A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

X-COM UFO Defense – Impression


A quick preface here: I’ve been playing this game for the better part of half my life. I always come back to it and it’s just amazingly fun and frustrating and awesome all at the same time.

X-COM stands for Extraterrestrial Command (I believe) and it’s all about defending the Earth of 1999 against the invading alien armies consisting of a wide variety of pesky critters. You start out with one base and a few guys and eventually need to build up to several bases and lots of soldiers, scientists, and engineers to fight, research, and build your way to winning the war.

There’s a lot of aliens and here’s a quick breakdown of them:

Sectoids (little grey guys with limited psionic powers) [most often the first one you encounter]

Floaters (flying purple guys)[I’ve encountered them first sometimes]

Mutons (purple guys wearing green bodysuits) [really hard to kill sometimes]{I’ve encountered them first before and it sucked}

Snakemen (orange snake people)[I’ve encountered them first before]

Ethereals (orange cloaked, powerful psionic abilities)

Cyberdiscs (effectively flying tanks that shoot plasma, they accompany Sectoids)

Reapers (big bipedal monsters that bite, they accompany Floaters)

Celatids (little squishy pink things that spit highly concentrated stomach acid) [accompany Mutons]

Silacoids (moving purple and pink boulders, they’re supposedly burning hot) [accompany Mutons]

Chryssalids (freaky buggers that turn people they hit into zombies that then hatch into new Chryssalids) [accompany Snakemen]

Sectopods (mechanical versions of Reapers that shoot plasma, they accompany Ethereals)

These pictures are very helpful and saved me a lot of time in descriptions! Go ahead and click on them to get the info I spent DAYS in game trying to gain. These screens are courtesy of www.xcomufo.com and their UFOPaedia.

Combat is on a tactical level with micromanagement on a global level. By this, I mean that combat is where you control individual units versus individual enemies and base management with UFO interception is handled on a larger scale. First, a look at combat:

Combat is turn-based, meaning that you take your turn, hit the end turn button, and then the aliens get to go. Then it’s your turn again (assuming you survived). Your troops can wield a variety of ballistic and energy weapons, either captured, purchased, or manufactured. Eventually, you can even equip them with suits of armor and the best armor lets your guys fly around! It’s awesome! You do spend a significant amount of time on the “battlescape” tackling the wide variety of aliens described above in Terror Missions, Base Assaults, Base Defenses (when they attack your base, it’s a real change of pace), and the very common UFO landing/crashing investigation. The objective is to kill or capture all of the aliens without losing your units or retreating. Simple, right? Yeah, sometimes the computer has wicked good weapon accuracy and those bastards sure love their grenades.

When managing your base, the above is the screen you enjoy (yours might be slightly different on the left depending on what you put in your base). You can maintain up to 8 individual bases throughout the world and each of them with the possibility of housing your soldiers, scientists, engineers, and/or interception craft. You can build facilities ranging from Living Quarters (50 people per), Hangars (1 vehicle per), Alien Containment (for those pesky live buggers), Laboratories (inquiring minds want to know!), Workshops (to build all those exotic toys), and a variety of defenses (missile, laser, plasma, etc) and UFO detection gear. On this screen, the game world is paused. The number on those facilities? Days to completion. Oh, your base has maintenance costs too…

Whoa, whoever took this screenshot is in serious financial trouble unless that’s their only base… seriously, cut back on the scientists unless you’re drawing in tons of cash via item sales!

Shooting down UFO’s is an interesting interlude. I mean, either you wait for them to land or you shoot them down. The standard interceptor’s maximum speed is 2100 units (can’t remember if it’s knots or miles or whatever), but the smallest of UFO’s can go 2200. Often your interceptor is outrun by the aliens until you develop newer craft (I have an opinion on these, but that’s for later). The music here though is so awesome.

Okay, my opinion on how to run a successful game:

1) Plant your first base in the middle of Europe. That way you can protect several funding nations earlier in the game. I further recommend the strategic placing of your future bases in such a way that you can cover by radar (if nothing else) a majority of funding nations. The USA is a major supporter, so I recommend a second base over there somewhere or in Asia (because there are more supporters in Asia than in North America).

2) Do your initial research straight for Laser Rifles. They’re the best weapon available that early without further research. They’re easy to produce, lightweight, and have infinite ammunition. A fantastic investment for ALL of your troops.

3) Buy enough troops to fill out your first Skyranger. It holds 14 soldiers. Oh, while you’re buying soldiers, keep in mind that a bravery of less than 30 isn’t ideal. Bravery is the stat that determines how quickly they panic or lose morale if crap goes downhill. The higher, the better.

4) If you maintain troops at other bases and are using Skyrangers, invest in only 10 troops and give them a tank of some sort. Preferably a laser tank with an upgrade later to a hover plasma tank. An expendable scout is great for the lower ranking soldiers to take cover behind or even support. Plus, it saves you money on soldier salaries.

5) Either keep your scientist numbers low or use the transfer trick to save money on their nearly prohibitive salaries. Personally I’m too lazy to do the transfer trick, so I don’t invest in more than 50 scientists unless I can provide enough money from UFO item sales.

6) If you don’t use it, don’t keep it. You only need ONE of each item you receive from the aliens for research purposes. Sell everything else. If you keep ammunition and their requisite weapons, keep a 2:1 ratio of ammo to weapons. Oh, and sell those damn corpses. They smell.

Addendum to 6) DO NOT SELL ELERIUM UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES! This is the fuel you will use for your shiny new planes later on. Also, it allows you to build the flying suits your troops will definitely want. You CANNOT beat the game without some of this material in your stores. Trust me.

Those are just some of my pointers that I adhere to these days. Now, some complaints about the game:

1) There is an 80 item limit on EVERY mission. When your base is attacked, the FIRST 80 ITEMS are taken from your general stores and provided for your use. This could be awesome or tragic, depending if you actually get weapons or if you just get the ammunition that you forgot to sell for the gun you did sell. I understand an item limit on missions, but when my base is raided? Seriously?

2) I can’t stand the Firestorm interception craft. It’s a lightweight with a crappy range to fuel ratio. The standard rental interceptor is way more efficient, if slower. I wish you could upgrade the standard interceptor or other craft with researched components.

3) The aliens are frustratingly accurate at the times where my troops are frustratingly inaccurate. I use my Dad’s trick of using the whole “Save/Reload” feature when things go sour. I don’t like to lose troops.

4) Speaking of losing troops, when a soldier dies, you don’t get their armor back. In a way, it makes sense, but you don’t even get salvage out of it and flying suits are expensive.

Now, a comment or two:

1) Chryssalids scare the crap out of me and always have. Seriously, those buggers can move clear across the screen, so I make them priority targets. Fortunately, they only appear during terror missions or in Snakeman bases. Oh, yeah, and in Snakeman battleships. I hate those guys. Here’s a screen of the autopsy research… and they’re STILL SMILING THAT CREEPY SMILE!!!

2) This game used to creep me out in general. The battlescape music is very appropriate for the alien hunt that typically ensues. I still jump when the aliens start shooting and wish my guys would duck when I do.

So, yeah… this is my favorite old school game that I dust off every now and again. It’s much easier to play now that it’s on Steam. 5 bucks, you know you want it! I used to play this in DOS with copy protection and all. Then the collection came out and I played that on CD. Now it’s on Steam and all I have to do is install Steam, install the game, and I’m back in the mid-90’s trading strategies with my Dad about which base designs are most effective at repelling alien invaders and how one of our soldiers became really awesome and how I used a blaster launcher to punch a hole in the hull of the alien ship so I could invade it from above and below. This is one of the games I bonded with my Dad over and many of the strategies and management techniques he taught me back then are still in use today.

Thanks Dad. I love this game.

Until next time, keep on playing.

– Elorfin

P.S. Oh, other screens (the smaller ones when you click on them) come from the DOS screens on the MobyGames page for this game.

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One response

  1. This is an awesome game. My brother and I have been playing this game since 1997-98. We spent many hours playing this game. I still play every so often. I must add the another good tactic is to have a soldier kneel behind one of your standing soldiers. That kneeling soldier usually covers the other soldier pretty well also make sure the guy kneeling has a high reaction time once he starts firing every one else follows is lead. Also carry proximity grenades. Toss it in front of the alien ship entrance and watch the fire works begin.

    December 20, 2011 at 9:24 AM

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