UFO: Enemy Unknown - A brilliant Strategy game reviewed by Cola Powered Gamer

When someone asks you what is the best turn-based strategy game, you can confidently say UFO: Enemy Unknown.

UFO: Enemy Unknown (or X-COM: UFO Defense as it was known in North America), released in 1994, and developed Mythos Games and published by MicroProse. UFO: Enemy Unknown was originally planned as a sequel for 1988 game Laser Squad, also developed by Julian Gollop the developer of UFO/XCOM Franchise. UFO: Enemy Unknown is an amalgamation of all of the games Gollop previously worked on, with some expanded concepts. The first games that Gollop developed were also strategy games such as Rebelstar Raiders (1984), Laser Squad (1988) and their sequels were all turn-based strategy games, so Gollop already had a solid foundation to build his next game.

UFO: Enemy Unknown is set in the near future at the time of the game’s release, the game begins in 1998. Increased UFO sightings and tales of Alien abduction spread worldwide, as well as rumors of attacks of a mysterious alien attack force. To counter this, the most powerful nations in the world meet and form the X-COM. A clandestine defense and research organization Extraterrestrial Combat (X-COM), who you control throughout the game.

At the beginning of the game, you only have access to the conventional weapons and equipment, but as the game goes and you learn more about the aliens you will research new and better weapons, armor and equipment. At first, you will learn about alien species by researching their corpses (or by capturing them), by studying their equipment, their mutated creations and ultimately you will find out their motives.

At the start of the game, you will be extremely vulnerable and you can expect a high casualty rate if you are not careful. Your soldiers at the begging are slow, can’t aim very well, have low reaction time, and you will wonder how they even became soldiers. To avoid the high casualty rate, you must use smart tactics and never leave you, soldiers, alone or out of cover. After each successful mission, your soldiers will gain experience and level up their abilities.

The game is played in two views, the Geoscape, and the Battlescape. In the Geoscape you will see a nice early 3D model of Earth, and one of the first tasks is where to place your first base (tip: try Antarctica), and as the game progresses you can build more bases to cover more ground. Once you selected your base location, you can upgrade your base, research and reverse research alien technologies, engineer new things, buy/sell stuff, equip your soldiers and aircraft. The game also has a nice little encyclopedia of all the things that you researched and discovered. There are 16 nations funding the X-COM project, and at the end of each month, you will be presented with a report, where nations can choose to increase or decrease funding based on your progress. Spend too much time defending one region, and countries from another region may pull their funding, so you must build additional bases to prevent this from happening. You detect Alien activity with radars, and if you build more or upgrade them you will detect more alien activity, naturally. Once the UFO is detected, you can send out your X-COM fighters to intercept the UFOs.

Once the UFO is shot down, you can send X-COM ground forces to fight the remaining aliens. When this happens the game will switch to the Battlescape view, an isometric view where you control your troops (or at least one unit), on a randomly generated map. There are nine different terrains that you can encounter (farmland, forest, ice, mountain, jungle, urban, desert, alien base and X-COM base), and each one has their own advantages and disadvantages. The combat uses time units (action points), and they can be used for a variety of actions, such as movement, changing stances, using the equipment, firing a weapon, etc. All of the actions are selected through the icon on the UI. This being a 1994 game, you may need to look up icon definitions in the manual or a wiki site, but they are pretty much self-explanatory. For instance, the icon with a gun and a bunch of small lines, means auto fire, while the icon with the silhouette with an aiming guy means an aimed shot. You can also manage ammo, as several weapons have different ammo, such as incendiary rockets or high-explosive weapons.

There is also an opportunity fire, in which soldiers will automatically shoot at the alien they spotted if enough time units were saved for this action. You start the game with standard 20th century weapons, but very soon you must research laser weapons, and then late in the game plasma weapons, if you want to counter the alien threat effectively. Later in the game, by capturing mind-controlling aliens, ] you will gain the ability to also use Psi abilities. Your soldiers can also experience panic, if there are many dead soldiers, things are going really bad and aliens aren’t taking any loses. Also, panic can be induced by Psi attacks, but it is possible for your Psi trained soldiers or Psi-Amps to weaken the effect. Panic will cause your soldiers to freeze in place, drop their equipment and weapons, and make them sitting ducks for the aliens.

If you don’t want to waste human lives, you can also research tanks, and have them battle the aliens, but naturally, they will take up space in the dropship, but they cannot lose morale and are not affected by the Psi attacks. If the battle happens at the night time, you must illuminate the battlefield with flares, because your soldiers have limited line-of-sight. You can also research the motion scanner, which can help you to more easily detect aliens. If the things are going bad for you, you can always evacuate and return to the base, and thus abandon the mission.

There are several missions that you will encounter like: UFO that crash-landed, UFO that landed, Terror Mission, Alien Base assault and Base defense. The first couple of missions are relatively simple with either crash-landed or landed UFOs and several weaker aliens. As the game progresses you will encounter new aliens, without any knowledge of their abilities or strategies, which kinda adds to the atmosphere. Only by researching killed or captured aliens can you discover their abilities and strategies to beat them.

The hardest missions in the game are Terror Missions. Terror Missions as the name implies are mission were aliens attack a major city in a large force. You must eliminate all aliens, and rescue most of the civilians, and in some missions, it’s nearly impossible to save everyone. Failing this type of mission will give you a huge negative rating and countries can withdraw their financial support. One alien can and will turn civilians and soldiers into a zombie, and after some time a new alien will spawn from the said zombie. Naturally, time is not on your side and you must expand quickly and resolve the situation.

If you are doing really well in the game, the aliens may launch an attack on your base. When this happens you must defend the base, and eliminate all of the aliens. If you lose the base, you will lose everything in it, and you lose points for soldiers that died defending the base. You also have the option of surrendering. For instance, if there are only fresh recruits with standard weapons against a full squad of elite alien forces, if you choose to surrender you will suffer a 0 point penalty and loss of the base. If you don’t lose soldiers in defending a base, but still lose a base you will still get a positive score.

UFO: Enemy Unknown is truly an exceptional game, one that inspired a large number of games, and even got several spiritual sequels. The game also received several sequels, and a remake, which is just a testament to its quality. Also, the game has a number of mods, and even an OpenXcom an open-source clone of the original game, which can also be modded and played on modern systems. The game was released for MS-DOS, Amiga, PlayStation and Windows.

UFO: Enemy Unknown is a game that everyone should play. A true mix of strategy and tactics, with good concepts and atmosphere. The game is available on Steam and GOG, and while at first, it may look outdated, the game is still good and you can see why has a such a large cult following.

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