X2: The Threat
Space, as the man said, is big. Of course, until now the accepted wisdom was also that space is very, very black. Or at least whatever that colour is that you get when you remove all light and replace it with dark matter. Or whatever space is made from. Look, don't ask me. I'm not an astronaut. I play games for a living. It's confusing enough just working out why people don't all tall sideways when they walk down the street.
Anyway, space. The inky black void. Except tor in the wonderful world of X2: The Threat, where it appears that space has been remodelled by Jackson Pollock. In the middle of a paint factory explosion. On acid. Even Stanley Kubrick would have baulked at this.
Which has probably given you all the impression that I think X2 is one ugly mother of a beast. The Ann Widdecombe of space iinnlations. But a single glance at any one of the lovingly presented screenshots accompanying these words will show up that supposition to be wrong. Very, very wrong. In fact. I'll go out on a limb right here, before I've even had time to erect a literary safety net or anything, and state that there won't be a better looking game all year. Unless Half-Life 2 bothers to show up of course, in which case it's the second best.
I mean, look at it! Go on, have a glance around these pages. Flick back and forth. Turn them upside down. Lie alongside them in the bed. caressing their neck and making soft cooing noises. They're gorgeous aren't they? X2 is one of those games that art departments love as it's almost impossible to make it look bad.
Forgive me for going on about something so facile as a game's visuals so early on, but sometimes you have to let yourself wallow in the surface delights before you plunge headlong into the meaty stew at the heart of things. And if that's not a tortured metaphor in desperate search of a linking crosshead, then I don't know what is...
So, what is X2: The Threat then? Obviously, a platform romp set during medieval Europe. One cunningly disguised, mind you, as a hardcore space-based trading and combat simulation, weaving elements of mysterious alien aggressors, long-lost explorers searching for a way home and the touching tale of a wayward boy discovering the true nature of his father. Sounds a bit like Star Wars, come to think of it.
Before I get started on this extended love letter to X2's developer, Egosoft, I might as well temper it with a bit of criticism. The story aspects of the game are nothing to fax home about. Ihe plot, while fun enough, is one of clich6 and predictability. IheF MV animations used to further proceedings are distinctly unimpressive (let's just say that facial rendering isn't exactly I gosoft's strongest point). And while we're at it, the interface isn't the most natural in the world, and too often you find yourself accidentally opening the wrong information windows.
Simply The Best
Right, that's everything negative I can currently think of to say about X2, all done in a single paragraph, so as not to pollute the rest of the review. Because putting all that to one side, what we have here is perhaps the finest game to strap on its space-trading boots since the seminal Elite. It's better than I reelancer, better than EVE Online, belter than the original X: Beyond The Frontier, better than any number of Privateers, Battlecruisers, Freespaces and Frontiers. Best, best. best. Am I making this clear enough?
Justify yourself then, man. Well, for a start, Egosoft has thought of everything. Anyone that played the first X. way back when, couldn't help but be impressed by the ambition on show. Okay, some found it slow going at first and as such never gave it a fair shake. But those who persevered long enough to get their first engine booster suddenly found a virtual universe of possibility. Accompanied by a universe of untapped potential.
Wtiy couldn't we buy other ships? Why couldn't we run factories of our own? Wtiy couldn't we control wingmen or order other pilots or this, that and ttie other? We're greedy bastards basically, and we demand satisfaction.
As Good As It Gets
Which is exactly what Egosoft has delivered. Satisfaction on a great big gaming plate, decorated with gameplay garnishings and covered with game design sauce. Everything we asked for in X: Beyond The Frontier has been delivered -and then some. Want to trade your starting ship in tor a bigger model? Earn the money and go ahead. In fact, why not buy yourself an entire fleet, issue them with all sorts of trading orders and create a business empire to rival Richard Branson?
Not content with just shipping goods about? So buy yourself a manufacturing factory, start making high-grade weapons platforms and sell them to others. Or buy a raft of factories, all supplying each other. Or set up a pirate base on the edge of a system, fill it with fighters and hunt, loot and pillage to your heart's content. Or this, that and the other, basically, but ten times as much.
Okay, time for another brief negative. Combat isn't great. It takes a lot of getting used to and the rapid manoeuvring required isn't really suited to mouse controls. In fact, X2 is one of the few games that still work better with a joystick in your hand. And the larger battles do eat up a lot of processor power. However, it's forgivable, and with patience and ship upgrades you can get the hang of it. And with the many, many weapon options available to you. there's a lot of scope for epic battles.
Which are spectacular, it must be said, especially when you start messing about with capital ships. In fact, the final battle in the storyline is very nicely handled, with all sorts going on and genuine tension derived from the plot mechanics. The best thing is that the game doesn't end once the story's over. You're free to carry on and trade away, as chances are you still won't have seen half of what's on offer by this point.
Thing is, I'm sure I've still forgotten dozens of other things that I want to tell you about X2. I'll go home tonight after submitting this review and think, "Shit, I wanted to say something about the satellites that enable you to control your property from other parts of the galaxy. Oh. and the multiple monitor system that means you can watch three different things at once. Oh, and the massive size of the universe." And so on. And on. It's that kind of game. The kind you tell your mates about down the pub and have them go, "Wow!" in response.
Some might try to tell you that it isn't that great. Some may cry: "Too slow!" and "Where's the action?" These people are simply showing the depths of their ignorance. X2: The Threat is one of the few examples of intelligent gaming left out there. If you want to waste your brain cells on pointless shooters and dumbed-down platformers, that's up to you.
Download X2: The Threat
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Beautiful, engrossing and ridiculously detailed; if you give X2: The Threat enough of your time, you'll undoubtedly reap its rewards. This demo undeniably takes a while to get your head round, but once you get the keyboard commands lodged into your short-term memory, the game flows beneath your fingertips.
This demo gives you full access to X2's many and various tutorials, enabling you to trade and explore, as well as lock missiles onto your enemy, blast him out of the sky and steal all his cargo. After the obligatory intro movie, you'll find yourself learning how to manoeuvre your craft, trade with space stations,
find local bargains on military hardware and navigate yourself around the map. It can get intimidating - most of the buttons on your keyboard seem to have some use or other - but a friendly training computer is on hand to guide you through it all. What's more, if you pay attention you'll be an interstellar wheeler-dealer in no time at all.
Further tutorials instruct you on how to build your own factories, but most exciting is the one that gives you the chance to sit at the bridge of a huge command ship and defend it from an oncoming fleet using your turrets and remote-controlled Argon fighters. After this, there's a corner of the X2 universe open for your exploration; from then on, whether you want to be a capitalist bastard factory owner or a nefarious pirate (or a mixture of the two) is pretty much up to you. Happy trails!
Oh X2 The Threat, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways... L.. 2... 3... Er, 4...? Well quite a few anyway. Yes, you can be slow. You can be ponderous. You can take bewilderment, bafflement and befuddlement to all-new heights. But you so pretty. Pretty, pretty, pretty. And you're in space. Which always helps. Yes, with X3 looming over the horizon like a giant space-sim sun, what better time than now to revisit this mind-numbingly dull classic? It's not your fast-paced, action-packed, Star Wars-in-space, arcadey-shootery-thing. No, this is your modern-day Elite.
Explore a vast, huge, rather big galaxy however you see fit. Trade, fight, pirate and bounty-hunt to your heart's content. Build entire manufacturing industries and own fleets of ships. Fly around in a little spacesuit/jetpack thing. I could go on... But I won't. It's a thing of beauty and deserves your attention. Unless you like spaceships that shoot each other - if that's the case, get Freelancer.
It's no secret that Elite remains my favourite game of all time. Its atmospheric mix of trading and deep space combat, role-playing and freeform play captivated me from the moment I clapped eyes on its wireframe graphics in 1984. Egosoft too, the German developer ofX - Beyond The Frontier are unashamed in their admiration of the Braben/Bell classic. As much as a game in its own right, X - BTF could be considered a tribute, one of a handful of games over the years (there's been perhaps three decent attempts) that have managed to capture the Elite spirit. It certainly hooked me, and occasionally still does. But the important thing is that with X2 - The Threat, the series will begin to find its own legs and move away, ever so slightly, from its Elite-inspired roots.
One problem with the original X was that many found the pace too slow and laborious, with little reward early on (though I found this most refreshing myself).
"It was both a plus and a minus, depending on how far you were through the game," says X2 creator Bernd Lehahn. "We probably lost many potential players during the first few hours of gameplay because they couldn't stand the slow pace. On the other hand, it made the game even more addictive once you were beyond that stage. So what we will try is to find a good balance: the game will be much easier to start and show more of its potential features early on in the game, but still the player will take a while to gain the money and knowledge to explore all the more advanced possibilities."
Of course the full-on dynamic economy will be in there and remains the X series' strongest card, with dozens of tradable items, from basic resources to high-tech manufactured items built from those resources in NPC or player-controlled factories.
"We've enhanced the economy in so many different ways that it is hard to list them all," says Lehahn. "Literally hundreds of new features, some small, some big, have been added to improve what we consider one of the most important aspects of the X series." Lehahn then went on to list just a few: new products, new weapon systems, new ships of all sizes, new AI logic (NPC players can now man turrets on large capital ships), plus loads more besides...
"X2 - The Threat will be much bigger, but still include the old universe," says Lehahn. "The game will remain true to its history and fiction. Fans will recognise large parts of the old sectors and even find stations where they used to be. Some years after the original X - BTF and X -Tension, stations and ships have been developed further, in new designs."
My biggest gripe with the original game was the combat system - the A1 enemy ships were far less convincing than the impressive economy. Egosoft assure us that this has been addressed, and by introducing an enemy race called the Khaak, tell us the game will focus as much on combat as it will on trading, offering we hope, high-octane FreeSpace-style dogfighting action. Unfortunately we can forget about any multiplayer options: X2 - The Threat, like its predecessor is single-player only. X - Online however, you can read about on page 100.