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X-COM: Apocalypse (PC) artwork

X-COM: Apocalypse (PC) review


"First, there was naught. "



First, there was naught.

Then God came and said: “Fiat Lux”.

Next, He created the Earth.
Then he populated Earth with Man.

Seeing his beautiful creation, God became very proud.
So proud, in fact, that some 2000 of His years later he sent some Aliens over there to conquer it.

Too bad, though, that by then Man had evolved far past Eden and into X-COM.
And thus X-COM kicked Alien arse and stole their technology.

Angry at Man for being such a bad host, God contacted Cthulhu and asked him to kindly send to Man a few tentaculats and other beasties to conquer earth again.

Cthulhu complied. Alas, once again stubborn Man, armed with harpoons and some groovy Lovecraft books, trounced those poor defenceless tentaculats back to the depths and stole their technology and submarines.

Now Microprose God felt unable to find new places to draw mighty aliens from. But then came the revelation: make them come from another dimension!

And thus God started the Apocalypse.

~//~

Were strategy games a religion, X-COM would be its bible.

Anxious gamers saw X-COM 2 come and go with some happiness and some sadness. Sure, they received an extra dose of difficulty in their game and quite a nice creepy atmosphere. But, overall, it all looked a bit too much like the first (excellent) game.

X-COM 3: Apocalypse finally arrived back in 1997 to give hungry gamers what they truly wanted, a X-COM game that truly feels as a sequel and not a “Mod”.

X-COM 3 shows gamers that sometimes smaller is better than bigger. In the first 2 games, the action happened all around the globe. Now, the aliens are invading our planet one city at a time. It's up to X-COM to beat them back at the first one they arrive in, the futuristic town of Mega-Primus.

Mega-Primus is a sprawling metropolis full of flying cars, colorful buildings, and ugly slums. One might think it looks just a little bit *too* colorful for an X-Com atmosphere, but then again this is supposed to be a city ruled by smug utopians. Every building and vehicle there is owned by one or another faction or organization. As you shall soon find out, diplomacy and good relations are crucial elements of a winning strategy in this game.

In this city, all hell shall break loose when alien craft suddenly appear via a dimensional portal. It is in this scenario that the first major feature this installment brings comes to life: Big Vehicle Battles! As the UFOs arrive in the city, X-COM scrambles its planes and tanks to battle the alien threat. Shots are traded between the two sides, sometimes with civilians getting caught in the crossfire. Therefore, not only must you be careful with enemy lasers but also you must strive not to put a dent with a stray missile in the new corporate headquarters of some rich corporation. They will not be pleased, and might feel the world is better off sans X-COM.

Vehicles available for such battles are varied enough and can be equipped in many ways. Nimble hoverbikes might be well-served by rapid-fire plasma cannons, whilst Hawk Airwarriors may destroy more UFOs if they carry some missile launchers or maybe an alien disruptor or two. It's always fun to pimp your rides before you make the aliens your bitches.

Unfortunately, the designers felt necessary to give X-COM some ground vehicles as well. As you'll discover, land vehicles are useless here. Their movement is awkward and restricted to roads. The land vehicles do make the city the game is set in nicer and more alive, but they are useless as vehicles for X-COM to use compared to the air vehicles available. The designers should have made land units unavailable to the player from the get go, since the way things turned out only makes us feel sad that the sweet, sweet TANK you can buy to fight UFOs is ultimately useless.

Eventually, the aliens will either get their craft shot down or else they'll succeed in ferrying aliens inside the city. Whichever result, there will be aliens to be shot mano-a-mano, either in UFO wrecks or inside city buildings. It's then time for X-COM agents to get ready to rumble and make the game's most famous feature, tactical squad combat, appear.

First, of course, you must effectively form a squad of soldiers! In this aspect, X-COM 3 finally took action and gave players the thing they most wanted in the first two games: the ability to choose what soldiers (AKA agents) to hire or not hire.

In previous X-COM games, you first had to pay money to hire a bunch of soldiers and then, only after they arrived in the base, you could check their vital stats. Some soldiers have better speed, other have better strength, others have better aim, and some just plain suck. Being able to see the soldier's stats before you hire him/her or not means you no longer need to employ the cruel tactic of send-private-suckfest-to-scout-ahead-and-reveal-sniper-positions.

This game offers two types of tactical combat: real-time and turn-based. X-COM purists loathe the real-time mode, but it is not bad really. Still, I'd advise player to choose the turn-based mode. Not only is it closer to the classic X-COM feel, but you'll also find out that some late-game alien weapons are devastating in real-time mode.

Whatever tactical battle mode you choose, X-COM 3 keeps all the classic elements of squad combat pretty much intact. You'll thread carefully along the many city buildings that become your sprawling convoluted battlefield and always get your blood pumping as you meet one or more of the ridiculously-coloured aliens MPS saw fit to assault Mega-Primus.

It all seems like a dream come true to a X-COM fan. A LSD-fueled dream, true, but a dream nonetheless.

However, aside from the far too non-scary visuals the game presents (the music, BTW, is fine, very horror-movie like), there is one dent that mars the jewel that is this X-COM game. A dent that I can only talk about after I mention research.

Because, after all, research is an integral part of X-COM. It is the means via which you put the loot from battles into good use and turn the tables on the alien bastards. Here, two types of scientists provide aid to unravel the secrets of the aliens: biologists and quantum physicists. They are coupled with engineers, who build new stuff as research progresses. Scientists, like soldiers, have different skill levels. However, they have only one skill, whereas soldiers have lots of them. Your choice of soldier depends on whether you want stronger or nimbler men fighting for you. No one soldier is definitely better than another, they have far too many stats (speed, strength, aim, etc.) in their mix. Scientists, on the other hand, have a single stat (knowledge), so one scientist is always better than his peers with lower knowledge stat.

Anyway, just like in earlier games, your research will slowly provide X-COM with better equipment to fight the aliens, and likewise the aliens will increasingly become more invested in their plans of conquest. This “arms race” is all well and good, but in this game there's a point in which X-COM will suddenly develop a ultimate weapon. A point, mind you, not so close to the end as it is to the beginning.

This weapon is deceitfully small and unusually cheap. It is pure X-COM technology, something the aliens will never possess. It is... the TOXIGUN!

The toxigun is a small pistol that fires very rapidly with decent accuracy. It's ammo is a toxin of type A, B or C, with A being the weakest (but still very strong). This toxin is deadly against aliens whilst being almost harmless to humans. This means that X-COM agents can fire it away rapidly without worrying much about hitting friendlies. With these advantages, the toxigun didn't even need the extra bonus of ignoring enemy shields.

Once X-COM embraces Toxiguns, the Alien's last hope of beating the humans would lie on their fast breeding abilities. Actually, they can breed quickly if left to do so on any building on the city. X-COM veterans surely remember how much of the suspense in the earlier games was due to the fact that UFO detection methods were never 100% reliable, and at any time alien forces on the planet could be running rampant under the radars.

But Mega-Primus is not as big as planet earth. Here, whenever UFOs appear, they can be seen at all times. What's more, you can actually see in which buildings alien troops are being unloaded. This means that the wise X-COM commander will look at what buildings are being infested and then order his units to go there and kill any aliens present. Doing so will effectively prevent the aliens from spreading unnoticed through the city.

What this means is that X-COM 3: Apocalypse lacks the one single thing that X-COM 2 introduced to the series: DIFFICULTY. X-COM 3 can be easy.

However, X-COM 3... IS STILL X-COM!

So you think it is easy?! If you do, it means you got hooked to it in the first place! It means you studied those aliens carefully and found the research path needed for that Toxigun. It means your soldiers became aces in alien-bashing by systematically looking for cover as they primed grenades to blast foes with. It means you got rich to build X-COM vehicles by playing the rough game of diplomacy and raiding the buildings of organizations who oppose you.

In summary, of course it was easy. I was too hooked up for it not to become so.

And I never, never would dare to leave Mega-Primus and X-COM before seeing it to the end...

(BIG, HUGE, HUMONGOUS SPOILER – which is kind of a lousy ending...)

Rating: 9/10

zanzard's avatar
Community review by zanzard (February 09, 2008)

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