Sometimes it is easy to forget the games released a few years ago that defined a generation or genre of games. Take for example the Doom, Quake, C&C, War/Starcraft series (and many other notable games) that to this day are unrivaled. More and more games are repeating the same tired methodology of taking an idea that has worked in the past and simply slapping a next generation engine on it.
That is not to say that games like Call of Duty 4, Crysis, Doom 3, Generals, Bioshock, Battlefield etc are not great games in their own right, its just sometimes one has to look back at those old classics and realise (in my faux-American persona) ‘Gee… they don’t make them like that any more.’
One of the best examples of games that refuse to roll over and quietly sleep in the history books is UFO Enemy Unknown (or XCOM UFO Defense for my American Visitors.) This is one of the only games that I pick up and play all the way through every six to twelve months.
This game has undoubtedly aged – it was released in 1994 and set in the not too distant future (1999.) You are XCOM, a global defense force charged with protecting the earth from the unexpected and unknown visitors from the sky. There are two modes, a management mode called the Geoscape (real time) where you manage your bases and intercept UFOs and a Tactical mode (turn based) where you deploy your troops to storm crashed/landed UFOs and protect the populace from Alien terror missions.
The graphics are very basic – no hardware acceleration (although the manual cautions you that you may have difficulties playing the game with only 2Mb of RAM) and the very low resolution of 640×480 (VGA). Strangely, you get used to this. The graphics are beautifully designed with aliens that do look frightening (especially when your soldiers make contact in the night) and very visceral. Everything about this game is well thought out and give the impression of absolute freedom. There is no linear path to the game and you can play in any way you like which was unprecedented at the time (and still not matched.)
I recently spotted a first person shooter remake based on the Half life 2 engine. Lets make no mistake, if the team pulls this off it will be incredible. There are a number of remakes floating around, but I will make that the focus of a future post.
Sadly the sequels to UFO Enemy unknown were disappointing. XCOM Terror from the Deep was essentially a rehashed version set at the bottom of the sea. While there are some nice tactical additions to the game, apart from being harder and a lot less forgiving than the original, it is fairly dull and uninspiring. Xcom Apocalipse was enjoyable but the key to this game is not considering it a sequel but a stand alone game.
In summary, if you have not played any games from the XCOM series, you are lacking in your computer game exposure. I highly recommend you play the original, either via dosbox or VirtualPC. Alternatively, there are ‘Windows XP versions’ of this game floating around with a program that slows down your PC to make the game playable, these can be found on abandon-ware sites.
UPDATE: The Win9x version does not work under Vista.