X-COM 2: Terror from the Deep
The full title of this came is really X-Com: Terror From The Deep: A Strategy Game Unlike Any Other. The latter, tired cliché has been appended to every Julian Gollop game since Rebelstar Raiders blew apart the preconceptions of arcade fiends with its brilliantly tight, compulsive game engine. X-Com was not only the nth refinement of Gollop’s inspired combat system, but a repositioning of it alongside a more conventional, but equally compulsive resource management sim and an inspired narrative.
It was the latter which really put in the hook – as compelling as six-inches of steel curved into a marlin’s throat. The more you played, the more the story twisted, revealing more and more about the aliens, and the weapons your scientists would slowly duplicate. With most games, the more you play the more repetitive a game becomes. With X-Com, the more you played the more weapon-toys you got and, as a consequence, the more elaborate your tactics became. What’s more, it even delivered on a spectacular finale taking your team off-planet to test their mettle against an alien outpost on Mars.
How the hell do you follow that? An intergalactic voyage to the alien home planet? A new invasion producing an even dizzier spiral of military technology?
Aquatic Accountants Sadly, to keep the accountants happy, Gollop’s Mythos Games embarked on merely redressing the old game in aquatic garb. The new, sea-based enemy require a whole new set of firepower, so once again X-Com must play catch-up, beginning with primitive hardware and developing new weaponry which, strangely turns out to be a very close match to the non-aquatic weapons previously encountered.
Unsurprisingly, MicroProse’s ad campaign focuses on new FMV (ten times as much as before) and new ‘improved’ graphics. The former certainly delivers, ditching the cartoon look of the original in favour of artily executed CGI. Sadly, this only underlines the paucity of other artwork which, if anything, is worse than the original. The equipment screens, where you outfit your squad, reveal a frankly disturbing collection of genetic freaks. In-game backgrounds are more detailed than before, but the Jules Verne suits are ugly, the aliens comical and the Victorian-styled alien subs simply bizarre. The bubble-contrails left by projectile weapons are a nice touch, but the unsettling conjunctions of aliens lurking in cornfields at backward farm communities are lost.
For fans of the original, MicroProse promises a tougher challenge with improved alien AI and, well, all those things which made the original so great. Newcomers should probably start here, although the cost-conscious won’t lose much going for the original game. For veterans, the decision is harder. Anyone with the time to play through the original on various skill settings will probably love this. For myself, I’m more reluctant, this being ultimately X-Com: Terror From The Deep: A Strategy Game Unlike Any Other… Except X-Com: Enemy Unknown.