UFO: Aftershock improves on its predecessor in some ways, but there's just far too much wrong with this copy of the classic X-COM series to recommend it.
- More X-COM-style options like base-building and research.
- Repetitive, with much reuse of just a few tactical maps
- Missions unbalanced and extremely hard
- Prone to crashes and problems with the interface
- Mostly ugly graphics.
For more than a decade, fans of X-COM: UFO Defense have been waiting for someone to recapture the addictiveness of saving the Earth, one crashed flying saucer at a time. Altar Interactive arguably came closest to achieving this goal in 2003, when it released UFO: Aftermath. But while this game got the squad battles right, it got a lot more wrong. It even stripped away the strategic elements that helped make X-COM one of those compulsive games you would load up for a half hour and wind up playing into the wee hours of the morning. Enter UFO: Aftershock, not so much a sequel as an attempt to convince critics that Altar really can properly rip-off X-COM. And the developer does do a better job of copying the formula behind the MicroProse oldie here, adding in base-building, research, and even resource collection. But the heart still isn't there; this game suffers from too much dreary repetition, technology that is too easy to acquire and research, and loads of bugs and design flaws that make the game very difficult to play in spots.
The story begins roughly where one of the conclusions of the original game left off, so consider this the aftermath of the aftermath. Fifty years have passed since the Council of Earth accepted the alien Reticulan request to join in its apocalyptic experiment that killed billions to create a godlike being called the Biomass. Playing mad scientist didn't quite go as expected, however, and you return from exile aboard an orbiting ship called a Laputa to find that the Biomass has messed up both the humans who remained behind and the aliens who opened this can of intergalactic worms in the first place.
Essentially, this plot pushes the cosmic reset button and gets everything back to where it was at the start of UFO: Aftermath. You're once more in the dark about everything, including what happened on terra firma a half century ago, and are called upon to both learn what took place and capture territories to unite three human factions (regular guys, psionicists, and cyborgs) into a world government called the Commonwealth of Earth. And, of course, you also have to form squads of troops with RPG-style skills, stats, and level advancement to kick E.T.'s ass on tactical maps.
So, second verse, same as the first. It's a shame that Altar didn't start from scratch and dump the hackneyed global holocaust for something closer to the mysterious tales in X-COM and X-COM: Terror From the Deep. Wondering about alien motives as events develop over the course of a campaign would certainly be more intriguing than plodding through a story where everybody has a scorecard from the beginning. Also, the post-apocalyptic mambo has been done in so many games that it's hard to even think about playing another one.
Gameplay adds to the sense of drudgery. As with UFO: Aftermath, missions in UFO: Aftershock feature too much repetition. It seems as though there are no more than a dozen maps, so you clear the exact same ruined factories and ruined railway yards and ruined wilderness wastelands all over the world, no matter if you're fighting in Canada or Kazakhstan. All of the scenery is also universally ugly, with lots of jaggies and a color palette ranging from brown to black. Opposition is provided by a handful of alien enemies, all of which look like Close Encounters of the Third Kind-style alien "Greys," and what seems to be a trio of mutants, so you kill the same poorly drawn, poorly animated baddies repeatedly.
Mission goals vary little. You're generally called upon to save people from Reticulans or mutants, to capture one of the beasties for autopsy, or to conquer a province by blowing away everything that moves. Some undertakings do feature spicier objectives, like escorting allies through hazardous terrain. But since you always get to the goal line by wasting packs of Reticulans or mutants, it still feels like you're repeating the same couple of missions over and over again.
Along with being dull, these assignments are brutally difficult. Enemies frequently appear out of nowhere in your rear or on your flanks, which nicely kills any tactical plan you might develop, and the game is pretty seriously unbalanced. You can easily run into enemies with weapons you can't handle, like packs of cyborgs with grenade launchers capable of wiping out your entire squad before you can get off a shot.