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UFO: Aftershock (PC) artwork

UFO: Aftershock (PC) review

"The odds are stacked against you, yes. But when you can freeze the odds where they stand and think your way around them, it's not so overwhelming. Few games manage to portray the same sense of complexity that UFO Aftershock does. And even fewer do so with the same grace. "

Ruined buildings rise from the endless grey-brown muck of the ravaged countryside. Today's mission is to hunt and kill the mutants plaguing the inhabitants of this country. The intelligence report never said where the enemy was hiding, you only know that they're near the drop point. So the party advances, always cautious.

Then they come, a great shambling mass of mismatched monsters. In a flash, the frontal scout is hit with a brutal attack from the previously unseen foe. Two soldiers use suppression fire to hold back the approaching band of mutants while the injured scout retreats behind the front line. Another comrade swaps his rifle for a medkit to treat his wounds. The fifth man is watching every one's back, scouting behind and preventing a fatal ambush that would smash the party between two enemy swarms. And then the action simply stops, everyone frozen in time, bullets hanging in the air like a string of Christmas lights.

But you smile because this isn't a game crash. This is planning time. UFO Aftershock is a game of strategic pausing. And it's alright because there's a crazy amount of stuff to keep track of.

Each of your units are very independent, they can operate just fine alone, until they become independently swarmed and killed. The trick to being successful is to have your squad work independently...together. Everyone can do their own thing, but it needs to work for the better of the group, or you will die as battle progresses at a brutally quick pace. A single strong blow will knock a unit to the ground, buying time to retreat or fend off other incoming units, but it also works against you. If a downed ally isn't quickly assisted, you'll be down one ally for good.

The odds are stacked against you, yes. But when you can freeze the odds where they stand and think your way around them, it's not so overwhelming. Few games manage to portray the same sense of complexity that UFO Aftershock does. And even fewer do so with the same grace. Unlike most modern RTSes, there is no effort made here to narrow down units to a specific role. Each of your people will learn to specialize in certain things as the game goes on, but their focus will be up to your discretion. And even an artillery specialist can break out the medpacks if the situation is dire enough.

Everything about your progression is in your hands. It's something you don't often see in the "go here, kill this" campaigns of RTS with more recognizable names.

But it's not just the small-scale of the individual missions demanding your attention. Each sortie is just a tiny piece of a bigger picture. The entire world is open before you, and every mission is a chance to capture new territory or improve your relations with different groups of people. This is important, because it is from the world that you get troops. Your bases provide you with supplies such as ammunition and armor, so long as you can keep them supplied. And therein awaits a whole new level of tactical management. It's almost like playing two games at once.

Though fundamentally different, going from one mode to the other is very intuitive, because they share the same philosophy. Much like the small-scale counterpart, the global map provides you with a lot to do. Research and development takes place in real time across multiple facilities in multiple bases spanning several continents. In order to keep things running in the most efficient way, it's sometimes necessary to take an inventory of where you stand. The easiest way to do that without having to constantly respond to attacks or cries for help in your territory is to stop the clock.

Just like that, the sheer scale of the game becomes manageable. Just like that, two different gameplay modes can work as one.

UFO Aftershock will take you from commanding a small number of troops as they liberate a handful of refugees to managing the supply lines of a global war machine. Never once does the game feel like it's out of control. Amazingly enough, it is nearly always right where you want it. It is a true strategy game, and a gem of one at that.

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Freelance review by Josh Higley (September 14, 2007)

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