I Remember Getting A Phone Call from Laurence Scotford, in which he said something like: "Chris, we've got this strategy thing with aliens in it from MicroProse, do you want to have a look at it?" I said, "Okay, why not?" Laurence despatched it off to me in a jiffy bag, and when it arrived the next day I spent a few hours playing it, thinking it was pretty good. By the end of the next day it had gone from pretty good to bloody good. The day after that I'd given up on bloody good and moved on to absolutely amazing. UFO: Enemy Unknown is one of the very few games I have played that I simply couldn't leave alone until I had finished it. Addictive? Not much! It had everything you could ever possibly want from a good strategy game, and truckloads more besides. The sequel, Terror From The Deep, was basically more of the same, except underwater. This would have been enough to kill off most sequels but such was the high playability factor of the original, X-COM fans were happy just to have tons more levels with a few visual differences. X-COM: Apocalypse, the game we will be following from its very beginnings right through to an exclusive review of the finished product, is going to be a different kettle of fish altogether.
The best gets better
Even at this very early stage of development I can see vast improvements over the original game. The graphics are in gorgeous svga, with highly detailed sprites reminiscent of Origin's Crusader (one of the best-looking action titles around). The Geoscape has disappeared and been replaced with a much more complex Cityscape, which is home to tons of characters, all leading lives of their own. In addition to the existing turn-based combat scenes MicroProse will be adding a real-time option, which will not only make the combat sequences far more exciting, but will also bring a strong arcade factor to this part of the game while retaining the strategic element of the last one.
The X-COM spacecraft and vehicles will be bigger, more complex and more powerful. You will be able to customise the vehicles by calling up a 3D model and equipping it as you see fit. For example, you will be able to kit out an attack craft from a large selection of engines, weapons, power packs, sensor arrays and so on, allowing you to hone it to perfection for the task you have in mind. Cool or what, eh!
Sorry, two won't do
Sadly, two pages doesn't really offer enough room for exploring in any great detail the many changes that Micro-Prose have up their sleeves. But fear not, because every aspect of the game will be coming under the Zone microscope in the coming months. In the next issue I'll be talking to the people actually working on the project, and taking a closer look at the different characters, weapons and vehicles, and how they all fit into the great scheme of things.
Download X-COM: Apocalypse
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
One Month Further Down The road, X-COM: Apocalypse is still pretty much in its early stages. While everyone is beavering away day and night in an attempt to get the game into some sort of playable form, I thought I'd annoy them all by phoning up to ask them 'interesting' questions. While I was at it I also asked them a few questions about the game too.
The general consensus of opinion among the lads and lasses at MicroProse is that everything is going more or less to schedule. This isn't exactly surprising, seeing as the poor sods are all working 80 hours a week just to make sure Apocalypse arrives on time.
Ground-breaking game shock
I had a chat with Julian Gollop, Head Designer on XCOM: Apocalypse, and coowner of Mythos (the team developing the game). Julian, in common with everyone else working on the project, is incredibly enthusiastic about the developments so far: "X-COM: Apocalypse, when we finally finish it, will set new standards for strategy gaming. It has genuinely ground-breaking gameplay elements, and a highly sophisticated ai system which will put many of its contemporaries to shame."
This is just the sort of thing I'm used to hearing from programmers and developers when they're explaining how wonderful their new games are. In this case though, having had a chance to see how things are shaping up for myself, I unreservedly share Julian's excitement about a product that really does look like it will fulfil its early potential.
Bearing in mind the phenomenal success of the first two games, I asked Julian to comment on what he perceives to be the major improvements Apocalypse will bring to the series. He thought about it for a bit, then told me: "It's difficult to know where to start really. Basically, we've completely rewritten the whole game. All the characters (both human and alien) are far more intelligent. The combat sections can now be played in real-time, or die-hard UFO fans can revert to the turn-based combat used in the first games if they so desire. The tactical maps are bigger, more complex, and generally much more interesting. Having said all that, we've been careful not to alienate fans of the original game. I like to think that we've managed to enhance the gameplay that made the first two games so addictive, as opposed to changing it beyond recognition."
Well, so far it's all sounding excellent - it's certainly making me incredibly keen to see more. I'll be talking to Julian and Nick next month about X-COM: Apocalypse's complex ai system, as well as taking a close look at some of the main characters in the game. I've been told there may even be (gasp) something playable to look at. Can't wait!
X-Com 3: Apocalypse Was Simply Described In Our July issue as "the best". Its masterly balance of turn-based strategy and real-time combat provides such a massive depth of game play, that you need a bathysphere to get to the bottom of it. Or you can, of course, quickly learn the intricacies of alien annihilation by simply following some of the battle-tested advice here...
Although the game revolves around tactical missions, research is the key to victory here - and the more you uncover, the better. At the same time you've got to keep down infiltration and make enough money to build up your forces for the final clash.
Your first priority is keeping the government on your side. Megapol is a useful ally too and helps take out UFOs. If you can stay friendly with equipment suppliers, you'll be rewarded with bigger and better hardware. Organisations like Nutrivend have their uses, who can make more biochemists available. Stay friendly with the Mutant Alliance if you want a steady supply of good psionics and SELF if you want androids.
Keep an eye on the alien ships, watch which buildings they're beaming down into and then investigate them. The scout ships and probes come first, followed by increasingly powerful craft like battleships and motherships. Try to knock out as many of these as possible. When you investigate non-hostiles following alerts, do as little collateral damage to buildings as possible (civvies don't seem to matter). If you're raiding someone like Sirius or the criminal gangs though, you can go in with both barrels.
First things first
From the off, build extra biochemistry labs, physics labs and workshops plus extra living quarters. Put the living quarters near the lift or the repair bay. Recruit the five best scientists you can and get straight on with research. Every day, check who's available so you don't miss any real superheroes. Make sure you've always got research projects on the boil and sell your ground vehicles (they're crap). Boost anti-UFO power with either hoverbikes or hovercars armed with missiles and don't forget that weapon control systems will improve their accuracy.
About day three, start recruiting more scientists for your new labs. If your first base is cramped, look around for another - you'll need at least one with space for the advanced labs and workshops. Choose wisely but don't build too many at this stage. More bases means more pointless alien raids to fend off later.
Base raids come in through the vehicle repair bay or the access lift. When you build new bases, put these two units side by side, preferably surrounded by security stations and living quarters where your personnel start in the mission.
Earn cash by raiding other organisations - nick as much gear as you can and then flog it. Sirius is the obvious target, as the folk from there hate you anyway and you can pick up launchers and plasma guns here. The criminal syndicates are another good choice.
Once you've got bio-transport, get the grapples out and start collecting 'live' aliens. There is a definite 'tree' structure to research but it's not in the manual. Bring back a dead multiworm, for example, and you'll be able to research the alien's genetic structure. Then you can move on to biological warfare and make a toxin gun and toxin A (waste of space). Drag in a dead anthropoid and you'll get toxin B, and eventually the deadly C. By week four or five, you should be raiding the alien's own dimension - once you destroy the alien queen and the dimension gate generators that give them access to Mega-Primus, it's all over.
Wanna be in my gang?
Most agents are weak humans at first but become near-invincible later on. Androids are pretty rare and although they're immune to psionics and make excellent fighters, they don't improve. Mutants, available later, have good psi skills but are poor in combat. Recruit all the agents you can to start with, apart from very bad ones, because you will take casualties.
Sell your lasers and pistols and buy some MG 4000s. They've got high ammo capacity and don't use many TU's in turn-based games. Use HE clips to do some real damage.
The third in the popular strategy/combat series, X-COM: Apocalypse opens as the aliens are once again on the march, this time taking over the bodies and minds of key citizens in the city of MegaPrime. At the helm of the X-COM forces, you can choose either the turn-based tactical action of the previous X-COMs or a new, more intense real-time combat mode. Gameplay begins in an exploratory mode where you investigate possible alien incidents and research better technology to face the threat. As the invasion proceeds, gamers face tougher battles against larger alien forces, culminating in the invasion of the alien home world. MicroProse reports that its new randomization feature resets the game's parameters so that no two games are alike.
Mythos Software and Microprose team up for the third chapter in the X-Com Series, X-Com Apocalypse. For those of you that have never played an X-Com game, here is a brief history of the Earth's contact with alien life forms:
It all began in the mid-1990s. Sightings of unidentified flying objects and extraterrestrials became commonplace all over the world. By 1998 the alien spacecraft began to land near farms and cities. Evidence of cattle mutilations and abductions became abundant, causing a mass panic worldwide. The governments of the world could no longer deny or ignore the existence of UFOs. Action had to be taken.
It was after a squad of military troopers made contact and were subsequently slaughtered, that the governments of the world decided to fund a secret strike force of soldiers, scientists and engineers, code-named X-Com. X-Com gathered evidence and developed weapons using alien technology, which in turn uncovered a sinister alien plot to take over our world. With the aid of extensive research from X-Com scientists, the alien base on Cydonia (Mars) was revealed and the alien threat was thwarted -- or so we thought. For deep within the oceans of the Earth, there slept an ancient race of aliens that were awakened by a signal from the Cydonian base, and in 2040 the aliens began to attack our ships. X-Com was reformed, and through the use of alien and earth technology they were able to destroy the alien bases and cities under the sea. T'Leth, the main alien city, rose from the ocean depths and detonated, polluting the Earth and causing chaos on the climate.
While many people went to colonize other planets to escape the pollution and toxicity of Earth, a few chose to stay and erect a self-sufficient domed city called Mega-Primus.
Though Mega-Primus was a historical event on Earth, it is not the paradise once imagined by its forefathers. Social decay and poverty have struck the city, civil unrest is at an all-time high, and to top it off, aliens have been spotted inside the domed walls of Mega Primus by means of a dimensional portal, linking their planet to ours.
The Senate of Mega-Primus is concerned about this new alien activity. They have once again called upon the formation of a special team to investigate and thwart the aliens: X-Com.
The Government of Mega-Primus, if pressed about this operation called X-Com, will deny everything. Your mission in X-Com Apocalypse is to covertly investigate the alien intrusions and put an end to them.
X-Com Apocalypse is an isometric-view game, split into different windows, or views. It is in these windows that you manage various tasks. At the bottom of the main window, called the CityScape, is a handy toolbar with various categories for handling tasks and information. Your goal is to purchase supplies, assail the alien ships with the aid of the megopol police force, and handle tactical missions where aliens are spotted.
You start the game with one base. Your base contains several vehicles, some scientists, engineers, biochemists and soldiers. There is enough equipment for the military personal to successfully be armed for several tactical missions, as is the standard for all X-Com games. At your disposal, are various research and production facilities, training facilities for soldiers, and an extensive database for buying and selling equipment. The interface in X-Com excels compared to previous X-Com games. Drag and drop has been implemented for easier management tasks such as building facilities within bases, equipping vehicles, etc. In previous X-Com games this was done using a system that highlighted text to move stuff around.
There are so many ways to access information and functions in the game that it can tend to be a bit overwhelming without reading the manual. Luckily, the game comes with an extensive manual, a Rookies' Guide, and Windows style tool tips -- which can be toggled on or off.
The CityScape provides an extensive view of Mega-Primus, and is the main focus area of all non-tactical activity. By clicking on a particular building, a screen is displayed that gives details on who owns the structure and whether or not soldiers are stationed there. If soldiers are at the location, the player can opt to raid the building. (This can be a bad thing if the organization is friendly with X-Com.)
Vehicle combat takes place within the CityScape window. The player can opt to direct vehicles to attack alien-influenced vehicles, or manually control the attack. This feature allows the player to steer, shoot and adjust the altitude of crafts. One thing I did miss was the crash site tactical missions that were excluded in X-Com Apocalypse. When a ship has been shot down, all that the player is allowed to do is to collect the remains of it. Mind you, the building raids certainly make up for it --so consider it a trade-off for other flavors of combat.
The heart of X-Com lies in the tactical combat. A major portion of the game is dedicated to it, whether the player follows an alien "alert prompt" or raids a building—the end result is tactical combat. Real-time and turn-based combat are two interesting options in X-Com; most strategy games don't offer the player a choice, which means that you are usually stuck with one or the other, but never both. Real-time missions are fun and welcomed when encountering a large mission map, though sometimes it can just serve up a helping of "quick and dirty" death for a squadron. Be careful what choices you make at the beginning of the mission -- as the way you play can have an effect on how long you last, especially in a map riddled with aliens. I have no complaints about either form of combat, as both fit nicely in the game -- just keep the aforementioned warning in mind. Movement has changed from previous X-Coms: Now you can move squadrons comprised of six soldiers at a time. You can have up to 6 squadrons per mission. This is an excellent feature, and makes movement of a massive strike force of up to 36 people less of a task than it used to be.
The enemies in X-Com, whether human or alien, are pretty impressive. There is nothing like have a Brain Sucker jump on a soldier's head and brainwash him or her, or being attacked by a guy who spits vomit at you from a tube (he has no head). The enemy units in X-Com are not lightweights, and in the early stages of the game it's important to pay careful attention to the equipment you bring with you. Not having enough weapons or ammo in hand can end with a squad of dead soldiers and a loss of points.
One of the biggest irritations of X-Com Apocalypse is the AI of civilians, both under the computer's control and those controlled by the player. The civilians in missions are not overly bright, get in the way, and like to hang out with the very forces that want to kill them—the aliens. I was shocked as I watched 4 civilians actually running toward the aliens that were attempting to murder them. When they are not dancing in front of aliens with guns, they are getting in the line of fire. Once while playing a tactical mission, I got so angry at one of them that I shot him.
The other civilians who tick me off are my scientists, engineers and biochemists during base attacks, but this irritation is not their fault. You can access an equip screen for them, but you can't equip them at all. Why bother putting them under the player's control, if all the player can do with them is play "moving target?"
Graphics and Design
The graphical interface of X-Com Apocalypse _is top-notch and the style fits in with the story, giving the people and vehicles a retro '50s look. The interface is easy to look at and even easier to navigate. Paper-doll screens for equipping soldiers and vehicles add to the enhancement of the interface. The artwork of the Ufopedia is stunning as well, and gave me a sense of both disgust (when looking at the alien weapons) and joy (when looking at the human-related weapons) _X-Com uses Sci-Tech Display Doctor to check your resolution during installation, which then attempts to give you the most acceptable resolution possible. I had no difficulties in that area, and I have a Verite based accelerator card (which tends to be difficult with most other games).
The music and sound effects in X-Com Apocalypse are just right. There are no overwhelming music scores or sound effects pummeling the player in the background. What is playing in the background belongs there, and fits in with what is going on in the game. For instance, when a unit get hits or dies, it screams. When an enemy unit is spotted, Trent Reznor-like music pumps through your speaker system, giving you that adrenaline rush you might have if you happened upon a creature of this nature. Bombs go boom and explosions explode, and the player sees and hears everything in sync with the game world. And if by some slim chance you get sick of the sounds, you can simply turn them all off.
Documentation & Controls
X-Com Apocalypse comes with a 212-page manual, a Rookies' Guide for beginners, and a cool X-Com Apocalypse poster. Every facet of the game is documented. The manual is well-written, easy to understand, and has an index to find specific items.. There are also four tutorials to help you get started.
X-Com Apocalypse requirements are pretty meager compared to most games, and that is probably due to the fact that X-Com Apocalypse is a DOS-based game.
Required: DX4/100, 8 MB RAM, DOS 5.0 or Windows 95, 4X CD-ROM drive, 20 MB hard drive space, SoundBlaster or 100% compatible sound card.
Recommended: Pentium 90, 16 MB RAM, 50MB HD space.
X-Com Apocalypse is a must have for fans of the original X-Com UFO Defense (Enemy Unknown in Europe). While the interface is brand-new, it holds enough of the original charm of its predecessors to make it enjoyable to play. The AI was a little better than previous installments of the game, but still needed some serious tweaking. The omissions of network and modem playability really hurt its potential, but nonetheless is fun to play alone and stands up fine without it. If you are sick of Command and Conquer clones, then X-Com Apocalypse is definitely worth checking out.