UFO: Aftermath

14_1After a long, strange journey that saw it change publishers, developers, and names during the course of its development, UFO: Aftermath arrives as a spiritual, if not literal, successor to the legendary X-COM series of turn-based games. Considering that the first developer of Aftermath made the original X-COM, and that the UK name for X-COM was UFO: Enemy Unknown, this new game has a lot of legacy to live up to. That it comes up short isn’t too much of a shock; if anything, the fact it holds up as well as it does is perhaps the bigger surprise.

It shares the same basic structure as X-COM: The earth is under attack by aliens, and it’s up to you to head up an organization created to send the critters back to their home planet. From a globe-level view, you research your enemy and develop new technologies, manage bases, and outfit your troops. You eventually send them all over the world to take on the alien menace, and actual combat takes place on small maps. You have full control over individual troops in these tactical battles—they have no AI whatsoever, which proves problematic (how about just returning fire, or ducking?).

The original ran in pausable real-time at the global level, but switched to pure turn-based mode in combat. Aftermath keeps it consistent throughout, which may sound like a disastrous decision but is, in reality, only a partial misstep. The turn-based combat of X-COM was intense because your movement points had to be doled out so judiciously; you had to leave some in order to be able to return fire if an alien moved into your field-of-view. With the real-time system, you plot out your movement while paused, then hit “play†and wait for things to happen. Certain events (optionally) trigger the game to pause—a member of your team reaches the end of his or her movement, or you run into a bad guy, to use two examples—but there’s less tension and dread because in real-time, because there’s just less time to think about those awful aliens.

Out of the box, Aftermath is incredibly buggy, but a patch addressed its most egregious problems. Once patched, it’s easy to feel a certain amount of fondness for Aftermath. It really is a modern update for X-COM. The tactical combat is exciting, it’s almost ludicrously challenging, and the atmosphere sucks you in. But then it starts to fall apart. The aliens have essentially destroyed the world, meaning the urban battles all take place in empty, nearly-destroyed cities that are very dull-looking and repetitive.

2_1The missions are generic and repetitive, moving from being merely hard to nearly impossible once you head toward the second half of the game. There’s less environmental damage modeling than there was in the original—you can blow up the occasional car or wall, but what about taking out the walls of a downed alien ship?—and cover for your troops seems more theoretical than usable (aliens often hide behind things, but it seems like their weapons work through any object). And the aliens are a really uninteresting bunch – such as alien crabs and gelatinous goo.

The interface doesn’t really take advantage of more modern, mouse-driven control. The inventory interface is a disaster, and there are no pop-up, context sensitive menus during combat. Instead, it’s the same inscrutable icons and keyboard shortcuts that made the original less than easy to learn. The 3D only adds an annoying sense of, “Which camera angle should I really be viewing this from?†It doesn’t zoom out far enough to get a sense of overall strategy, and particularly in some of the interiors, it just creates situations where you can’t actually see where you’re going. The combat takes place on a flat, 2D plane. There’s no real elevation to speak of and no multi-story structures to enter, eliminating a lot of potential tactics.

In fact, if this wasn’t named UFO, or if it didn’t have the legacy of X-COM, it would be easier to overlook some of the changes. But because of its legacy, Aftermath becomes kind of a “nice try†kind of game; it is, at times, worthy of being an X-COM successor. Unfortunately, it can’t quite live up to said legacy.

System Requirements: Pentium IV 2.2 GHz, 512 MB RAM, 2.2 GB HDD, 64 MB Video, WinXP

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