Off-topic Sunday: everybody starts somewhere

Sundays: when time moves like a mosquito being gently rolled up in tree sap. They are for relaxation what Saturdays are for hangover recovery. And thus, off-topic Sunday.

Here at AR we used to do a lot of regular posts on specific weekdays. Last year we had Saturday Spotlight and AJ’s delectably-titled Mid-week F.A.P (“feelings about playing”, obviously, clean out your brain). Back when we started we had pre-weekend Friday posts and ‘questions of the week’ on Wednesdays and all sorts, which we did right up until we ran out of ideas or got bored. So let’s see which of those does for this new institution first!

Here’s something from the ancient archives for you to enjoy. I was clearing out old files earlier in the week, having a bit of a digital spring clean, and I came across a collection of reviews that I have no memory of writing. I recognise them as my own but I don’t remember when they were produce, or if it was for any purpose beyond sticking up on my own website. Regardless, here’s an old review of UFO: Enemy Unknown, possibly written in early 2002 by yours truly. I would have been in my first year of university and my second year of juvenile binge drinking. Happy memories.

The first game in the X-Com series, and in many ways the greatest of them all. And although many years old now, UFO continues to attract more fans. Why? The game is one of those rare timeless classics. It is one of the most perfectly executed turn-based tactical wargames yet created for the PC (and other platforms, incidentally). Even today, the graphics appear perfectly adequate (and you hear that from the mouth of a big 3Dfx fan), and the sound effects continue to terrify rookies. The sublime blend of tense, white-knuckle ground combat and weighty management decisions when deciding X-Com’s next move continues to excite a player, and drags them in to a surprisingly authentic world of Sci-Fi paranoia and fear.

Addictive? I’ll say. Many veteran games players will be familiar with the ‘just one more turn’ phenomenon. That is very much present here. In combat, you always want to know where the next alien is lurking, who the next casualty will be, if your sergeant will manage to evade enemy fire during the alien turn, and so on. Then you complete that mission, and you forget you were meant to be doing something else. So you carry on playing just a little bit more. What will research turn up next? You always want to know. And pretty soon you do. But then you want to try out this new technology, so it’s off to another ground mission… and so on, ad infinitum. A vicious circle of, well, fun. And, admittedly, sometimes a little masochism too.

It’s possible to get bored with UFO – I shan’t try and deny that. But it takes one hell of a long time, and there’s such enormous variety in everything about the game that there’s always something new to try. I’ve been playing the game for years and I’ve far from exhausted every eventuality! Plus, the alien species are fantastic – a mish-mash of pop-culture mythology and twisted imaginations.. There are the Sectoids, the atypical ‘greys’. There are Chryssalids, which are like something straight out of Giger’s work. Mutons present the game’s rock-solid ultra-tough super-soldiers, whilst Reapers and Sectopods are the terrifying weapons platforms of the furred and mechanical varieties. And there’s far more than that to be found…

There’s little you can find to complain about in UFO, especially since writing about it makes you want to go and play it, and criticism almost feels like blasphemy. But the end-mission hunts for the last (hiding) alien that occasionally come up are infuriating, as is the tedious unloading of troops (not too bad in small engagements, but in terror missions where you need every soldier you have, walking fourteen soldiers down the same ramp over and over wears thin quickly).

And my last complaint? Once you’ve completed it, there’s a big fat hole in your life. So you play it again. And that ‘just one more turn’ becomes ‘just one more game’.

Games journos be all about confessional writing, well here be my confession: I wrote that. And I published it. Twice.

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