Blue Byte's Incubation was an ambitious strategy game that offered a satisfying alternative to the slew of real-time games that hit the market in the second half of 1997. Its tactical turn-based gameplay was reminiscent of classics like X-COM, while its graphics and interface were sleek and state-of-the-art. And while the game garnered considerable praise, it was often criticized for its short single-player campaign with its simplistic, puzzle-like missions, as well as its limited multiplayer functionality. Six months later, Blue Byte has released The Wilderness Missions, an add-on that brings back all the strong features of the original and fixes many of its shortcomings. Containing a long and very challenging single-player campaign, a slew of new weapons and enemies, additional multiplayer features, and even a powerful map editor, The Wilderness Missions will please those who felt Incubation did not meet its full potential.
The original Incubation took place exclusively within the future city of Scay-Hallwa, and so the promise of leaving its bleak industrial confines for the great outdoors is attractive indeed. Yet ironically enough, you won't see any sign of the wilderness until many more hours' worth of cityscape in this new campaign. The story picks up where the original left off, with Sergeant Bratt having facilitated the evacuation of Scay-Hallwa's citizens after it was overrun by the mutant Scay'Ger. Now Bratt and his marines face a desperate situation where their own lives are at stake as they search for a means to flee the planet. Meanwhile, the challenge carries over much like the story, insofar as the very first mission in this add-on is significantly tougher than anything the original had to offer. Bratt and company will immediately face overwhelming odds, and conserving ammunition and making certain each and every move counts will be far more important than ever before. The difficulty of the new missions may come as a shock - many of the missions border on frustrating or even seemingly impossible. But with perseverance they can indeed be completed in a satisfying fashion, even if doing so requires playing at the easiest difficulty setting.
The missions are far bigger than those in the original, and rather than limit you to solving them in some specific fashion, they tend to be much more open-ended. Though they're all unforgiving, many of the missions are very cleverly designed and implement Incubation's 3D engine to full effect, with enemies attacking from above and below. Other missions demand you split your team and complete several objectives simultaneously, forcing you to consider several situations at once and plan many turns ahead. Though the majority of your foes remain bluntly predictable, one of the new critters you'll face is especially cunning - it can open doors and is liable to use defensive fire during your turn, making it a near-equal match for your troops. And if that's not bad enough, you'll also face a brand-new set of traps including flame-spewing stone statues and laser barriers. The campaign remains narrative-driven like the original, and it branches frequently, thus offering plenty of replay value, if only a chance to try a different route if you find yourself hopelessly stuck. While the high difficulty setting will certainly alienate at least a few fans who'll expect the same relaxing pace they encountered in the original, those who wrestle through this new campaign will find it much more satisfying on the whole.
Incubation remains the best-looking turn-based strategy game to date with its accelerated, high-color 3D graphics. The Wilderness Missions add-on looks identical for the most part, though the new factory and wilderness graphics are more colorful and detailed than the original industrial setting. Meanwhile the new weapons, including a handheld plasma gun and an enhanced minelayer that fires remote-control spider mines, boast excellent new special effects to rival the finest first-person shooters out there. Incubation sounded fantastic, from the gritty weapon effects to Sergeant Bratt's deadpanned mission briefings, and this add-on sounds just as good. At the same time, the original's excellent cinematic music score has since been expanded with several new tracks to go with the new environments. Even now, Incubation remains an aesthetically powerful game.
If you can get through the campaign, you'll find still more value in this supplement. A new cooperative mode allows you to team up with one or more human allies to tackle a handful of stand-alone missions. There's also the mission editor (sufficiently well documented in the game's manual) that allows you to build full-featured scenarios using a powerful set of design tools. Ultimately, this add-on pack pushes Incubation closer to the excellent, long-lasting strategy game it should have been in the first place. If you enjoyed the original, or felt disappointed by its limited challenge and lasting value, you'll be wholly pleased with The Wilderness Missions.