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X-COM: Enforcer (PC) artwork

X-COM: Enforcer (PC) review

"Iím in a habit of paying no attention to Steamís frequent pop-up advertisements that bring to light the various discounts the service offers on games I generally donít care about, but the announcement that all five titles in the renowned X-COM series would be available for something like fifteen dollars was difficult to ignore. That purchase was supposed to be my gateway to a series that Iíve been meaning to catch up on for quite some time, given that itís rooted in a genre Iím fond of: t..."

Iím in a habit of paying no attention to Steamís frequent pop-up advertisements that bring to light the various discounts the service offers on games I generally donít care about, but the announcement that all five titles in the renowned X-COM series would be available for something like fifteen dollars was difficult to ignore. That purchase was supposed to be my gateway to a series that Iíve been meaning to catch up on for quite some time, given that itís rooted in a genre Iím fond of: turn-based strategy. I donít necessarily consider it wasted money since the price was so minimal to begin with, but what a shock it was to come upon the realizations that (a) most of the sequels had absolutely nothing to do with the first X-COM and werenít even turn-based strategy at all, and (b) the original game wasnít even particularly good to begin with, based on the extremely limited time I was able to spend with it.

Iíve made two (2) attempts to play UFO Defense, each lasting about one (1) hour total. From what I could tell, the game is plot-free aside from the basic setup that Earth is under attack by aliens and that itís up to you to stop them. The idea is that you build a base and send out a scouting craft, and whenever you detect a UFO, you launch a fighter jet (or something) to gun it down. Youíll then order a shuttle craft (or something) to investigate the crash site, which usually means youíve got to engage in a turn-based battle against any aliens that survived the wreck. And you continue doing this forever, I presume. Itís not in my place to say whether UFO Defense is as open-ended as it sounds, or whether it has an actual ďendingĒ of any sort. But I take issue with that, because structure-less games donít give me the impression that Iím actually accomplishing anything Ė and even if Iím wrong, then in any case, the appearance of structure is every bit as important, because itís all about making the player feel as if theyíre getting something done.

But even putting that aside, good lord is UFO Defense ever slow. It takes ages just for a UFO to pop up on your radar, and then the only way to initiate a battle is to ensure that it doesnít crash in the ocean (which it probably will, since 75% of the Earthís surface is covered with water, as you know). As such, UFO Defense is punctuated by a lot of wandering and waiting. A fellow HonestGamers regular has assured me that the gameís initial slowness was intentional to give you a fighting chance, and that the game eventually picks up in pace and becomes engaging. And you know what? I donít deny that. But I never had the patience to get to that point.

UFO Defense, more than other games, seems to suffer from its age. Starting off slow and easy then gradually accelerating in difficulty and pace is a pattern most games follow, but they find ways around it. That UFO Defense doesnít have a plot to cling to, again, is the result of having been released in 1993 Ė but itís nevertheless a detriment. Furthermore, the gameís lack of a tutorial means that in those few cases where you do get to fight, youíre confused and disoriented. Why canít I see my enemies when they can obviously see me? Why, so early in the game, am I barely able to scratch opponents that gun down my troops in one hit? Where do I get more equipment and soldiers, and what do I do if most of them die and Iím not fit to fight another battle? Like I said, Iíve made two attempts to play UFO Defense, and both have been such off-putting experiences (simultaneously boring and tedious) that I doubt thereíll ever be a third.

As for the rest of the package, there isnít much to discuss. Terror from the Deep for some reason doesnít run on Vista, so I canít make judgments on it until Valve releases the patch theyíre supposedly working on. (Or maybe theyíve finished it by now. Damned if I care.) On the other hand, I spent about sixty seconds apiece with Apocalypse and Interceptor, staring at their complicated interfaces and trying to figure out what, exactly, I was supposed to be doing. Both suffered from the deadly combination of being too cluttered while simultaneously giving the player no direction whatsoever. I couldnít even tell you what Apocalypse was supposed to be Ė from the minute I spent with the game, it looked, I swear, like some sort of SimCity clone. This paragraph will likely be the most I ever spend talking about any of these games, and if I had physical copies of them, theyíd be buried in dust by now.

And then we have Enforcer, supposedly the ďworstĒ game in the series if GameRankings is to be believed, yet the only X-COM game that I was able to spend a significant amount of time with Ė in fact, I completed it just moments before writing this. The concept behind Enforcer probably sounds blasphemous to those who loved UFO Defense and would hate to see this beloved turn-based strategy franchise morph into a generic shooter, but Iíd make the argument that, hey, at least something happens in this game.

The setup isÖ well, youíre a robot called the Enforcer who was built to defend Earth from an ongoing alien invasion, andÖ thatís it. The scientist who builds you dies rather quickly (good thing, considering how annoying he is) after which itís up to you toÖ save the EarthÖ fromÖ aliens. By shooting at them. Yeah. The gameís design is about as hollow-minded and unoriginal as that setup would lead you to believe, so simplistic in nature that Microprose didnít even bother to implement vertical mouselook. You shoot aliens, and then you shoot more aliens, and this goes on for thirty-some missions with little in the way of variety or challenge. The levels are pretty directionless in layout, and the aliens themselves are so tactless and unthreatening that Iím wondering why the services of a super-powered cyborg are even required. But while I wouldnít call the game ďentertaining,Ē it is often at least diverting in the mindless way that generic shooters tend to be.

And thatís all there is to say about Enforcer. The game certainly isnít bad, itís just so bland and insubstantial that I had to pad this review out with my impressions of the other X-COM games just to inflate it to a decent length. You never escape the feeling that there are other, better games you could be playing Ö but then again, youíre never ďgladĒ to be pulling yourself away from the game, either. Whereas UFO Defense felt like a test of my patience (and the winners get rewarded by eventually playing a game thatís actually entertaining, supposedly), Enforcer never beats around the bush, and I appreciate that. Enforcer is a game to be ignored by most and forgotten by a few, but for me, coming after three disappointments and one game that didnít work, it was great to play a game that actually held my attention.

Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (June 05, 2009)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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EmP posted June 05, 2009:

You knew this was coming, right?

Enforcer kinda sucks, but, really, are you sure you want to damn the first games based on so little play and a clear misunderstanding of how to play the stratigic titles XCom was based on?

I suppose I want everyone to like XCom, such is my fanboyish love affair with it. Even my hated nemesis!
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Suskie posted June 05, 2009:

I certainly hope you're secure enough in your love for your favorite game that someone else disliking it doesn't diminish your ability to enjoy it. (I forget exactly how you phrased it by now but you get the point.)
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EmP posted June 05, 2009:

You're getting preditable, man.

But I agree; Enforcer was okay, just drab and plodding. I liked that you could pick up bits of alien tech in a shallow attempt to keep the earlier game's reliance on stealing alien weapons and adapting the hell out of them, but that's about it. It's nice to hear the game now comes pre patched enough to not be the buggy mess it was back when I gave it a decent spin, though.
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sashanan posted June 08, 2009:

I'm surprised to learn that Vista runs UFO Defense fine and has trouble with Terror from the Deep, which as far as I can tell is precisely the same game with a few names and graphics altered, and a difficulty bug from the original game fixed by just making it three hundred and forty times harder.

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