Windows - 2003
Description of UFO: Aftermath
Way back in 1994, fondly remembered publisher Microprose released a squad-level strategy game that was destined to be remembered as one of the best examples of the genre. X-Com: UFO Defense (or UFO: Enemy Unknown, as it was known in Europe) had both a global-level base-building and management section, and a small-scale, turn-based strategy mode. The plot was an intriguing tale of escalating alien incursions into a near-future Earth, and the international defence force formed to repel them. Spurred on by the increasingly high-tech invaders, your scientists developed many new weapons and tools over the course of the game, so that whereas your team started with conventional weapons and armour, they ended up with powered armour, jetpacks, laser rifles and psychic powers.
UFO: Aftermath, while it's not an official sequel, is heavily inspired by this classic game. Its developer, Czech studio Altar Interactive (which was also responsible for the excellent RTS, Original War) has taken many of the themes from the original X-Com game. There are a good number of significant differences, though - the strategy segments are real-time (although pauseable), the plot is different, the base-building element is greatly stripped down, and much of the equipment is different.
The game takes place in the aftermath of a huge alien attack on the Earth. Most of humanity is destroyed, and its major cities lie in ruins, with strange mutants wandering the streets. Your team of soldiers represents the last, best hope of humanity, or something. Anyway, just about everyone's dead, and the aliens are zooming around the world in flying saucers like they own the place. Thankfully, you start with a military base, an infinite supply of fighter jets, and a basic selection of weaponry.
As time moves on, you gain new recruits for your squad, and your scientists and engineers can research and develop new technologies - new weapons, armour, base facilities, upgrades for your jets, and more general investigation into the nature, origins and purpose of this new enemy. You can also capture new bases, broadening your area of influence and enabling your forces to be more effective - don't expect the aliens to let you get away with this, though, as they'll attack your bases, given half a chance. They have a trick or two up their sleeves, too.
There's no financial model, unlike the older X-Com games, and no resources beyond the time of your scientists and your stockpiles of weapons and new recruits. Getting your guys killed isn't particularly smart, as they level up with experience and improve their skills. They can also be sent off to training for specific skills.
Most of the game's missions are semi-random, and appear around the globe at intervals. You can choose to send your crack team of commandos, or delegate the mission to other teams - you don't have any influence over these other teams, and really the only feedback you get on their performance is whether they won or lost the mission. They also can't be used for certain plot-critical missions, or missions dealing with base captures or attacks.
Once you take a mission, a chopper bearing your team will be dispatched, and shortly will arrive at the mission zone. Here the game changes to give you direct control of your soldiers; you can have a team of up to seven, so you can carry quite a variety of weapons into battle. It's not turn-based, but expect to be making much use of the pause key to give your team orders at leisure. You can queue up waypoints and actions, and even if you're not used to squad-level games like Commandos, you should get to grips with the system quickly. There isn't really a great deal to it, in fact...
Missions have a variety of objectives - they might be a simple sweep of an area for alien activity, or aiming to bring back a live alien for interrogation, or entering a downed UFO to look for survivors or salvage. The quantity and equipment level of the aliens will increase as you play, so you'll start off facing a handful of weaker xenomorphs with conventional Earth weapons, and before long you'll be taking on packs of rocket launcher-equipped killing machines. Thankfully you can loot the aliens' bodies, so there's always the knowledge that their weapons will be available to you after you complete the mission.
Although the background, engine and plot of the game are interesting, it's a shame that there are a number of flaws with the tactical sections. The enemy AI is probably the largest of these - it's really not up to much beyond direct assaults. This means that frequently the best tactic -- if it can be called that -- is to keep your team together, rely on the aliens coming at you in small numbers, and overwhelm them with sheer firepower. They don't group together for large attacks, or attempt to flank your squad; in fact, the most intelligent thing they do is try to run away if heavily damaged.
While the original X-Com game wasn't in 3D, your troops could nonetheless enter buildings and climb stairs to find vantage points. They could even fly, towards the end of the game. Despite Aftermath's 3D engine, it doesn't allow for these sorts of tactics - you and the aliens are stuck to the ground, and while there are elevations on some maps, it still feels restrictive. The difficulty level of the game is also a cause for concern. It starts gently enough, but there's a point in the game where it suddenly becomes much more difficult. Essentially out of the blue, you'll be facing significantly higher numbers of enemies, and with much heavier equipment, leading to inevitable frustration.
Some aspects of the gameplay can also be irritatingly random. When entering a UFO, for example, you'll probably have to save and reload several times, as your whole team will appear in the same spot inside the ship, making them very vulnerable until you can establish a defensive position. This sort of trial and error gameplay gets old very quickly. Pathfinding is also not particularly good, and your team will need a lot of babysitting in narrow corridors. And there are only perhaps ten different types of mission, and once you've played each one a few times, you won't have much else to see.
Don't get us wrong, though; Aftermath certainly starts well, and the plot is reasonably interesting. But the flaws in the strategic game overshadow the good points the game has, and there's quite the renaissance in squad-level strategy games going on at the moment, so it's not like you're stuck for choice. While Aftermath is a brave try, it lacks variety and strategic depth, relying instead on dumb but heavily armed enemies to provide a challenge. It's of passing interest, but ultimately destined to be abandoned in frustration in most cases.
Review By GamesDomain
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UFO: Aftermath is available for a small price on the following websites, and is no longer abandonware. GOG.com and Zoom provide the best release and does not include DRM, please buy from them! You can read our online store guide .