X³: Terran Conflict
Ah The X series, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways... Every game reviewer has one of these, a game or series that touches them on a personal, intimate and downright naughty level, so enamouring them with their depth, breadth and endorphin-releasing wiles that he will hear no bad word said against them, no minor criticism that won't be met with a flurry of prerehearsed counter points and face punches, no rival comparison that won't be put down by shouts of "YOU JUST SHUT UP!" through the tears of infatuation as we cradle the box to our chest and run to our rooms to have a good cry.
For the boy Porter (can I still call him that after his year of editorship?) it's the Fallout games; the Mighty Korgon has his Total War posters stuck to his bedroom walls; Steve Hill won't go anywhere without a copy of Football Manager draped on his arm; and I'm sure Log has a PopCap tattoo hidden underneath his beard. Me, I'm an Xosexual and don't care who knows it. Yes, I know it isn't as fast, fun and friendly as Freelancer, never has been and never will be. But I don't see any sequels to that little number floating about the release schedules, do you? In fact, if it's in-cockpit, direct-action space simulations you want, well X3: Terran Conflict is about your only current generation option really. Good job it's still going strong then, eh?
Love Is The Drug
As the title (and ending to the previous game) suggests, we're on home territory this time round, flying around our own solar system to begin with, marvelling at the beautifully rendered rings of Saturn, sighing wistfully at the gaseous beauty of Jupiter, and giggling childishly at the computer's unrefined pronunciation of Uranus.
The plot doesn't take long to kick in and, sadly once again, it's Xs main failing. For all the alien incursions, returns of old threats and attempts at tension, try as they might Egosoft just can't seem to crack the storytelling nut, and I'm not sure it's one that'll ever really get solved while we players remain resolutely inside our cockpits. Stories require character development to engage, and for all the communication window talking heads, Xs is a soulless universe. Freelancer scored by letting you stretch your legs wandering around stations, Xs only real star is the universe itself.
But at least it's a universe that is richer in depth and detail (visual and otherwise) than ever before. X3: Terran Conflict builds upon all the freedom of choice the previous titles offered, increasing the interactivity with a revamped and much more intuitive interface, allowing for easy control of everything from single ships to entire multi-wing fleets.
Better yet, the progress made with the combat mechanics shown in X3: Reunion has continued apace, to the point where the new mouse control system that's on offer is fluid, smooth, enjoyable and easily on a par with Freelancer's fun factor.
What we have then is a universe of staggering beauty and option, one that builds upon the X legacy and enriches it immeasurably without ever actually revolutionising it. It's true that this is less a sequel and more an extension of the last X title, a refinement of the prior game rather than genuinely-offering anything new.
It's still a game that you have to want to love, rather than one that will entrance the reluctant majority regardless, but will generously reward you, should you be willing to let yourself go along with it. It's still not the pick-up-and-play immediate gratification of Freelancer, and the requirement of patience and thought might still dissuade the casuals.
I guess it says something that even after five years we can still compare this with Microsoft's now-dated rival.
But the infatuation continues, even if it's something of a clearer, where-is-this-relationship-going sort of direction than in previous years. The sex is still great, and I'd love to say we could still stay faithful to one another for many years to come. But it may well be that we've come to a point in our lives when it might not be a bad idea for us to start seeing other people. I've already got my eye on X-Online, actually. Or I could break this tortuous metaphor, and start dating human beings.
If I had a hammer
One of the reasons that the X series has always impressed and annoyed in equal measures is the very nature of the depth on offer. Each game, Terran Conflict included, comes packed with a raft of gameplay options (good) that the majority of people will never find without a deal of internet forum detective work as they never get mentioned in the manuals (bad).
For example, should your ship take damage in a fight, you can limp back to a spacedock as recommended by the manual, or park up somewhere quiet hop out in your spacesuit and blast lovely healing juice at your hull until you're ready to fly on. Is that mentioned anywhere in the manual? No wonder non-fans label this series as cold and unfriendly...
Download X³: Terran Conflict
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP