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UFO Aftermath





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X-Com alive!

In the world of computer games there exists an interesting fact: the tactical gaming genre is based on two unquestionable titans - X-Com and Jagged Alliance.

But, in any case, today the topic under discussion is the continuation of one of the named branches, called UFO: Aftermath. The game had an uneasy and somewhat dark past - mostly, it is the ill-fated Dreamland; while at the same time it is not exactly Dreamland... OK, first things first.

Rejoice, X-Com fans, for I spread the word of the n-th advent of X-Com! The crew behind the development of UFO: Aftermath is a Czech company, ALTAR Interactive (previously known for the Original War strategy). Nope, nobody from Mythos Games participated in the project. Alas. When ready, the game will be published by Virgin. When will it be ready? Quite soon - ETA 1q 2003. The work began in July 2001 and still continues.

The story will take place on Earth in the not too distant future. The idea of the first contact with some aliens is quite popular in game making, but here it is presented in a slightly different, Dreamlandish scope. A giant alien mothership, not answering to any radio signals, made it to the near-earth orbit and began descending. The use of bioweapon was an answer to our attempts to engage in peace negotiations. They dispersed a vast amount of poisonous microorganisms in our atmosphere, microorganisms that would erode any organic material on contact. Within a few days the Earth was white-clean of life, except for those few who managed to reach the safety, taking shelter in deep basements or great underground vaults. This is where the actual game begins.

The general approach to the game is from Dreamland, yet, according to the developers, the original design-document of the ill-fated project was not used during the making of the new game. It is being developed with a new engine and a new storyline. The playing field is represented in the form of our slowly pivoting globe. After you make up your mind on where to deploy your beginning base, the game begins. The goal? Goal of game is simple. Kick the shins outta aliens and regain your living space.

Before descending to the level of close combat between aliens and humans, let's talk about the global strategic part of the game. On Earth there will be from 40 to 80 bases, on and with one of which the player will start. Throughout the game he will be gaining others - conquering them, of course. The globe will be not only a decorative element of the global screen - it will be a map of player's territories. Expansion is possible only through acquiring new bases - this or that way. The bases are the key elements of your war machine, for from them the UFO interceptors will be launched and in them the soldiers will be accommodated. The SAM system will protect the borders of your territory - the more you spend on SAM sites, the less will be the possibility of aliens directly assaulting your bases. The main goal of the game - this is just an assumption - will be to destroy the main enemy base and thus free our long-suffering planet from the invaders.

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The UFO hunt will be carried out automatically (unlike X-Com). This does not mean the game will be linear. As we wrote before in our news, the successful UFO interception will generate a random mission, one of the following: pick up a downed ship, fight off an invasion, break through enemy lines to their base or defend our own base. Strategy is simple: only take the missions which will help you to maintain and increase your presence.

Each base will be specifically designed (and that is selected by the player) to be a military base or a research outpost. The productivity of workshops and labs will be in direct correlation with their total amount.

Unlike their predecessors, people of ALTAR Interactive chose a conceptually new, simultaneous turn-based system (like one in X-Com: Genesis and Laser Squad Nemesis). That's another fusion between real-time and turn-based approaches. While the game is paused, you give orders to your squad members, and then press the button. After that they will begin acting all together, along with the enemy units, of course. Sorry, X-Com fans - no more "Hidden Movement". To straighten things out a bit I'll now try to describe a simple combat situation (plot taken from different messages from lead designer of the project, Martin Klima).

Imagine a situation where two squads stand in the bottom end of the map. The map itself is simple: just a wall going from east to the west, then to the north. It is possible to cross over it (or go through) from both sides. The game is paused. You select the first squad and click somewhere north of the wall (the whole battlefield is visible, except for the enemies and items, which you will find only when your squad members will stumble upon them). The curve from the place of standing to the destination will show the path he will follow. By moving your mouse over each segment of the path you will see how much time it will take to reach that particular point. Next you decide to add some light to the night by selecting the second squad member (armed with a Deluxe Premium Mega-Bang 2000 Big Bazooka) and ordering him to blast the wall. A special sign will appear on the map, indicating a hole-to-come. After that you can plot the route of the big gun guy through the hole-to-be to the destination point of the first squad. By now his action plan is unchanged, but you can again select him and make necessary corrections to the plan.

Then the Space is pressed, which sends both fighters to their destination. In the middle of the route you detect a "crouching tiger, hidden alien", and the game stops with a message "Alien detected". By pressing Enter you center the screen on the foul creature. The game is once again paused, so you can take time to reissue orders, like "reduce the bastard to a puddle of bullet-stuffed goo" or "choose a less obvious route". The mission will be carried out in the same way until all aliens on the map are pushing up daisies.

I must say such a combat system appeals to me, for it combines the appealing features of both TB and RT and looks very much like the best compromise between them ever invented.

And there will not be fog of war! UFO is a game which utilizes "line of sight", now that means we won't be seeing anything which is behind something (like ammo crate behind that inconspicuous pile of rocks). Good idea or bad idea? You decide... If we were talking JA, that would surely be bad, although the lack of knowledge of the operational situation is just another tactical feature. But, in other games maps are usually filled with aimlessly wandering settlers, while the world of UFO is more or less dead. Ghost cities and lucky survivors is all that awaits us. So, we are free to do almost anything on the maps and for that we should thank the designers.

Talking about gameplay... Do not expect it to be just another arcade. Nope, when something important happens, the game pauses itself, granting you time to think.

I foresee the question about the basic sectors into which the map will be divided. Well, as I said, the successful UFO interception will mean the generation of a new mission and an opportunity to take it. Each time a mission is generated, a random map is made. Yup, it's the first game which generates random 3D-maps! But how, may you ask? Well, we came to our own conclusions and deductions (the time spent in talks with the developers was worth it). In the game there is a database of primitive buildings and building primitives. First the terrain is generated, then the buildings are scattered across it. According to the lead designer, the current sample database allows construction of more than 150 types of cities with five building styles (Europe, Asia, America, Africa and Middle East). Quite a nice figure and, in all, an excellent feature, similar to that of X-Com - unlimited replayability.

As was mentioned earlier, the game engine is made by the team, is 3D and (according to the shots) is quite good. Declared system requirements are not that high: Pentium III 500, 64 MB RAM and a GeForce with 16 Megs of RAM - just the right configuration for tactical game fans of all wealth ratings!

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So, what are we going to see on the screen of such a computer? Relatively large maps - some city blocks with enough space for stealth, ambush, assault and all other tactical pirouettes you can think of. 3D landscapes with full day-night emulation and a nice chiaroscuro. But - no multi-storied buildings. Well, you will be able to climb to the top of different objects, to ascend to different map levels (like it was in Fallout Tactics), but that'll be it. Nothing like bridges, rooms upstairs and such is planned to implement. Destroyable surfaces? Sure, but that will apply only to walls, whole buildings and other environment elements of similar kind. Say, using your Deluxe Premium Mega-Bang 2000 Big Bazooka to take down trees will be possible. You will have full control of the camera, with zoom to any object included, but angle of sight altering will not be possible, so forget about first-person type of view. Cannot say I disapprove of that - once again, that's a strategy and NOT an arcade. Each map will be divided into several sectors, every single one being a separate combat zone. Thus, simultaneous battles in several sectors will not be possible, surprise, surprise. Inner sanctums of downed saucers will also be represented as separate sectors. Well, all that is but natural - not every household has at its disposal such a high-end comp being able to piece together levels with difficult-to-process architecture. You will arrive at the scene of battle by means of a chopper (after equipping your squad at the base). Anybody experiencing a bad case of nostalgia?

Music & sounds are also worth mentioning. Apart from the music, which is going to be neat (nice, cool - put your word) we will witness the usage of 3D sound and hear lots of comments from all the characters. Video? Why yes, but only for important moments and milestones, like the intro movie, "Independence day"-style.

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Most of the time we will be fighting not aliens them, but with their "pets" - horrid mutants, different elements of Earth flora and fauna exposed to the alien bacteria. See the sketches - some look very much like humans altered by alien tech, others - like mutated critters. Developers promise "a complex approach to the creation of the monsters and methods of seeking and destroying them".

We will have only one squad per mission, consisting of seven fighters (you will choose them, right). Each will be represented not only by means of a portrait and a voice, but also by a set of skills. You will have an opportunity to develop them, like in any RPG or good tactical game. With gaining an experience level a character will receive some skill points, which you will have to distribute according to your own preferences - like making a soldier a first-class heavy walking tank with a 120mm APDS cannon and a coffee can dispenser or a lightning-fast agile sniper (with one big eye). Once again - hello, style of X-Com. While controlling your squaddies, you won't have to look at too many screens - everything is compact yet informative. Choose the style of movement (walk/run/stand); see the active weapon(s), health bar and "alien-in-sight" indicator. Need more info? OK, look at the message screen at the top. Note that some soldiers are able to shoot ambidextrously (with the right skills), so that leaves an opportunity to seek combinations of different weapon types. Firing and running at the same time is not possible, alas, but you can still save anytime anywhere.

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As you can see, the visual representation of all soldiers is quite similar, yet there are some differences - like hair color and clothes (or even the possibility of owning a power suit). What's more, you are able to see the exact weapons your squaddies and enemy grunts hold. It's a good time to turn our attention to weapons. ALTAR folks did a good job and presented us with 40 different weapon types (and that's only in the beginning of the game!). Of course, you will loot bodies, study the specimens and artifacts. The idea of manufacturing in the game is simple - while nobody accepts US green presidents or Russian rubles or any other currency and the key idea is survival, trade and barter is out of the question. So, all you have to do is get your hands on an artifact, study it and begin manufacturing. While the studies are not yet completed, you will experience a certain deficit of high-tech weaponry (the 40 types of guns you begin with are downright weak against aliens and their pets), but after that you'll have a surplus of them. Next step is to find a better artifact, study it, manufacture it, and get back to "go". Without studying the alien tech you victory is questionable. All the research is carried out in the research outposts (the more you have, the faster it goes). Of course, you will be able to research several different subject at the same time or switch subjects between outposts, but it will take more time. Some of the found items will not be useful for humans, while others will be subject to conversion. The real alien weapons are just picked up and cannot be reproduced, while the conversion variations should first be developed. There will be four weapon classes: rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers and shotguns. And... psi-weapons!

In the end - a few words about multiplayer. Nope, will not be...in the first version. Developers concentrated on single player programming, and that's good. Yet they are ambitious enough to think about making a multiplayer add-on (feedback at E3 strengthened such ideas). The game is due the first quarter of next year.

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In a nutshell, it is quite difficult to explain all the game inner workings in a single preview and without laying hands on an actual beta. We'll continue to look after the project, which by now scored 8 out of 10 in our awaiting rating system.

P.S. Special thanks to the ALTAR Interactive staff for all their time and help during the creation of this article, Martin Klima и Jiri Rydl!

Awaiting rating: 8

2002-06-19
- Translated by yPArAH
- Yuri Bushin (Yurg-Aga)





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