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PC Review - 'X³: Reunion'

by David Wanaselja on Dec. 10, 2005 @ 2:54 a.m. PST

X³: Reunion utilises a new generation game engine, developed to immerse the player into the most realistic, living universe, ever experienced. The economy model in X³: Reunion is more complex than any previous X game. Coupled with the massively enhanced A.L. (Artificial Life) system, X³: Reunion will present players with an ever changing, evolving universe; where a player’s actions really can shape the future of the universe.

Genre: Simulation
Publisher: Enlight
Developer: Egosoft
Release Date: November 3, 2005

Buy 'X3: Reunion': PC

I was minding my own business, hauling a load of particle accelerators to a distant station when suddenly my gravidar displayed the telltale red icons that indicated trouble. A group of three pirate ships, the incredibly fast Harrier scout ships, closed quickly. I was still 45 kilometers away from the jump gate, so I quickly ordered my escorting vessels, two Argon Busters, to peel off and take care of the interlopers. As my wingmen tangled with the pirates, I slowly progressed towards the gate, smiling as two pirates exploded and the third was heavily damaged. I ordered my wingmen back to my side and made the jump, realizing a hefty profit from the sale of my freight and immediately looking for the next opportunity.

This is essentially the core of X3: Reunion, and you’ll spend most of your time trading, fighting, building, and thinking about what to do next. If you’ve ever played Elite or any of its progeny, you’ll be right at home with X3. If you played Freelancer and wondered why the universe ended up feeling so lifeless, you’ll find plenty to love about X3. If you’ve played the immediate predecessor of X3, X2: The Threat, you’ll likely be impressed by the visuals and other minor improvements, but disappointed that everything else remains largely the same.

X3: Reunion follows the story of Julian Brenner, the returning hero of X2: The Threat. Some time has passed since the events of the previous game, and many familiar faces return as you experience the new plotline, which no longer progresses through the laughable cutscenes that feature puppet-like characters. While the horrible character models don’t make a return, they are replaced by something almost as bad – the low-resolution movie. Mission briefings and other story items are now displayed in an incredibly awful looking movie format that is probably running at a resolution of 320x240. What makes it worse is that these exact same items ran using the in-game engine in the previous game, which was much more pleasing to the eyes.

While the story won’t win any Pulitzer prizes for fiction, it does a decent job of providing a driving force for players who like their games to have a point. Of course, the X series has never really been about the story. It’s been about empire building, combat, and trading, all of which are abundantly present in X3. In fact, Egosoft is so aware of this fact that they give the player an option to forgo the plot experience altogether and simply be thrown into the universe to do as they please without the restriction of a story. This is a welcome addition and no doubt many fans of the space simulation genre are pleased to have this option.

So just what else has changed, and why should you ditch X2 for X3? The most obvious change is in the visual department. Utilizing the latest shaders and other graphical tricks, the game looks leagues better than X2 did just a couple of years ago. It still requires a beast of a system to get it to look as good as it can though, and certain options like full shadows aren’t even available anymore. However, it’s hard to be disappointed with the way things look. Sectors are chock full of ships moving to and fro, making the game even busier than ever before. The new ship designs are sleek, shiny, and even deadlier looking than you ever could have dreamed. The now gigantic-sized planetary bodies that are present in many sectors provide an incredible sense of scale and really give you the feeling that you are in space.

Not only are the graphics improved, but the menuing system received an upgrade as well. Breaking things down into sub-menus that put everything in a spot that’s easy to find, Egosoft has finally gotten it right and made the game much easier to navigate than before. Ordering your ships around, trading, swapping ships, checking your factories, and all the other necessary game functions have suddenly come clearly into focus and become more accessible than they ever have been in an X title. It will still take some getting used to, simply because of the sheer number of options that you have. Then again, those of us who love these sort of titles are likely more willing to put up with a sharper learning curve than others. However, even if this is your first space-sim, you’ll find yourself picking it up in no time.

In the audio department, the game is almost disappointingly similar to X2. The voices for the different alien species and the station announcers and other voices are ripped straight from the previous title. Certain musical tracks also make a return. There are some additions to the sound effects that make combat come alive, which is really nice to hear. However, the overall aural experience is pretty much a repeat, which isn’t necessarily bad, as the soundtrack is quite good and the voices are generally acceptable. It would’ve been nice to get more out of this new title, though.

There’s no doubt that where the game really shines is in the gameplay department. Thrown into this huge universe that is bustling with activity and opportunity should make any gamer giggle like a giddy schoolgirl. There are so many opportunities and paths to pursue that you may initially be overwhelmed. You can follow the storyline to completion if you want, or you can completely ignore it until you can complete it in your fully loaded dreadnought. You can battle pirates or become one. You can trade to make your riches, or smuggle illegal goods. Build up a trade empire by creating gigantic factory complexes. Amass a fleet of ships to patrol your borders, capture vessels from other traders, take on assassination missions, commit genocide on your least favorite alien race – the range of options are staggering. You can dabble in whatever you like, or be a master of them all. There’s no limit to what you can accomplish – all you need is time.

And lots of time is what it will take before you experience everything that X3 has to offer. If you think you’ll be playing for a few hours and then suddenly be launching your death fleet to take out an entire sector, you’re quite wrong. This is more a way of life than a game – something you’ll be playing for years before you feel that sense of accomplishment that comes with a fleet of battleships and a home sector bustling with factories and bristling with defenses. If you want a game that you can play unceasingly for a long time, look no further than X3: Reunion.

If it seems like a lot of comparisons are being drawn between X2 and X3, that’s because there is. At the core, they are the same game. However, there are enough differences to justify a purchase of X3, and the differences really do make the game better than the prequel. Unfortunately, one of the things that X3 shares with X2 is the extreme need of patching. Egosoft is notorious for releasing patch after patch before the game is in perfect condition. Of course, this isn’t always a bad thing. If you’re looking for bug-free play, out of the box, forget about it. If you’re willing to stick with developers that listen to their fans and consistently make strides towards a perfect product, than X3: Reunion is perfect.

The sheer expansiveness of the X3: Reunion universe will draw you back again and again, each time offering something new and exciting. You’ll never run out of goals to meet. Time and time again, you’ll want to better yourself and accomplish something greater. Displaying a keen sense for what space might realistically be like in a few hundred years, Egosoft has created a game that is tantamount to a time machine. The graphics will blow you away, the sound will entice you, and the gameplay will keep you coming back again and again – and again. Don’t dismiss X3: Reunion as just another space game – it’s the real deal.

Score: 8.7/10

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