X: Beyond the Frontier

In X, you assume the role of test pilot for the first human ship capable of independent faster-than-light flight. Something goes terribly wrong, and you and your crippled vessel are hurled across the universe into a system controlled by the Teladi, a species whose culture is more than a little similar to Star Trek’s Ferengi. They loan you a few credits to get you started as a trader and tell you to find the Argon, a nearby race that resembles humanity.

3_1X’s best feature isn’t its story, however, but an economic model that outclasses every previous game in the genre. Trade goods are produced in immense orbital factories obedient to the laws of supply and demand. A missile factory, for example, requires six separate raw materials to produce its missiles. If it runs out of one, production shuts down, but the price it is willing to pay for the absent raw material increases accordingly. The reverse is also true—as a factory’s stockpiles increase, it pays less for goods. The result is a dynamic economic model.

Your actions as a trader turn highly profitable runs into money-losing propositions, forcing you to seek out new opportunities until the factories consume the goods you’ve provided. Independent traders further complicate the mix—you’ll be furious when a freighter carrying the same components you do arrives moments ahead of your ship, ruining your profit margin.

The ability to build your own factories is another excellent feature. You can find an unowned, mineral-rich asteroid, construct a mine, hire a transport fleet and defensive fighters, and watch the money roll in. Best of all, your industries still operate when you’re on the other side of the galaxy, accumulating cash until you swing by to claim it. Graphically, X is a mixed bag. The spinning planets, ring systems, and orbital structures are generally excellent. However, the backdrops are really odd. The fuzzy stars encourage visits to the optometrist, and there are actual seams visible in the nebulae graphics.

5X’s flight model is a little odd. Acceleration and deceleration both take a long time, and firing heavy weapons rocks your ship (another nice Newtonian touch). Turning is inertia-less and nearly instantaneous, however, and no inertia slide feature is available. Fights thus become cosmic chicken matches, and collisions are lethal until you buy strong shields. Firing and then praying that your foe doesn’t dodge the same way you do pretty much sums up dogfighting in X. The pacing of the game is way off, to make things even worse.

Your ship starts out unarmed, and the best way to advance to the critical factory ownership stage is to keep it that way for a long, long time. You can amass immense wealth by dodging enemy ships and plowing every credit into your bank account. While productive, this eventually gets pretty dull, but cash spent on weapons and shielding just slows the game down.

System Requirements: Pentium 166 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Win95

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