In the second part of the founder of genre of tactical team strategies by Microprose we will look at the Earth separated into isolated city states.
It’s year 2084 and unit X-Com (eXtraterrestrial COMbat unit) was called to action again. The reason is invasion of alien vessels of an unknown origin to the airspace of Mega-Prim (the biggest city state on Earth). Since the last attack before more than 40 years many things have changed. Many of the technologies researched in past battles against aliens are now normally in use whether by common civilians or by army. Elerium is now exploited on near planets and shipped to Earth where it has replaced gold and organic fuels. Many gangs had grown up as an protest against new way of life. Civilization moved not only to Mars which is now rid of aliens but even to another planets. There are new races – Androids and Hybrids. Androids, originally intended as alternate manpower and to dangerous and hard works, but their manufacture was stopped and forbidden because of protests of people against unemployment. Hybrids are crossbreds between Sectoids (prime enemy in past episodes) and humans. They inherited after their Martian ancestors mainly the big psionic potential and that’s why was their reproduction prohibited. Both these races are occupiing mainly the slums on the outskirts. Entire population now lives in big city states and one of them – the biggest one named Mega-Primus – was attacked. In the sky has appeared several brightly flashing objects with pyramid shape and triangular base. Out of them were flying strange crafts and after a few flights over the city and one skirmish with local armed forces they‘ve returned back. Immediately after this incident was called up an emergency state, under layers of dust were looked up old materials and activity of the X-COM unit was re-engaged again. And moreover a new fanatic cult was estabilished named Cult of Sirius which is orthodoxly worshiping Aliens as saviours of humankind. Surprising, isn’t it?
Player is like in previous episodes set to a commander position of small combat unit (up to 36 soldiers – 6 groups 6 each) and has all the advantages and disadvantages of it. You get to know after time that take all 36 members to the missions is nonsense and you put together squad of the best 12 of them. Single squad members are enhancig some of their abilities while in combat or practising – strength, stamina, speed, accuracy and psionic abilities. They can even get higher ranks and medals. You can choose at the beginning of every day from bigger or smaller amount of volunteers who can be humans, androids or hybrids. Every of each race is good for different things. People are universal in battle, but with weak psionic abilities. Hybrids are contrast of them. They have strong psionic but weak combat abilities. The Androids are charakteristic by their vast resistance and they are absolutly immune to psionic attacks. It could seem, that choice is easy, but androids are not improving their skills in combat nor in training. And regarding the fact that psionic is not so much in range like in previous episodes you will probably choose just people.
Other pleasures start when you decide to equip your agents. The selection of an equipment is really enormous and starting overview is not definitely the ending one (machine gun, minigun, laser rifle, rocket launcher, granades and beyond of it is explosive, fire and piercing ammo for some weapons). After surviving the first week (circa one afternoon of gameplay) besides the hardening of the enemies you’ll get an offer to buy advanced goods (plasma pistols, hand rocket launcher etc.). And unlike the previous volumes, here is valid: „Not a single shot without an armor“. This means in reality you can consider a soldier without an armor as death from the beginning of a mission. – just one shot from an enemy and it‘s certain death. Fortunatelly enough types of armor are available to purchase (these must be enough for 12 people). In second week are revealed more enhanced version of them to you. Arming itself is done like everything else-by system „Drag n‘ drop“. In the left part of a screen is list of supplies in the storehouse and in the right part is your agent with marked empty slots for weapons and equipment. I believe it doesn’t matter where you place the items (in previous volumes was calculated an usage of action points for change or reload of a weapon from it). You will take mostly piercing and explosive ammo/grenades/rockets. I didn’t find flammable and smoke useful (smoke or fire is disturbing more you than the enemy). The most useful among weapons are mainly machine guns and automatic canons, later you will come to use alien technologies without whose you would barely finish the game.
It wouldn’t have been Ufo without great research. The scientists are being hired at the beginning of a new day same as agents. Their abilities are described with one number in range from 1 to 100 (the greater the better). Unfortunatelly the values are constant and they are not increasing by the gameplay. Which means every day checking if there is someone with better classification. Then you assign them to one of three deparments (quantum physics lab, biochemic lab or workshop) and they are working and working and working until they discover some interesting piece of technology for you which you can use for gain futher knowledge or to start with it’s production. You equip your agents with these new things and if is it it’s price on a market friendly you can earn pretty money from selling them (it’s necessity in fact). Speed of research and production is influencing overall summary of appraisal of all people in given lab or works whereas you can own as many labs and works as you want in small (5 employees) or after discovering such technologies even in big (20 employees) design.
And where are you going to place all this staff? It depends which base the game will attach to you. It’s shape is strongly given, but it chooses from about ten different buildings placed all over the city (storages, slums etc.). So a little bit of Start and Exit the game and you’ll choose according to criterias of your‘s. Probably the most dominant parameter is number of connected fields (one of them is always taken place by entrance lift). Every room has to be connected with corridor and it can’t go beyond the barriers of the structure. Living quarters, training quarters (combat, psi), hangar, surgery, workshops and from one of each labs are starting conditions of a new base. Whatever you add next is up to you. Building is again system Drag n‘ drop – pick the icon of quarters and move it upon the area of it’s new placing. Then just wait until the necessary time is gone (about few days) and you can move. When you have enough funds, if you get so far, I recommend to purchase one or two more objects specialised just to research and production. It’s worthy.
The base doesn’t serve just for accomodating of your staff but also as hangar for your battle vehicles. Because you’ll fight even outdoors against the alien’s aircrafts you need something more effective than just a unit of soldiers. Selection of technique is vast. From ground units - simple unarmed antigravitation bike (I’m missing it’s purpose in the game), armed car, panzer transporter, heavy tank or from air units – light but effective scooter, modified hovercraft, interplanetary interceptor or heavy weapons carrier. And of course aircrafts of your own design with capability of travelling to alien’s dimension (I won’t reveal anything more, let’s invent them on your own). A configuration of your lethal precious is completely up to you. There are several types of engines at your disposal, plenty of weapons and many other devices (transport modules, jammers, shields etc.). Unfortunatelly, most likely reduction of original concept and limits of ground enemies took away the signification of ground battle vehicles. It’s not worthy to buy them at all so as bigger aircrafts - Hawk has it’s utilization when you get the generator of shields at your disposal. I managed with air scooters and hovercrafts Fenix for bigger part of game, I used Valkyre only as a drop machine.
Battles in the city are the same like in every other real-time strategy. You receive a message that in the city has appeared an UFO, you pick the crafts to attack and lock on the targets. Also it’s possible to setup the agresivity of pilots, height of flights and weapons for fight. By pressing the hotkey (now I can’t remember which one) you can eventually set the waypoints and then unpause. Pause for giving orders is obviosity and welcomed fact and even with it you don’t know sometimes what to do first because you have to pay attention for losts among your units (crafts are expensive and rare) and also for damage of buildings. If you destroy half of city because of one UFO the government won’t like you very much.
Similar to this are even tactical missions inside of buildings. When an alarm is launched the window with overall list of your’s people and vehicled comes up. You can assign the soldiers to particular crafts anytime – by system drag n’ drop – you catch the picture of an agent and move it over the picture of a craft (if you would’ve known how long does it took to me to discover this, in the end a friend of mine has told me that who had discovered it by luck). Here you get a chance to change your decision and then is just enough to pick the type of a mission. These are 2. An attack pointed to kill aliens in location or to assault the object with an effort of making a big damage to it’s owner. After leaving this window is your craft moving to the place of attack and action can start. If you’d need it you get one more chance to rearm your soldiers. Or more likely to shuffle their equipment, because all your supplies stayed at the base. Before entering the location you have one more decision to take – turnbase or realtime? I’ve tried both options and if you get into it the only significant difference is time-consuming. In realtime are missions question for half an hour, in turnbase even several hours. Time spend in tactical part is influenced not only by duration of a turn of each sides but also by some “improvements”. For instance interception – an agent can do something without intervention of a player in an opponent’s turn. That soldier who succeed in an interception of an opponent has several options how to react – he starts to shoot, runs or he does nothing. You would say it’s 33% per each option. But unfortunatelly it’s about 90% for shooting and 10% for the others (this rate is yet since the first episode). When there is accidentaly standing some other man in front of the soldier, who saw the enemy and intercepted his action, he gets a shot to the back almost everytimes. In case of rocket launcher it can mean a death for whole squad and then load. You have no other choice than watch to keep your men in safe distances among each other or do not leave them any free action points (AP). This difficulty is fortunatelly not in realtime mode. Next interesting feature are civilians. After a very few first missions are these ever-present pigs strongly annoying. They block paths of agents, obstruct in doors, stand in sight, intrude the aiming, go in trajectory of bullets etc. You should kill them minimally or else you receive recourse. I used to solve it by stunning weapons – there are no recourses for that, it just waste the AP. Even the enemies themselves will enlarge the time spent in a mission. They are able to hide well. I was searching for one particular alien for 2 hours than I’ve finally found him blocked in between a sofa and some mess in a room where I had been three times before. Manytimes I ran through whole 8 floored building because of him, cause I hadn’t known how many of them left. Even the motion scanner didn’t help – that alien wasn’t capable of move. Then you play in turnbase mode... The last difficulty of a combat is psionic. Enemies are using it in the same way as they use any other arms – highly reliable and highly foxy. But You have no usable similarity. Mind controller is present here but distance for use is ridiculously small and you need for that psionicly efficient soldier. A target will not let anybody come so close (definitely not alive), especially when it is your unit controlled by an enemy.
You can vary a stereotyp from still repeating same missions by attacking structures of Sirius‘ cult (mine for funds and experience), airstrikes are handled quite well. A development tree and list of technologies to product in your works is wide and spread through the whole game. If you would have been really bored look inside the nice designed Ufopaedia. Mainly look at the pictures. Most of them look like 3D models on a first sight. Graphics is adequate to the date of a release. Sounds are also very nice, music is providing dark and a little bit scary atmosphere. Not to be useless big amount of stereotype boring missions and difficulties mentioned above, the Apocalypse would had been an equal rival to Jagged Alliance. But like this it’s just above-average 3rd part of succesful series. This doesn’t mean that you will not enjoy it at least for some time. It’s not for playing till the end but it last at least several weeks.