by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Playing the part
While the character portraits and voices attempt to give you the feeling that each of your men are unique individuals, I never felt a bond with any specific character. The original games succeeded admirably in this by having some characters gain experience considerably faster than their peers. These characters became super-soldiers who could really tip the balance during your missions, soldiers you really hated to lose. Soldiers heal fairly fast which feels like a blessing in the beginning, but this too contributes to the feeling that there are no irreplaceable people on your squads.
There is no such bond in UFO Afterlight. All characters advance more or less equally and while new recruits are slightly disadvantaged in combat, they are capable enough to make you forget that they are new.
Weapons research on the other hand, produces very satisfying results. With each new weapon that becomes available, you will literally feel more powerful as you see your foes go down faster. Obviously new enemies get introduced and when you find yourself outmatched, the feeling of urgency to get your hands on new technology keeps the game interesting. Research in other fields has a similar effect. Many areas on the planet have an environment so hostile that your men can't survive for very long. This is an interesting way to curb your early expansion somewhat. Without this barrier you could own half the planet before enemy factions become any issue at all. Developing new technology to deal with the environment enables you to control those areas too.
Basebuilding is back and is very rewarding as well. As you gain knowledge, new buildings become available and each of these buildings adds new opportunities for training, research and information gathering.
How she handles
The view controls are a mixed bag. The auto-camera feels a little jumpy but unfortunately you will have to switch to the free camera manually every time you start a mission. The game simply does not save your viewing preference. The game sports two vision types: normal and PSI mode. In PSI mode the screen goes to a 'Predator'-like view making it easy to see sentient beings on the map.
Combat has changed very little, if at all. Entering an area that is under attack or that you would like to take over puts your team under your control. Anywhere between one and seven members can be brought along except for the occasional mission in which you are asked to bring someone back home with you. Moving your squad around the map is the simple point and click exercise that any turn-based strategy fan will be familiar with. The only quirk here is that when you move as a group, one individual automatically is selected as the group master. This in itself isn't so much of an issue, but clearing everyone's plans is done via a button in the group master's interface. When you consider that this is a often used button and that the group master is never the same, you are often searching yourself silly for the button to clear your teams' plans.
I'm usually not one to complain about sound. Most games make use of standard sound libraries and unless developers choose to produce most of the sounds themselves, there is very little to complain about. Yet it is sound where UFO dropped the ball for me. Many of the sound effects in the game sound as if the entire game is played within a tin can. I realise that no one knows what Alien weaponry sounds like, but as long as you don't know, you might as well choose a sound that doesn't make your ears bleed. Additionally, the voice acting is dull and uninspired.
Between that and the very long load times that occur in the later stages of the game, I can't help but feel that Cenega took a wrong turn somewhere. It's not that UFO Afterlight is a bad game as it is in fact their best effort to recreate the game experience of the originals. It's just that the game feels somewhat repetitive and that is probably because it is pretty much the same as its to older siblings, but with a new engine. Enemy units are as varied as leafs on a tree - just sticking a new colour on them and making them a bit more or less bulky does not make a new unit.
I would still like to see the Gollup brothers to give UFO another try one day and see what they can come up with. Perhaps they could team up with Sid, whose company published the original games? As it stands, UFO Afterlight is a capable game and the closest thing to the original spirit of the series that I have seen in a long, long time.
No Pros and Cons at this time