Despite some bright spots, UFO: Aftermath isn't a fitting sequel to X-COM, and, on its own merits, it just isn't a good tactical combat simulator.
Few games before or since have gotten players as intimately involved as the 1993 classic, X-COM: UFO Defense, which dealt with defending Earth from an alien invasion. Managing men, organizing top secret bases, and prying funding away from tight-fisted governments let players feel like they were actually in charge of a desperate attempt to save humanity. Add to that a gripping turn-based tactical mode where soldiers attacked ET on his own turf and looted crashed flying saucers, and you had a game that few could put down. So it's surprising that UFO: Aftermath, a spiritual successor that began life as an unofficial sequel to X-COM--and designed by the original team--is so different. ALTAR Interactive has changed the focus completely, diminishing user involvement to the point that the game feels much emptier than its predecessors. The biggest problem is a stripped-down design that makes the player more of a generic commando than the commander of a paramilitary organization. Combat has also been stripped down to the bare essentials, with missions and maps that lack interactivity and challenging artificial intelligence. Despite some bright spots, this isn't a fitting sequel to X-COM, and, on its own merits, it just isn't a good tactical combat simulator.
On the surface, there are strong similarities between UFO and X-COM. You are still defending the Earth against alien invaders. You are still waging this war with small teams of soldiers who are sent to attack alien strongholds and sent to ransack crashed UFOs for their advanced technology. You are still researching terrestrial and extraterrestrial technologies for ways of chasing ET back to his own area code. Even the main map screen is a mirror image of that in the original X-COM, complete with a rotating globe, clock, and ticker, detailing available missions. If not for the post-doomsday storyline and a ticking-bomb subplot about an alien biomass that is slowly killing off planetary life, the games are nearly identical.
However, the design veers in new directions under the hood. Some of these new directions eliminate features that made X-COM and its sequel, Terror From the Deep, so popular. Aspects of play have been simplified, in part, due to the apocalyptic plot dealing with the aftermath of an alien invasion that's all but destroyed humanity. Most notably, virtually all of the management duties in the original X-COM have been removed. There is no budget to ponder, no bases to design, no scientists to hire, and no governments with which to deal, largely because these niceties no longer exist in the post-invasion world. You apparently run the Phoenix Company of commandos and answer to the "Council of Earth," but these organizations are nothing but names on the screen.
Basically, you make do with what you're given, which dovetails with the end-of-the-world setting but isn't satisfying from a gameplay perspective. Win enough missions in a particular territory and you discover a base that can be conquered and converted for your alien-fighting purposes. Then you pick a base type from the four available--military, engineering, research, and biomass repulsion--and your operation is up and running, a scant 24 hours later. That's it. Aside from the option of turning one base type into another (in the same 24-hour span), selecting tech trees to research, and aliens to autopsy, there is nothing else to oversee.
While this rids the game of micromanagement worries, it also does away with much of the role-playing that made X-COM so all-consuming. ALTAR needed to make some changes, as you end up controlling at least a couple of dozen bases around the globe in the average campaign. This would drown you in minutiae if they were governed in the old hands-on style. But forgoing all managerial responsibilities is too much of a sacrifice. It's hard to feel emotionally involved when so much of the struggle against the aliens is taken out of your hands. In many ways, the game is more similar to squad-based combat simulators, like Fallout: Tactics or Jagged Alliance 2, than X-COM. Where X-COM felt like a sprawling, open-ended campaign, UFO: Aftermath feels more strictly mission-oriented and is therefore more limited in scope. This isn't inherently a problem--but, unfortunately, the combat in UFO tends to not be satisfying.