by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Medics, gunners and snipers
The RPG system has been deepened, giving you control over basic characteristics like speed, dexterity, aim, observation along a wide range of others. Additionally you can train your team members as specialists, able to use skills that give them an edge in battle. Specialist medics, gunners and snipers enable you to use specific tools and weapons unavailable to the untrained, while for instance leaders can steady the nerves of the rest of the team when they're under attack by Psionic weapons.
Your enemies are far more diverse than before. The aliens themselves aren't worth the effort but the cultists and the Wargoth's that you'll encounter at a later stage in the game, are nothing to sneeze at. Especially when you're just starting to fight the Cultist, which is one of the better moments in the game, you'll feel hopelessly outgunned and you'll be forced to adjust your strategy. The Cultists will actively try to undermine your efforts and area's once deemed secure can suddenly shift back into enemy hands.
Dealing with the Cultist will eventually turn into little more than a nuisance as your squad gains experience. You'll never be able to sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor however, unless you totally end the threat. Developer Altar, after just about every UFO fan flamed them, has put base management 'back into the game'. Research has changed and is now being done from bases that you can establish at set locations on the map. Research labs, factories and most other buildings, require upkeep. Your resources are scarce, even at later stages of the game, so you'll have to make choices. Certain labs will provide you with the basic necessities during your missions but others will be absolutely vital to learn more about the enemy and find a way to get rid of the aliens once and for all.
Besides providing a place to conduct research, bases can also act as production facilities and propaganda centers. In theory this sounds like great fun but each base can only hold 4 or 5 different buildings. That still doesn't sound so bad but many buildings require a certain knowledge level. This knowledge level is determined by schools and universities. Often you'll lose 2 building spots just to be able to build a particular building. Tedious.
The actual 'resource gathering' isn't helping things either. Controllable regions that haven't been reserved as base areas provide resources. The only way to get these flowing into your coffers is by connecting them by building roads. But roads require upkeep too. This puts a huge strain on your economy and it is often difficult to get your income and spending to balance out. I'm all for using the roads but the upkeep system ends up as a misguided attempt to make the game more challenging.
So far we've discussed some of the changes that Aftershock brings to the table that don't directly relate to the turn-based tactical combat. In the end, you're buying this game for its combat so I can't really pass on discussing it.
Unfortunately little has changed here. The path-finding is pretty hopeless but you'll find that in many games in this genre. Your team's Artificial Intelligence is non-existent but that can be dealt with by using your own. Fortunately the enemy's brain functions are of a slightly higher level. Enemy units recognize when there's no way to come out on top and will run away as fast as they can. Others may have heard you shooting and will hurry to find the action. Some unit types will even switch to other weapons like for instance knives, if they feel the situation warrants such a switch. It is fun to see the big Wargoths and their minions go down with a big satisfying thud and in general, there's enough to keep you busy on your missions. All in all, the combat engine isn't brilliant, but it's got some good points: tt works and will occasionally surprise you with unforeseen challenges.
The graphics haven't noticeably improved, you'll still struggle with the auto-camera viewpoints and the environment is as dull as ever. There have been some interface improvements but nothing earth shattering. The different factions at first seem to add a whole new dimension but you'll soon learn that a squad made up of just Cyborgs will be most effective in dealing with the enemy. The game has a few interesting surprises, right up until the end, but by that time boredom will have hit too. Missions are just too repetitive as are the surroundings. To lengthen gameplay, Altar has built in some later stage research will drive you insane, it can take you almost a full day of gaming just to get the technology to wipe out the enemy for good. Does that mean it's bad? Nope, but it is nothing to write home about either.
That sums up the rest of the game too I'm afraid. This is the game that Aftermath should have been. On the bright side, Aftershock is fairly close to the original but at the same time, it is a little worrying that it took 12 years for anyone to even get close to the 1994 classic. I for one am not all that impressed. Would I recommend this game? If you're into turn-based combat, like I am, you'll most likely find yourself playing this game for hours on end. Mostly you'll do that because fans of the genre aren't exactly being flooded with games these days. If it is not your thing, I would leave it on the shelves; Aftershock definitely won't get you excited.
No Pros and Cons at this time