previewed on PC
Clone or sequel?
Putting all our journalistic credibility on the line we would say, without fear of contradiction, that you will not be able to find a preview, review, overview or even rear-view about Altar's UFO series without the mention of a certain X-Com game. So let's just get it out of the way; Yes, UFO: Afterlight, the third instalment in the UFO: Aftersomething series, is yet another of the venerable X-Com clones. To be more precise, it is now probably the only X-COM clone that has held on for this long. Which -dear fans of X-COM clones- is no small feat, especially if you consider that it is an unquestionably diminishing market and that nothing is ever good enough for X-COM fans. Geez!
But as with most things in our morally ambiguous world, it would be unfair to judge the fans too harshly. After all, the two previous UFO games, Aftermath and Aftershock, were published with dated graphics, a sluggish game engine and unbalanced gameplay and pacing. And we should not forget to mention the huge amount of bugs as they made the alien onslaught seem trivial. But just as the last enclave of the humans would survive the alien menace, the UFO series survived the waves of bad press (to which we at HG are proudly part of), and they even did it without the help of alien technology.
Of course, it would be unfair to judge a child based on the merit of its parents, so it would be unfair to judge a sequel based on the merits of its predecessors. Oh, never mind -that would be quite fair- so scrap that. But for all the snobbish X-COM clone fans jaded by the lacklustre performance of the UFO series, here is the big news: First, you are an X-COM fan so you have no rights to be snobbish. And second, the upcoming UFO: Afterlight actually boasts a wide range of improvements and new ideas that promise to breathe a massive breath of fresh air into the series AND wetting your pants in the process.
But please keep your pants on for now. Things are about to get serious. If you are not yet familiar with the series, the UFO games are Real-Time Strategy games played on two levels. On the global strategic level, you train your squads, develop weapons and deploy your squads to conquer territories across the globe. On the tactical level, you do all your dirty tactical things. If you can't think of X-COM, then think of Jagged Alliance. Add some lasers and aliens and you have the complete picture.
You play as a group of human survivors fighting for, well, their survival. A Reticulan invasion nearly wiped out all of humanity many years ago. All your heroic efforts in Aftermath and Aftershock turned out in vain and after years of futile resistance, your group of survivors finally threw in their collective towels and ran away with their collective tails in between their collective legs.
Well, too bad for the ones that did not run like the cowards they really are, because they all had to content with their new career as alien canned food. The cast-away survivors were not aiming too high, either, and landed on the nearest planet they could find. In a strange coincidence, or a possible case of copy-right infringement, this planet also happens to be nearly perfectly round, much like old mum Earth.
Thankfully, they managed to identify the planet as Mars due to the fact that it is inconspicuously red, just like the Mars chocolate bar wrappings. And just like in the old Terran days, you will be attempting to rebuild your human civilization from this humble start.
Not so fast...
Before you go on calling Mars just a template-swapped Earth, the difference in gameplay terms is much more than surface-deep. Well, no, actually it is exactly surface-deep. You see, apart from being red, Mars is also not very habitable to oxygen-breathing humans. In order to establish a successful colony on Mars, you would have to utterly destroy natural Martian landscape and replace it with the blue and green that suits our Earthlings' taste better. Surely quite a dilemma for any would-be Martian environmentalist.
But what's more, you also won't be sprouting human settlements like you did before. Gone are the hidden pockets of human survivors to be found around the world. The two-dozen squad members that you start your game with is all you are going to get, and your initial landing spot will be the closest thing you have to a homeland. The embarrassing question of how this group of misfits is supposed to repopulate a whole planet is thankfully explained by way of the cache of cryogenically frozen folks left in the fridge. This, of course, begs the questions: Why can't they be unfrozen to join the fight? Or why can't they be used as emergency food source? (Oh my! - Ed.) It is an emergency, isn't it? These questions remain unanswered. For now.