-air combat screen will appear. Your objective in this situation is not to destroy the ufo, but to damage it so that it is forced to crash land. If you destroy the ufo you won't be able to send in a ground assault team to take out the surviving aliens and recover any alien artefacts or equipment inside the ship. To this end, you can order your plane to carry out different forms of attack, depending on the size of the alien ship. If it's just a small ufo, a cautious attack will usually be enough to bring it down. If it's a medium- or largesized ufo, a standard or aggressive attack will probably be required, but these attacks have the drawback of making your own plane vulnerable to enemy fire.
If your interceptor is successful and the ufo is forced to crash land, you will need to assign a Skyranger transport to take a squad of soldiers from your base to the crash site. This is the action part. It's time to stop base building and button pressing, and get down to the nitty gritty.
Mixing it up with the aliens
The battlescape screen is where all the action takes place. The display consists of a 3D isometric top-down view of the playing area with your soldiers and any heavy weapon platforms (tanks etc.) placed inside the troop transport. You can only see the parts of the playing area that are directly in the line of sight of your currently highlighted soldier, therefore, you'll have to explore before you can find the spot where the ufo crash landed. The battle is played out over a series of turns. You use your turn to move your soldiers into strategically sound (you hope!) positions of attack and the aliens use their turn to do the same. How far you can move your soldiers and how well they can use their weapons depends on how many time units they have. Each troop has a pre-set number of time units each turn. If you don't use up all their time units at the end of your turn, the remaining units are set aside for opportunity fire. This gives them the chance to have a pop at the aliens during their turn.
Reserving units for opportunity fire is crucial to winning a battle. If your troops don't have any time units left when the alien's turn comes up, they just stand there and get blasted to kingdom come. Apart from this, there are many other factors that determine your chances of emerging from battle victorious. You obviously stand a much better chance if your soldiers are using advanced weapons and equipment. A lot also depends on the soldiers themselves, too. The first time your soldiers go into battle they are all classed as rookies.
As they go on more and more missions, their experience increases and so do their abilities. For this reason, it's important to keep your troops under cover during the battles. If they die, you have to replace them with 'green' rookies and effectively start all over again.
The advantages of winning a battle are twofold. Firstly, every alien ship you take out gives the aliens less chance of building their own bases and attempting to infiltrate governments of countries who may not be very pleased with your performance. Secondly, it gives you a chance to have a look around their ship for any alien artefacts or weapons that can be taken back to base for further investigation. Scientific study of alien weapons and equipment gives you the opportunity to take them on at their own game.
We have the technology
Every single piece of equipment and weaponry the aliens use is better than its earthly equivalent in every way. Initially, you will have to rely more on your strategic skills to win battles than on any firepower you have. As the game progresses, you will recover various alien artefacts and hand them over to your scientists for research. Once they've been researched, your engineers can reproduce them and they will then be added to your stores for use by your soldiers. Providing you've allocated enough money and resources to research, you will soon be chasing the aliens in aircraft of their own design and blowing them to pieces with your own reproductions of their lethal plasma weapons. The list of equipment you will have at your disposal as a result of studying ufo technology is almost endless.
In a review, it is only possible i to give you a fundamental overview of the main parts of the game. There are many more things to do and discover in UFO than we have space to mention. The excitement of developing a particularly impressive alien weapon, the thrill of using a Blaster Launcher to take out half of the entire game area, the feeling of awe when you discover exactly where the aliens come from and why they're really here. All these things and a million others besides are waiting for you in UFO Enemy Unknown. As if all this wasn't enough, the music is superb and the sound effects are awesome. What more can I say, except buy it and say good-bye to the outside world for a couple of months (at least!).
Download UFO: Enemy Unknown
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP