UFO: Enemy Unknown

UFO: Enemy Unknown is a turn-based tactical strategy game with managerial and role playing elements published in 1994 by MicroProse Software on PC and various Amigas and later on on Playstation.

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I wondered for a while how does one properly explain what ingenious creation like UFO is, compared to other similar games. And found no answer… So I decided to give it a whirl, play it for a while and see how I felt about it after years long brake from seeing it last. That was a HUGE mistake! A catastrophe on an unthinkable scale! I can’t stress how much time I’ve „wasted” playing it, though it was not a waste per se. Well, as you might have guessed by now, the game is not bad by no means. In fact when I started playing it I couldn’t stop until I beat it. And beating UFO takes a lot of time and patience as the game in its early stages especially is quite unforgiving. Going through it however, with all its ups and downs left me with a clear view of what I wanted to share here with you… So, let me get to it straight away…

In the beginning there was chaos…” And there is loads of it in UFO as well, especially for a first time player. There’s tons of screens, stats and settings that may seem a bit overwhelming for a person looking for a quick strategy fix, but if you decide to take your time with it and learn everything that there is to learn about the game it will reward you hundredfold! With long, deep (Oh, yeah, I said it!) adventure, that when completed will leave you disappointed… Badly… Because you’ll instantly want MORE!

UFO or X-COM as they call it in the US is a product built upon the idea that could’ve easily been transformed into three different, smaller games. First of, there’s the strategy – Globe View – in which you build your bases, send intercepting ships to shoot of alien vessels and direct your troop transport crafts to various missions – like alien terror attack, alien bases or earlier mentioned shot down UFOs. Sounds cool? Good, because it is!

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Then there’s a micro-managerial – Base View – where you decide on your base’s buildings placement and purpose. Each building has it’s price, time it takes to put up and also provides certain commodities – like living areas, research laboratories, defences, hangars or even alien interrogation rooms, so thinking the layout through is a must. In here also, you buy, sell, research & manufacture various kinds of weapons, ships, equipment & technologies. And this is where you train, equip and prepare your troops before they get sent on a mission that most of them may not come back from.

And last but most definitely not least – Tactical View – where whilst on a missions you’ll lead your soldiers turn by turn to their painful and bloody deaths… I mean to victory against bad and ugly alien invaders, which vary in kind power and abilities! Yes… Well, initially some of your troops are bound to meet their maker in the field of battle when put up against overwhelming alien force. As they progress in game though – earn experience & gain skills, each mission will become more and more bearable until eventually with help of high tech equipment and armor designed by your team of smart bottle-bottom-like glasses wearing scientists you’ll start earning a bit of advantage. I wouldn’t hold on to that hope from the start though as that will not happen until you’re many, many hours into gameplay.

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Because UFO punishes the slightest mistakes in tactical approach, you will have to be prepared for some serious losses when playing X-COM for the first time. That is good however as if it was not so challenging it may have not end up being so AWESOME… After all, it is fun to spray long series of bullets through purple coloured alien brains. But what’s even more enjoyable in my opinion is starting your way with your soldiers brains being spread on a pavement and slowly earning your way through the alien horde whilst learning their genesis, weak and strong points and researching means to counter them effectively.

In UFO: Enemy Unknown one can see many influences by the earlier games, games like Laser Squad or Civilization, from which UFO took what’s best and mixed into something even better. Funny enough Civilization was released by Microprose as well and Laser Squad was developed by the same team that wrote UFO. Coincidence? I don’t think so… Anyway, as I mentioned before UFO could very well be three separate, good in their own kind games but instead Microprose opted for mashing it all up into one tough but entertaining behemoth of a creation that takes many evenings to complete and keeps you on your toes through out it until the very last minute of gameplay.

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All versions of the game are virtually the same gameplay-wise with only some minor engine differences. Differences like Amiga version having two separate release branches, one with 32 and another with 256 colours graphics (all other systems get 256 only) and a bit better music and sound effects. Playstation outing being least playable out of the lot due to the limitations of pad control compared to the mouse. All that said, any version you manage to pick up will provide you with dozens of hours of fun and challenge, and that’s what UFO is all about!

MicroProse released two continuations to UFO – X-COM: Terror From The Deep & X-COM: Apocalypse. First being direct sequel with some minor gameplay setting tweaks & alterations and second released in high resolution but with reduced micro-management scale from the whole World to one huge Metropolis. There’s been some spin-offs developed as well but mostly were not worth any attention as they fared into different genres, badly I must add. Independent Developers have been craving to shadow the success of original, releasing many similar games, especially over the last few years. Unfortunately none of them came even close to perfecting balance of gameplay and its mechanics, and MicroProse’s original is still King of the Hill when in comes to tactical anti-alien warfare.

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It took me two weeks of serious gaming before I beat the game and I only managed to do it on normal difficulty level. Can’t wait to see what happens if I raise it a bit even though UFO was challenging enough the way I played it. Overall I want to give UFO: Enemy Unknown 15 out of 10 but I can’t, so I’ll settle for what’s available at hand…

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PC version is still on sale (well, again not still) and can be purchased on STEAM either separately or as a part of the Complete pack where it is sold along with both successors. Alternatively if you still own your original disks they can be easily used to install and run it through DOSBox. As for Amiga outing, the game same as the platform has been forgotten for years and is only available to download as an abandonware at Planet Emulation website.

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Blazej Kozlowski

I have been playing games since I was 7 I believe, so that's 21 years now. I don't know much about anything really but what I *do* know is if a game's good or crap and I tend to share my thought about them with the World.