Genre : Strategy
Publisher: Tri Synergy
Developer: ALTAR interactive
Release Date: October 16, 2003
Buy 'UFO: Aftermath': PC
What is it about aliens taking over the planet, with only a few rag tag survivors that still appeals to people as a compelling story? Is it our innate fear of the unknown manifested? Who knows, but I do know that it has been played out in movie theaters and games to the point where it shouldn't offer any entertainment value even though it still does. As I roamed through desperately vacant neighborhoods trying to undo the nasties that had infested the earth in UFO: Aftermath, I found the mood and game play very gripping at times and, outside of a few minor quibbles, thoroughly enjoyable.
UFO: Aftermath is a single player only game that mixes several elements from different genres together. At it's heart it is an turn-based strategy game but manages to mix in other elements like some real time strategy and role playing elements that gives gamers that enjoy the classic feel of X-Com a little food for some game digestion. X-Com is definitely one of those turn-based strategy games that conjures little floating hearts around gamers everywhere with just a mention of the name. Unfortunately there really hasn't been much that has come close to how good that game really was. UFO: Aftermath definitely tips the hat to X-Com but there are definitely game play elements that reminded me of other more recent turn-based games like the excellent Silent Storm and some past endeavors like Syndicate.
The game starts off with a strategic command window that allows you to research technologies that monitor and resist the alien onslaught. In the strategy mode of the game you have a 3d model of the earth with current command centers or bases that the resistance is holding down. You can not build bases so this may be a little bit of a let down, however as you gain more bases you get more interesting missions to choose as they become available. As you click on the screen to move time forward various messages pop up showing new missions you can accept or delegate. If you delegate the mission you have no control over what happens or the success of the mission. If you choose to accept the mission the tactical mode of the game eventually is launched. At the heart of any good turn-based strategy game you will find the tactical control of various units as the main element of the game. This is definitely where the majority of your time will be spent in this game. When I saw that there was a strategic element to the game I wondered how long I would have to spend in this macro management feature until I would get to the tactical warfare. Surprisingly the strategic mode of the game is somewhat enjoyable and gives you a better feel of control and immersion into the actual maneuvers you will face once you do launch into tactical mode.
As you get started there is quite a bit to learn with UFO: Aftermath and a good tutorial and manual always help with the ease of acclimation. Fortunately the manual supplied is helpful and informative. The layout of the manual works and does contain enough information to help you get started and provide a resource for many of the questions you may have later. The tutorial is pretty skimpy on the strategic command but does offer the basics of combat and movement for the tactical game. You may need to consult your manual more to understand some of the complexities of the strategic mode of the game.
Since tactical game play doesn't start until after you accept a mission in the strategic game mode, let's start with what the strategic mode offers. As mentioned above you have a 3d view of the earth that allows you to monitor activities around your bases. Your ability to monitor activities will improve as you research different technologies. The research screen is available from the strategic window. Research is fairly simple as you select options that are available and put them in your research cue. The first option for research will probably be advanced radar so you can detect incoming ufo activity. Your strategic window or mode also has an option for you to go in and set up your soldiers for deployment. You can select various weapons, ammunition, health packs and body armor to equip your team for deployment in their next mission. You can also pick how many recruits will go with you into the next mission. There are place holders for up to 7 members however some may need to recuperate in sick bay or you may find only a few recruits available in the beginning of the game. When viewing your squad you will be able to access the equipment screen and the training screen which allows for upgrades in abilities and of course weapons. The equipment screen basically gives view of your inventory and your stats as each soldier will have different abilities that influence their success in the game.
Role playing is also a part of UFO: Aftermath however it isn't enough to satisfy the gamer looking for a role playing experience. There are skills and attributes that increase as your character gains levels however the increase is gradual and doesn't show a significant impact on the tactical game play. When your character levels you will be able to select from three physical attributes and three mental attributes to increase in value. As you increase attributes with a character their skills are affected. Skills are divided up between combat, defense, detection and other skills like capacity, aliens and medical. The 'aliens' skill allows you to hit enemies more effectively as the medical skill obviously affects your ability to heal wounds in the field.
Another opportunity to level your units in the game is a training option. From the soldiers inventory or equipment window you can access their specific training window. This will display a list of all training completed and training that is available. As you meet minimum requirements for a certain training session it will then becomes available for you to select. Training sessions include things like sniper, scout and grenadier. Grenadier, for instance, will improve the unit's ability to throw, capacity to carry, hit points and use of launcher type weapons. The training sessions that become available are all shown effectively in the training window as well as the skills that need to improve before you can train in a specific area.
The actual game play will be fairly intuitive for most turn-based fans but will require some getting used to for those new to the genre. The learning curve for UFO: Aftermath is probably going to be around an hour on average, maybe quicker for some turn-based veterans. Having reviewed Silent Storm recently I couldn't help but see some glaring similarities in the two games. As your squad moves, if an enemy is sited, the game play stops and you are allowed to change your orders. This is a nice feature but can be a little frustrating at first as it tends to slow down the game quite a bit. If the game is pausing because a new enemy has been sited, a nice little in game 360 degree camera shot of your new villain will launch to give you a closer look. This added to the dreaded alien feel of the game and increased the immersion a little for me. Once you engage a hostile you will find the combat to be fairly challenging. I found myself using hit and run tactics for some engagements and using unit's special abilities important for others. It is also vital to use other squad members to heal each others as the aliens do get the best of your units in many instances. If you run out of ammo you may need to reload and if a soldier looses too much health he or she may go unconscious. Unconscious soldiers can be healed but this may need to happen after the engagement depending on your resources in the present situation.
Tactical missions range from search and destroy to reconnaissance missions that focus on stealth and capturing aliens for examination and research. The missions definitely get more interesting as you obtain more bases and have a wider range to select from. The combat is entertaining overall however I did find the immersion of the atmosphere quickly dissipating when I saw aliens using human hand guns to fire back. Some of the missions can get a a little on the tedious side as you will spend time just roaming around trying to find some objective that has been missed. It usually ends up being a missed alien that you needed to extinguish from his filthy little place on earth but it did cause for some level of frustration as you looked around for it. Inventory management also was a little cumbersome as you try and exchange gear with different soldiers. You have to drop things on the ground and do a lot of shuffling to trade items from your inventory. Adding to the frustration was poor representation of the items on the ground. It's difficult at best to see what you're standing over until you access the soldier's inventory and look at it from there.
Graphically UFO: Aftermath works quite nicely. The strategic window isn't much but gets the job done whereas the tactical mode looks pretty good and allows for full 360 degree panning and zooming. As you can see from the screenshots the tactical mode doesn't set new standards for eye candy but does look pretty good. The game world is actually fleshed out quite nicely in comparison to the character models which tend to look a little underdeveloped and a little polygonal. I did find the aliens to look pretty good though as there is some creativity used in the design of them.
Ambient sounds are nicely implemented in the game and help to provide for the eerie atmosphere of an earth besieged by alien nasties. Weapon sounds are appropriate but a little more alien sound would have been nice. Voice acting, an area that a lot of games seem to really miss the mark in, is missed in UFO: Aftermath as well. It isn't the best, especially in the main character you begin with as he sounds like a good old boy farmer from the southern parts of the U.S.
UFO: Aftermath is a good mix of several gaming elements including real time and turn-based strategy along with some role playing to round it out. The strategic view of the world helps monitor what is happening on a global level with your bases and allows you to accept or reject missions as they are needed. The tactical mode, which is really the core of the game, offers a nice blend of elements that, with the UFO theme, provide some genuinely enjoyable moments. The missions are nicely varied as you get further into the game although some of them can be a little monotonous as you search for a missed objective or a hidden alien to gun down before you can complete it. It may be a little tough for folks new to the genre as the tutorial is a little sketchy but the manual does offer quite a bit of help. If you're looking for a good squad based, tactical strategy game UFO: Aftermath is definitely worthplaying.
Score : 8.0/10
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