With the upcoming release of the FPS Reboot of X-Com straying further away from the franchises’ origins than humnly thought possible, we look back at the first, and best, game in the series…
It’s hard to admit to myself that my all time favourite game of 20 years, Laser Squad, may well have been perched from its lofty heights in gaming status. When I first laid eyes on UFO: Enemy Unknown, I didn’t really grasp the greatness that it possessed and, with hindsight, unfairly dismissed it as merely a competent follow up to its predecessor. That initial assessment was vastly incorrect as UFO is without doubt the best turn based strategy game in the known universe, ever.
Initially designed by the Gollop brothers as Laser Squad 2, the game soon morphed into UFO: Enemy Unknown, an epic worldwide strategy wargame that was finally released on the PC in 1994. In UFO: Enemy Unknown (released as X-Com: UFO Defense in North America), the player is tasked with protecting Earth from unknown invading forces. With the growing occurrences of UFO sightings and alien abductions, the world’s leaders formed a secret organization called Extraterrestrial Combat Unit (X-Com for short). Taking control of X-Com, it’s the player’s responsibility to oversee the company’s handling of UFO sightings, alien attacks, carry out research, manufacturing of weapons, equipment, hunt down alien bases, and ultimately investigate the alien threat and their origin.
The X-Com unit is kitted out with a small amount of money to use on building a base and purchasing weapons, hiring scientists, engineers and soldiers. This doesn’t seem like much to begin with and it’s not. You have to earn that money by protecting Earth from the alien threat. With minimal resource and equipment, you just can’t go pelting after the large UFOs or big crash sites. You have to aim low, go for the more manageable missions and build your team from the ground up through experience and hard graft.
Once the team is assembled, it’s time to head to the ‘Geoscape’ view. This is the main screen for playing the game and is basically a globe of the world that you can swivel around and zoom in and out of. The time controls can be adjusted to speed things up during quiet periods. Your base’s radar will pick up any nearby UFO activity and it’s up to you whether to send an interceptor ship after it or not. Careful strategic decisions are needed throughout because if you go after a large UFO in control of a small ship with minimal weapons, be prepared to be blown out of the sky.
Careful strategy also needs to be applied to ground missions. A team full of rookies with measly weapons and armour is likely to be the walking dead after a few turns. You have to find a fine balance by only going after the missions which you are confident that your team can handle. When you do decide to send your crew into battle, be it at a crash site or alien base, the game will switch to the isometric ‘Battlescape’ view. This is where you take turns moving your men around the landscape one by one in an effort to take out the aliens and retrieve any alien artifacts or weapons.
When you capture alien technology, you can have your scientists study it, which in turn can enable you to research alien weapons and manufacture them for use by the X-Com units. Gaining a better understanding of these unknown aliens is also obtained by carrying out studies on captured corpses. Of course, all this research is carried out quicker with more scientists, but this all costs money.
The game reaches new heights in tense gameplay when a terror site is alerted. This means that a UFO has landed in a major city somewhere in the world and the aliens have started mowing down civilians. It’s not wise to ignore these terror alerts, as your reputation will suffer, resulting in lost confidence and lost revenue from the invaded country.
After each completed mission, the soldiers will improve their skills and through time will be promoted. Getting your rookies climbing through the ranks is genuinely satisfying and you do gain a certain attachment to your homegrown elite group of soldiers. This attachment to the soldiers becomes almost unbearable when your group veterans are mown down, blown up, or even worse, zombified by the dreaded Chryssalid race of aliens. The aliens and UFOs come in all shapes and sizes, but this Chryssalid is fast and has the knack of sneaking up on your soldiers unaware.
Eventually, through research, experience, clever strategy and patience, you will be able to win this war. In time, you will be able to infiltrate alien bases, take down the terror ships and rid the Earth of the alien menace. There will be many loses, lost battles, lost comrades, but winning the ware against this unknown enemy will make these sacrifices worthwhile. The conflict is winnable, but, by god, it will be an epic battle and one not for the faint hearted.
X-Com: UFO Defense available at Gamers Gate for peanuts
Everything you needed to know about UFO/X-Com at the UFOpaedia