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X-COM: UFO Defense (PlayStation) artwork

X-COM: UFO Defense (PlayStation) review

"X-Com gives you quite the daunting task to undertake in saving the entire world from invasion. But despite the many challenges it presents, playing it is an enormously rewarding experience that, even in this day and age, has yet to be truly replicated."

Aliens attack Earth. Itís not like theyíve anything better to do on a Sunday night. And thatís about all the plot youíre going to get out of X-COM: Enemy Unknown

To combat the threat, a team of the most elite Special Ops personnel is combined with an enormous supporting team of scientists, technicians, and the best military facilities available. This new establishment is primarily responsible for defeating the would-be invading overlords; to fight back the alien menace, and in doing so, procure information on their advanced weaponry, their vastly superior crafts, and the scaly cretins themselves. This fresh institution, funded by the worldís powers, would see monthly payments further augmented by funds generated through research and development.

Itís a strategy title that actually asks the player to be strategic. Remember when games asked you to do that? Not unless you were playing back in 1993.

Choosing the location of your first HQ is the humdrum initial choice. This base (and all subsequent ones) serve as platforms for out-of-combat activities; itís here that first-time players will first be struck by the enormity of the game. In X-Com, fighting is much more involving than throwing artillery fire at dumb targets until they go away. You'll have to combine fighting with micromanagement that establishes bases throughout the globe, each with unique needs and uses. You need housing for your staff, weapons for your marines, labs for you scientists, hangers for your crafts and big lists for your in-game examples. Each and every bullet fired by your troops needs be supplied by you; every order issued to your technicians given by you.

Mess it up, and send your people to their death.

By the time one of your base's radar systems picks up its first UFO sighting and sends out a custom-equipped fighter jet to do combat, you've probably already seen you fair share of death. These duels are played out on a radar screen where you choose the aggressiveness of your planeís commitment; taking a defensive stance by hanging back at the edge of your weaponís range or being more aggressive and blasting the UFO point-blank. But taking on anything bigger than the smallest craft is asking your pilots to ensure they have paid-up life insurance. If you want to score big, you're going to need the best hardware available. Youíll need to root through crash sites and thwarted alien attacks to procure their own technology if you want to even up the field.

It just means you have to take the alien forces on outside the somewhat comforting confines of a fighter jetís cockpit.

Combat plays out turn-based, similar in some respects to Shining Force and Fire Emblem, but with a much larger emphases on strategy and a massive dosage of depth.

Taking on the enemy on foot gives you a mostly blacked-out mapscape. The only way to uncover more of the map is to explore, which means that you only see what your troops see. Knowing this, the otherworldly opposition takes every chance to conceal itself from your sight, hiding in buildings, behind scenery, and within the wreckage of its downed craft. The crafty little buggers often sucker you into the open where they can (and will) attempt to flash-fry you with plasma blasts. That isn't to say, however, that theyíre granted with any locating abilities youíre not; they're just as blind as you are and equally prone to being snuck up on. In this case, nothing says "Welcome to Earth" more than being shot in the back of the head.

X-Com claims its depth above other standard turn-based strategies thanks to its time units system. Every step you make, every shot you fire, and even every time you spin your troops around eats away at your allocated time. When exploring, you need to always be wary on your time count; there's nothing worse than rounding a corner to find an unaware alien who and not having enough units to mow it down where it stands.

Happily, the game does what it can to help you avoid such catastrophic circumstances by allowing you to reserve time units. You can save time for differing options on positioning your marksman to differing rates of fire than can sacrifice accuracy for a lighter burden on your time. You can even save your time up. Camp outside a crashed UFO with units to spare and, come the enemy turn, anything you see is far from safe. Individual soldiers will unleash a torrent of firepower on the enemy, their order determined by their reflex stat. Having veteran troops always helps because, should the alien have the better reflexes, the first shot is theirs. Particularly unwary campers could find that, instead of dodging plasma beams, they face a grenade lobbed into their formation -- but the resulting explosion would ensure they wouldn't have to worry about it for long.

Whereas your main offensive capabilities consist of the wide selection of firearms you can wield, youíre not limited to them. Not only can you swap your rifle for the gameís equivalent of a chain-gun, but you can also load it up with explosive or heat-expansive ammo. Slug a rocket launcher over the shoulder of a designated heavy weapons specialist and forget about the need for precision sniping. Lob your own grenades at any target thatís taken to ground.

If X-Com has one thing, itís options.

Place strategic flares to light up dark corners, or plant timed demolition packs and motion-sensitive explosives to try to catch foes creeping around your perimeter. Employ a few smoke grenades to cover your retreat or use them to set up a stinging attack on your temporarily-blinded foes, relying on a motion tracker to pinpoint your targets in the artificial fog. Pilot remote-controlled mini-tanks armed with the most destructive armourments you can graft on the their sturdy metallic frames and smirk.

You need every bit of help, because no matter how well you arm yourself up, the invading forces will have the upper hand. Their technology starts well beyond your reach.

Something will have to be done about that.

Your alien chums always manage to give you a lot to worry about, such as their larger force and superior weaponry. Sadly, plasma cannons that make your initial assault rifle look like last seasonís outdated super soaker isn't the only threat they present; they can also assault you on a psionic level, and mess up your squishy human brain. Itís never really fair when your troops are forced to panic, running from battle or becoming a puppet for the little green men, but the only way to claw yourself up to an equal playing field is to learn what you can from your visitors and turn their own methods against them.

Nothing is safe from your scientists, who, when theyíre not figuring out how to use the alienís tech back against them take a scalpel to any corpses left decomposing in a puddle of whatever passes for blood on their planet. Ethereals, creepy, withered aliens who depend mainly on their telepathic powers in battle offer insight on psionics while chopping up a Cryssalids will show you their weakness Itís nice to have something crab-like creatures that plant parasites into unsuspecting human hosts, turning them into zombies who attack former allies. Doing the wet-work not only teaches more about the army you battle against, but also uncovers more theories and ideas.

With all these elements present, itíd be easy for X-Com to become a random jumble of ideas and concepts, but it manages to merge all these differing aspects together credibly. Watching your troops start out as a bunch of rookies with simplistic rifles to grow into excessively-armoured behemoths, equal in weaponry and skills to their opposition, is only accessible by excelling in every aspect that X-Com has to offer. Perhaps you'll start the game cautiously sniping away at the vulnerable Floaters that foolishly staged a terror attack on one of the worldís capitals, but with a little time, you'll be confidently trading shots with mighty Cyberdisks after infiltrating alien encampments.

X-Com gives you quite the daunting task to undertake in saving the entire world from invasion. But despite the many challenges it presents, playing it is an enormously rewarding experience that, even in this day and age, has yet to be truly replicated.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (February 19, 2009)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Lewis posted February 19, 2009:

I don't know if it's just me, Gary, but I get the impression you quite liked the X-Com series.
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EmP posted February 19, 2009:

I might -- might -- be mildly addicted.

This has to win some kind of award for quickest feedback topic ever recorded.
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Suskie posted February 19, 2009:

I tried playing the PC version, but I don't remember much about it. Probably because I fell asleep.
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fleinn posted February 19, 2009:

"Aliens attack Earth. Itís not like theyíve anything better to do on a Sunday night. And thatís about all the plot youíre going to get(...)"

*cough*.. but it's worth mentioning that the devs managed to cover that up very well.
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Halon posted February 19, 2009:

Isn't this like the third or fourth time you reviewed this game. I thought I was the only one who rewrites reviews multiple times around here.

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