The Dreamland Chronicles: Freedom Ridge Preview
GameSpot has an in-depth preview of this 3D spiritual successor to X-COM. Find out if this game truly can be as great as the original turn-based tactical combat game.
In 1994, Mythos Games and Microprose released a game that revolutionized strategy gaming with its involved science-fiction storyline and squad-based action, all wrapped in a neat turn-based format. The game was X-COM: UFO Defense, and in addition to spawning a popular subgenre, it generated an extremely loyal following. The game is still considered by many to be one of the best computer games of the last decade.
The Dreamland Chronicles: Freedom Ridge is the spiritual successor to the critically acclaimed X-COM. The same team that developed X-COM is creating this 3D turn-based game, whose science-fiction theme is similar to X-COM's. The developers are billing Freedom Ridge as an updated and improved X-COM with an even better story by using cutting-edge technology to improve the graphics and gameplay and still remaining faithful to the original game. With Freedom Ridge, they are hoping to once again revolutionize the way people look at turn-based strategy games.
Freedom Ridge begins after a massive alien invasion has left most of humanity's defense forces crippled and the social framework destroyed after a devastating 70-day war. A large percentage of existing human forces are trapped in alien prison camps. You command a small force of resistance fighters known as the Terran Liberation Army. Your army must scramble to protect the few areas left in your control while it finds more supplies and troops to mount a larger resistance. As you capture alien troops and equipment, you can use laboratories to research their technology and use it against them. One big difference between Freedom Ridge and the original X-COM is that when you run out of ammunition, you have to find ammunition dumps to resupply your forces rather than just purchase more ammunition. Human money no longer has any value.
Initially, you only have one alien race to worry about: the aggressive, dinosaurlike Saurans that have overrun and devastated the planet. The race has set aside some areas to use as hunting grounds for even more imposing predators, which the race keeps as pets. However, as you progress through the game, you dig deeper into the twisted science-fiction plot. You begin to uncover the truth behind alien abductions, UFO conspiracies, and Area-51, and you soon discover other powerful forces at work. These forces include another alien race in addition to the reclusive and mysterious Men in Black. Part of the game's plot requires you to find out whether these forces are enemies or allies and where their interests lie.
Interface and Graphics
The Freedom Ridge interface follows the same three-tiered format found in X-COM. A rotatable and zoomable global view screen shows you an overview of the various cities, bases, ammunition dumps, and other areas of interest spread across the world, as well as an outline of the human and alien zones of control. A 3D isometric-view tactical screen lets you control your squad during conflicts, and a first-person view lets you control individual units while you aim your weapons.
The graphics in Freedom Ridge are obviously much improved over those of the original X-COM, but Dreamland Chronicles is also better-looking than the current crop of tactical combat games. All the detailed 3D environments are fully deformable through an advanced physics engine. Missiles and rockets can blow apart brick walls. Floors, beams, and roofs can collapse, and entire buildings can be leveled if enough damage is sustained. This allows you a more creative approach to tactics: If an enemy is on the other side of a building, your troops can blow holes in the walls to get a clear shot instead of going around the building. Or if an enemy is hiding in a house, your troops can knock down a large tree nearby that will fall onto the house, which will cause the house to collapse on top of the enemy. In addition, realistic source-based lighting allows you more tactical use of shadows and darkness. If it is to your advantage, you can instruct your troops to shoot out the lights, which forces the enemy to engage in low-light combat.
Although the game's graphics are first rate, the turn-based format allows the game to be played on slightly slower machines and less-powerful video cards without a great loss in quality. The estimated recommended system includes a TNT video card or better, as well as a 400MHz processor.
The turn-based format also gives the developers more leeway in creating cinematics and prerendering scenes, which even allows Matrix-style effects during the action sequences. During a rocket-firing sequence, the camera switches from the isometric or first-person view to the rocket's point of view to show the flight path into the target, and it switches once more to a third-person view to show the actual destruction caused by the explosion. Freedom Ridge features unique graphic and sound effects for each of the many weapons found in the game, from the familiar look and feel of the M-16 assault rifle to the decidedly alien design (and destructive power) of the Sauren shockwave cannon.
Combat and Resource Management
The combat system is similar to that of the original X-COM. Each member of your force has a set amount of action points per turn. These points can be used for movement, attacks, swapping equipment, and other possibilities. While members of your force shoot, the view will switch to a first-person perspective, which will change depending on their shooting position. Units can stand, kneel, or lie prone, and you can choose to fire short bursts of automatic fire, quick hip shots, or a single timed shot with greater accuracy. Damage taken will depend on the hit location, so a single shot to the head may cause more damage than a burst of fire to the torso. Unit action points can also be held until an enemy action takes place.
Your units each have eight individual characteristics, including bravery, strength, speed, leadership, and psionic ability. Their skills in combat, first aid, and other areas can be increased through training and experience, and they can be promoted to higher ranks based on their leadership ability.
Your resistance force begins the game with a limited supply of typical modern-day troops, weapons, vehicles, and ammunition. To augment your inventory of assault and sniper rifles, helicopters, F-16 fighter jets, and other equipment, you will have to capture more of them, either through direct conflict with enemy forces or by taking unprotected bases and ammunition dumps. When you need to add more human forces to your team, you must free them from alien prison camps instead of merely recruit scientists and troops as you did in the original X-COM. The alien forces are initially more technologically advanced and more powerful, and they control more resources than your army. However, with research and the right strategy, the tables can be turned. When your troops find and capture alien troops and technology, they can research them in laboratories to discover their secrets. After researching a particular type of alien technology, your troops can use that type of weapon or vehicle against the alien forces. Researching captured alien troops can also yield clues to their weaknesses.
Protecting your assets will be an important part of resource management in Freedom Ridge, as the alien forces will be constantly trying to snuff out your resistance force, as well as any human cities you control. If you allow your bases, ammunition dumps, and cities to fall into enemy hands, your forces will suffer from lack of support.
In creating The Dreamland Chronicles: Freedom Ridge, Mythos Games is drawing on its 15 years of experience in developing strategy games to give this game the most addictive turn-based gameplay possible. Fans of the previous X-COM games will appreciate the many similarities between the games. By taking the best parts of X-COM and adding advanced graphics and physics and a more developed and engrossing story, Mythos believes Freedom Ridge will have as great an impact on the gaming world as X-COM did six years ago.
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