by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
In many ways, I am one of those old-school gamers who feel that games should be deep and entertaining but should not become overly complicated. That balance seems to be lost in many of today's games. Either a game is so complex that the only way to get into it is during 5 hour long sessions, or it is mindless running and gunning without any real direction. Even the master of depth Sid Meier dropped his once visionary way of creating games in favor of simple, arcade-ish gameplay that appeals to the masses. It is not that games like Pirates! or Railroads! turned out badly, but... Well, they are not the games of old that you played for weeks at a time. Amidst all this craziness, UFO Afterlight manages to find this balance perfectly, yet... There is something missing. What that is? Read on and you will find out.
Being a long-time fan of the original two games has made it really hard for Cenega to satisfy my expectations of what a UFO game should be like. It is important to remember that Cenega's games are only the spiritual predecessors of the original series as -other than the name,setting and genre- there is no relation between the games. Yet, they are the closest thing available so Cenega's efforts have always been looked at bu fans with both hope and scrutiny. I remember that when I saw the first screenshots of UFO Afterlight, I felt Cenega was taking the UFO series in the wrong direction but I couldn't have been more wrong. Cenega actually got closer to the original by choosing the new cartoonish graphics over the more realistic ones of Afterlight's two predecessors.
We once again take a jump into the future - 50 years this time. The human race has been banished from Earth by the Reticulan invaders and in a last-ditch effort to save mankind, the last remnants pack up and head to Mars. The Red Planet turns out not to be all that deserted afterall. Quite the contrary, the place is crawling with Aliens. A Reticulan splinter group has set up camp and strange looking portals spawn Beastmen troops at regular intervals. So much for a peaceful start. Soon you will learn that half the galaxy appears to be interested in the planet as other races join the battle for your new home. You have got your work cut out for you commander!
During the game new plot developments will be presented to you but this time around it is done in-game instead of using the familiar movies. You have some influence on how the story progresses by creating alliances or declaring war on rival factions.
The planet is once again divided into territories. Grabbing new territory is fairly easy but you have one disadvantage over the aliens. When you attack a territory that they own and win the battle, you will still need to send a prospecting crew to take control. Before the territory can contribute its resources, mines need to be built first. The planet's environment can get quite hostile and many territories cannot safely be entered without having researched and produced suits that can protect your soldiers. Suits can get damaged too, causing your soldier's health to decline. Fortunately research brings suit repair kits that can be used to patch up holes - at least when you are not being shot at constantly.
Getting used to Disney
As mentioned before, Afterlight's graphics are cartoony and you will feel like you are in some Toy Story spin-off. Many gamers don't like this style of graphics but I can assure you that once you have been looking at them for a while, you will start to appreciate how much closer they bring the game to the original UFO/Xcom games.
Cenega's choice to set the game on Mars will initially make you feel that there isn't enough variation in the maps. Everything looks red, rocky, sandy and... well... Dull. This feeling does not go away completely but can be remedied by building terraforming stations from which new plants will grow. For those who remember the original Dune game this will feel fairly familiar with the exception that terraforming doesn't kill your resources.
No Pros and Cons at this time