X-COM 3: Apocalypse
It's No Secret That I'm One Of The biggest X-COM fans in the entire universe. To this end I've been the subject of many amusing witticisms in the office. Jeremy never lets me forget how sad I am for raving on about a turn-based strategy game. I always counter this with the observation that CM2 is a jumped-up spreadsheet. It may be very colourful, but it's still a spreadsheet. So it was that I was the obvious choice to review X-COM 3. and you could be forgiven for thinking that I jumped at the chance. Well, as far as the Zone team are concerned, I did. As soon as we knew when it was coming in, I dutifully declared that I, and only I, would be responsible for the verdict on the new X-COM monster the moment it arrived. However, I was secretly harbouring serious doubts as to whether or not MicroProse would come up with the goods for a third time.
You see, when you get a strategy game that's as near-as-damn-it perfect as X-COM, you kind of like it the way it is, and you don't want to ruin the experience by playing a new version that doesn't live up to expectations. X-COM2 was a pretty safe bet because it was almost exactly the same as X-COM 1, except that it had slightly different graphics and an underwater theme. So why did I give the sequel the impressive score of 94? Well, it's simple really. Along with X-COM fans the whole world over, I was happy just to be playing X-COM again, with an all-new storyline. I was happy in the same way that Civilization fans were happy to play Civ 2 just because, well, it was more of the same.
I'm going to be totally honest and admit that there is another reason I was worried about X-COM 3.1 saw it at a show about six months ago. The PR guy from MicroProse put me in front of a computer screen and looked at me expectantly. I dutifully enthused about the game in front of me to said PR man. while secretly I was thinking "shit that looks incredibly complicated, they've totally arsed it up".
I'm sure you've guessed from the PC classic logo (and probably a peek at the score) that the creators of X-COM 3 have most definitely not arsed things up. They obviously shared my concerns about the complexity of the game, and to get round it they've had to be very, very clever indeed...
First things first
The first thing you'll see after a surprisingly short intro to the game Es the X-COM cityscape. This provides you with an overall view of the entire city in which the game is based. From this screen you can do all sorts of things such as build up your bases, send agents to investigate buildings for alien activity, raid buildings belonging to organisations who are hostife to you, and while you're at it shoot down a couple of alien craft, go on tactical missions, look after research and engineering and two million other things besides. I'm deliberately trying to make this sound very complicated because I thought it was very complicated until I'd played it for a couple of hours. You see, although you can do all these things simultaneously if you want to, you don't necessarily have to. Mythos (the developers) have been very clever by giving you a very big. highly complex real-time world to play around in that you're totally free to explore without being penalised should you forget to do something or other. You won't get very far if you fail to carry out certain tasks (such as researching new weapons and equipment for example), but most of the menu screens you'll see when you first load up the Cityscape can be ignored until you're a bit more familiar with the game. In fact, you can probably complete the game simply by doing all the stuff you did in the first two games (providing you've played them, of course) and ignoring the new stuff completely. But should you decide to take this route, it almost goes without saying that you'll be missing all the fun, not to mention the point. Either way, there are five tutorials in the manual that won't take you more than 20 minutes to get through and that tell you everything you need to know to get started in X-COM 3. After you've gone through these you can quite happily throw the manual away if you want to, as all the other stuff you need to know will become blatantly obvious as you play the game.
However, a word of warning is in order here if you're the sort of person who doesn't want to know about manuals. If you choose to make your own way through the game, be prepared to stare stupidly at the screen for ages before you have any clue what's going on. Like I said, the game is very simple to play once you've got the basics, but if you can't be bothered to sit through a couple of quick tutorials, you're asking for trouble. Don't say I didn't tell ya. Let's move on then, to what awaits you at the other end of the initial learning curve - in other words, the game itself.
Different but the same
The year is 2097 (or something like that) and the aliens who made your life a misery in the first two games are back to taunt you a second time. This time round, they've built dimension gates all around the city. They periodically send fleets of attack ships, scouts, bombers and other fun items through these gates. As commander of X-COM, you are once again tasked with putting an end to the alien threat. This involves keeping tabs on a number of things. At the beginning of the game you'll be concentrating on building up your base and recruiting a team of X-COM agents to send on attack missions. This is where you'll see the first of many major improvements over the first two games. You no longer have to send for a group of agents only to discover on their arrival that they're all complete arseholes. The new hire and fire screen shows you which agents are available to join your team. You simply select the agents whose particular talents match the criteria you've set for the job at hand. If you want a team of crack snipers (who may be weak in other areas as a result), then that's exactly what you'll get. Or you might want a team who are very skilled in Psionics (the art of taking over the mind of an alien, whom you can then control as though he were a member of your own team), but these guys tend to be a bit shit at things like shooting from a distance. Either way, the choice is yours. The same goes for scientists. All available scientists have a rating out of 100. You can see how high (or low) their ratings are before you take them on, so you've always got the best guys available at the time you entered this screen. This is the sort of thing that really should've been in the first two games but hey. better late than never, eh?
You also need to go to the base screen to allocate research for different areas. You'll learn more about the aliens and their technology as you conduct research throughout the game. Once you've researched an alien weapon, your engineers can produce it in their workshop and your agents can then use it in battle. Unlike the first two games, you can't produce alien aircraft you've researched, but you'll be able to produce brand new ships of your own once you've got a better understanding of alien technology. Researching and using new items has always been one of the best things about the X-COM games, and X-COM 3 is thankfully well up to expectations in this department, with lots of new stuff becoming available the further you get into the game.
Of course, the resource management side of the game, though almost a complete game in itself, is only one part of the overall X-COM experience, because sooner or later you'll come into direct contact with the aliens. When this happens, you'll be plunged headlong into combat with hordes of alien scumbags.
Let the battle commence
I'm sorry Jeremy, but your taunting days have finally come to an end. While Championship Manager 2 is. and always will be, the footballing equivalent of Microsoft Excel, X-COMhas finally shed its strgmatic turn-based skin and grown a brand new layer of chaotic, blood-curdling real-time action. X-COM die-hards need not worry, the option for turn-based action is still there, but to be honest, the new real-time combat is so good I really can't see why anyone would want to play the much slower (and often infuriating) turn-based tactical game. The argument that turn-based combat is more of a strategic challenge doesn't hold up any more as you can stop the real-time action at any point to make strategic decisions.
The other advantage to real-time is that you can speed up the action when you get close to the end of a mission. That final elusive alien git that simply refuses to pop his head out of whatever hole he's hiding in is no longer a complete pain in the arse as you can simply speed up the action, send all your agents whizzing around the play area, and you'll find the culprit in no time. Then of course, there's the fact that real-time combat, by its very nature, is much more exciting than its turn-based counterpart.
Aside from the real-time nature of the new combat section, there are other areas of the tactical game that have been given a complete facelift. The variety of missions, for example, is much greater than before. You can send agents to investigate buildings for alien activity (and if they do find any you can pretty much guarantee that an enormous scrap will immediately ensue). You can raid buildings belonging to organisations which are hostile towards you. If you take this option you'll have the added satisfaction of completely wrecking the building belonging to the organisation that pissed you offr as well as being able to steal all their equipment at the end of the mission. You can also use your spacecraft to attack enemy buildings, or even some of your road vehicles if they've got suitable weaponry. Generally speaking, X-COM 3 has much more variety than the early games in the series. You can pause time and spend ages assigning agents and vehicles to tasks, or just speed things up if you want to get on with things. This is the beauty of the open-ended nature of the game, and this is what makes X-COM 3 not only better than the previous X-COM games, but for my money better than any game of its type. Now if you'll excuse me there's a whole world out there in danger of being taken over by aliens, and I'm not going to get it sorted out sitting here blabbering to you lot.
Download X-COM 3: Apocalypse
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP