Incubation: Time is Running Out

  • Developer: Blue Byte Software GmbH
  • Genre: Strategy/Wargame
  • Originally on: Windows (1997)
  • Works on: PC, Windows
  • Editor Rating:
    Incubation: Time is Running Out Rating
  • User Rating: 8.0/10 - 2 votes
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Game Overview

Take the thick, sweat-soaked atmosphere from the Alien films, flavour it with some Doomesque scenery and Warhammer40K-style space marines and then pour the lot on top of a third-person perspective combat engine such as X-COMs and you've got the essence of the game. Serve it up late at night with the lights turned down and soak up the dark, brooding atmosphere to your heart's content. As a recipe it's as close to perfection as you'll get - but there's more. Incubation has some of the best 3D graphics in the history of the gaming universe - that's without a 3Dfx card.

Oh oh, a funny turn

Did I mention that it's a turn-based game? Now I know that if I use the words 'turn-based' and 'action' in the same sentence to describe a game, some of you will be rolling in the aisles. You might even laugh. Even the moniker 'turnbased' will be enough of a turn-off for a good percentage of frag-loving deathmatch psychos. If that's the case, it serves you right. You'll have missed out on one of the finest games in the known universe. So there. That's easy to say, of course, but it's a little bit harder to explain. Part of the game's charm is its pseudo real-time views of the 3D-rendered polygonal world of Incubation. You've got a nice simple overhead view, a 45 degree third-person perspective view that can automatically pan around depending on what's happening, and a first-person view if you really want to get in there and see the action.

You can set the camera position to almost anywhere you want, zoom in and out, and even explore areas you haven't actually entered. You move the camera using the right-mouse button for simple in-out and side-to-side adjustments and both mouse buttons together for rotation on the spot and up-down movement. It takes a few minutes to manage, but you'll soon be getting angles you could only dream about in real life.

The only defence against the alien threat is you and your squad of marines. You move each unit one at a time on a square grid and fire at visible targets if you want to. In what the designers call "free view" (and what you'll probably call motion sickness view), the game determines the viewpoint for any action that takes place and scrolls smoothly around to let you see it. You can even watch the alien's turn if you want to keep an eye on what they're up to. All self-respecting gamers can of course turn this option off.

The polygonal marines and aliens are superbly animated and even when they're not being moved, they're looking from side to side and generally waggling their weapons, adding to the real-time feel. When your men fire, they half crouch, swing the weapon into position and let rip with a wonderfully animated stream of tracers, bullets or whatever. Quick-firing guns even eject spent cases. Cool is hardly the word for it.

From a strategy lover's point of view,there aren't that many actions you can command your marine to take. For example, you can't lie down, crouch or swap equipment so in most cases, game turns are over in a matter of mere seconds. In short, it's as close to real-time as you can possibly get.


Right - I've told you it's gorgeous and I've also said it's atmospheric (actually I haven't, but you know now). So what's the story? Well, you've got all the options you'd expect in a strategy combat game - and more. First and foremost is the campaign game with cut-scenes and a somewhat linear storyline about the good old human race vanquishing the scum-sucking alien horde. Then comes the local straight-into-it game where you pick a squad of up to a dozen men (no Laras here, boys) and battle it out with the beasties until the last man's standing... or not. You've got six different scenarios to choose from, although I suspect we'll see a lot more soon.

Just as important as the solo campaign - and perhaps more so if you like to gauge a game's long-term appeal - is the multi-player option. You don't get to play the aliens but you can have up to four players each with a custom squad of marines playing either over a network, the Internet, serial link or just a plain old hot seat. There's even a play-by-mail option which is cool, especially for Play By E-Mail (PBEM) groups on the Internet. The multi-player game is nothing short of fantastic and will certainly deliver hours of enjoyment once you've completed the campaign and local pitched-battle games. There are some 20 or so multiplayer maps with different objectives for each side based on the troops selected and the number of players involved.

You have a certain amount of points to spend, so you can choose from around 20 different types of marine or recruit and equip them individually. For example, one option is a light infantry marine with basic weapons and light armour, while another is the more expensive 'heavy' with machine gun or whatever you want. On the other hand, if you want a lightly armoured, jump-pack-equipped medic with a mine thrower, what's to stop you?

The points system means you can have up to a dozen lightly-armed men or just a handful if they're staggering under the weight of armour and assorted hardware. Of course, there's nothing to stop you having a quick and easy game with just one or two marines each.

Isle be seeing you

Despite the cool head-to-head stuff, it's the campaign element that really makes Incubation, and it's here you find the somewhat tenuous link to Battle Isle 3.

But hang on a minute - what the hell has Battle Isle 3 got to do with it? Oops, let's retrace our steps a little. Incubation was touted in some quarters as Battle Isle 4, although it's .J clearly got naff all to do with it really. One of the campaigns in Battle Isle 3 takes place on the planet X Scay-Hallwa and at the end of the game the humans colonised it and built a huge forcefield to keep out the undesirables. Incubation steps in with the collapse of the barrier and a horde of aliens rampaging through the city. Worse still, they've also mutated through contact with a human virus.

The campaign starts off with your squad leader and his two men clearing out a building and then progresses through gradually more complex levels and assignments. Squad members are picked up here and there - some are wounded, some need rescuing - and your squad improves from mission to mission, adding new weapons when their skills increase.

You'll be asked to help trapped scientists and civvies, repair or disable various things like power plants and eventually fight yourselves out of a really tight spot. Without giving too much away, the ending might well have something to do with a massive alien nest... To spice things up, many missions have to be completed in a certain number of — moves and others, such as those with floating aerial platforms, will involve careful timing. You will also get jump-packs to help complete multi-level missions and face some nasty surprise weapons and traps. On the plus side, the weapons just get better and better, with some ultra-cool ones appearing towards the end. lt's all about tactics, innit?

More and more tactical options become available as, things move on and you'll find yourself with 12 different aliens to destroy. You can't just simply blast your way through either, as each of the nasty little scumbags has some feature or other that demands you plan your tactics very carefully indeed. One particular specimen, the Gore'Ther, is almost completely immune to all of your weapons. It can only be killed from behind, which takes some pretty smart manoeuvring. And someone's got to act as the decoy...

Some look like spiders, some are almost invisible and there's one (I won't spoil it) that doesn't even bother to attack - it just explodes in your face, leaving a gas that kills anything in range along with itself. To deal with these critters you need to be able to hold them off at long range. It's when you're faced with three or four different types of alien at once that things can get a bit sticky, not to say difficult. Happily though, there's an undo button so you can quickly cancel a turn and start again rather than saving, quitting and reloading all the time.

Apart from the aliens, there's one other major inconvenience. The simplest alien is the Scay'ger, the kind of trash you can blow away in one shot - except you only have limited ammo in every mission. Blow away too many too soon and you'll find yourself having to resort to close combat - and that ain't too clever because a Scay'Ger can rip you apart if it gets to move first. Another tactical problem is that some weapons will overheat. Go at it gung-ho and they can stop working or even inflict physical damage. The good news is you've got a temperature graph, so you can keep an eye on them.

Although the plot is fairly linear, there are one or two branches along the way. In most games you'll only have to complete 24 out of the full 30 missions to win, so providing you take different decisions each time there is a certain amount of replayability built in.

I can't think of anything bad to say about Incubation. Yes, it's slow on a bog-standard Pentium 120, but add a 3Dfx card (as I discovered only halfway through the review), and you'll be repeating "Wow!" ad infinitum until everyone gets really bored and goes home. If you ever needed an excuse to fork out for a 3Dfx card, this is it.

Yes, it is turn-based, but believe me, it just doesn't matter. It's so fast-paced you'll find yourself hitting the control key and reaching for the mouse so many times it's almost embarrassing. If I could think of a more superlative word than brilliant, I'd stick it right here...

Square Bashing

Mechanics-wise, the game is pretty basic, even perhaps too basic for some, but considering the incredible graphics and the roving camera, we can't be too hard on Blue Byte for that.

Your marines move on an invisible square grid. It costs one action point to move sideways, forwards or backwards, and two to move diagonally. You can't lie down, crouch or jump (without a jump-pack), but you can face in any one of the eight directions. You can also switch to defensive mode. This is a kind of opportunity fire - any unit under orders to do so will fire at a moving target to his front during the enemy's turn. Other actions include using the scanner, giving first aid, changing between weapon modes, opening doors or crates and taking stimulants that increase your action points. Note that many weapons have two modes, so a flamethrower might have concentrated burst mode and area effect, for example.

Perhaps one of the most attractive aspects of the game is that each marine is a real individual, courtesy of a clever skill point system. When you first recruit someone, the weapon or armour you equip them with will dictate the role of that particular marine and his skill points. So if you give a bloke a friggin' great heavy machine gun, he gets to be skilled with heavy weapons. In effect you create his 'personality'. Get it?

Marines also get life points (the equivalent of hit points), and physical condition points or action points that govern what he can achieve in a turn. There's quite a complex relationship between the different points and this helps to make each marine worth looking after. Lose one and you'll get a really green replacement who won't survive the next mission. Keeping the lads alive has never been so important...

Part 1 - A General Guide

In This. The First Of A Two-Part Guide to Incubation, we offer you some general hints and tips to the easier levels of the game which, we hope, will enhance your gaming pleasure until next month, when we'll be printing a further guide to the more difficult levels.

The basics

Don't hang around. The longer you stay in one area, the more chance the Scay'Ger will have of overpowering and overwhelming you. Keep moving and close all doors behind you. Don't forget: much of the difficulty here is not in the alien intelligence, but their sheer number.

Your tactics should always be kill and then move - not the other way around. This way you'll minimise the number of attacking Scay'Ger to an acceptable level and, therefore, the amount of damage that can be inflicted upon you.

Take your time. Always try to open all crates and collect the equipment points and other bonuses on each mission. It pays major dividends in the long run, but never be so greedy that you endanger your units. On early missions reduce the enemy to single units and then lead them astray so you can open all the crates. Leave men with bayonets protecting entry ports and then send one man round to clean up the remaining bonus crates.

Know your enemy

Make good use of the magnifying glass early in the game to remind yourself of the attributes and weaknesses of each opponent. One of the most important factors in the game is preserving sufficient ammunition to see you through each level, so keep tabs on the aliens and you'll know how best to approach each one and avoid wasting firepower. Don't forget to change your viewing perspective regularly to get a better idea of the conditions your squad is facing.

Rest your troops before a critical phase, as it pays to have as many action points available as possible. Keep doors closed until you're ready to move, and always close them behind you. If you're in a room where Scay'Ger can enter through the air ducts, post a unit with a bayonet nearby and let him eliminate any unwanted guests. Before moving into the next room, position your units in front of the door and make sure they're well rested. You can often clear most of the room by stationing three men on defence, facing into it. The Scay'Ger will happily walk into your trap all day long - just don't waste ammo against infinite opponents.

If you're so far from an opponent that you think you're more than likely going to miss, don't waste your ammo and movement points. Make your way slowly towards the enemy until you're close enough to shoot. Conversely, there's no point putting soldiers on defence mode if you think they'll miss. Rest them instead so that they're fully fit for the battle when they're in range.

Buy wisely

You must try to balance your desire to buy the most powerful equipment with a steady improvement of the squad as a whole - it's better to have a full squad with servo systems and armour than one Rambo who's stretched to protect the others when the going gets tough. Remember, if you're not seen, you won't be a target. Therefore, move slowly and you'll only alert Scay'Ger to your presence in tiny measures.

Get to know your opponents and the hit points required to kill them. When things get really hairy later on, you'll be glad you know exactly what's required for each small victory. Use this knowledge to calculate your shots. If you don't receive the expected amount of hit points after one of your shots, don't expect to make up the deficit with the unit's remaining action points - use the ones you have left to plan for some evasive action. This last point is valid, even for the most powerful weapon with the greatest accuracy, but is even more relevant for the weaker weapons.

Don't immediately destroy objects that can be used to protect your units - use them to block openings. Sometimes it's better to block the advance of a horde of Scay'Ger with an exploding barrel than it is to kill one or two by detonating it.

Servo systems make sense

One of the most important aspects of your squad is their mobility: purchase a servo mechanism for all of your units as soon as possible, and for a one-time shot in the arm the stimulants can get you out of some pretty tight situations. The jet packs offer greatly enhanced mobility, so if you're in a position to purchase one or more, do so.

Give injured units the chance to recuperate by pulling them out of the action where possible. The recuperation is even faster when the unit is in the proximity of the flag.

Don't assume there's no suitable cover; always seek shelter in difficult circumstances - even if it's in a corner. Some of the weapon-carrying Scay'Ger must either move or shoot, so force it to take one step and it will waste movement points, and you've probably saved your squad to fight another day.

Panicking marines can cause you all manner of problems. Surround them with the rest of the squad so that any hits taken are evenly distributed. When deploying your troops at the beginning of a mission, look around to see what's turned up on your screen before you hit the Cnext player' key. The soldier you've just deployed may have been able to spot something important...

Think ahead

When purchasing equipment and weapons for your units, pay particular attention to the skill level requirements which may allow you not only to pick up one piece of equipment or weapon but other items as well without costing other skill points. For instance, purchase a servo system. This not only provides you with greater mobility but also allows you to pick up the following items without the need of additional skill points: standard armour, ammunition pack, light stimulants, scan module and a small medic kit. This type of bundling will allow greater flexibility when you have to ration your skill points. If more than one unit gets killed during a mission, go back and replay it - the later levels get extremely tough, and you won't succeed if you're fighting with only a partial squad.

Though it's tempting to let the better-equipped marines do the dirty work, make sure to let weaker units get some kills and build up their experience points, otherwise you'll have weak links in your squad.

Rotate units on defence mode - some as bait, some as defenders. Although it's a great way to defend them, if you do it too often with the same units, their guns will heat up.

Safety in numbers

Try to move your units in small groups rather than alone - if you do it this way you'll never be reduced to 'eye-for-an-eye' battles when encountering Scay'Ger.

Don't be afraid to experiment: the 'undo last turn' button lets you quickly go back to your last turn (unless Bratt or your last unit is killed). Sometimes you may find a new or better solution to a difficult area - and the difference between victory and defeat can be a single step. Resting your units or taking stimulants at the right place can make all the difference. Use platforms wisely: it often makes more sense to take the entire team to a new area rather than split them up. If you keep them in a group they'll be able to back each other up if things get out of control. You can also use platforms to move your marines away from monsters, allowing you to take them out from a safe distance with long-range weapons.

So, happy playing. We're sure this handy general guide will add to your fervent gameplaying for another month -but whatever you do, don't forget to tune in again next issue for another guide to the most difficult missions in the game. You'll regret it if you don't.

Part 2 - The Nightmare Levels

Power station

Note: Before you enter the power station, make sure that your squad is optimally equipped to take on the next three missions - they all take place in this area, and you won't have an opportunity to re-equip them until the completion of the third mission.

Available: Three containers with equipment points and one container with an extra (+1) condition point (only for the unit that opens the container). This one looks more difficult than it really is. Send a marine to the control panel located directly to the left and position the rest of your squad on the platform. In the next round, activate the platform. This will bring the Gore'Ther into position - by now this should be routine. Select one marine who will control the platforms and move him to the control panel on the right. The rest of your squad should be moved to the platform to the left. You can activate the control panel as soon as your squad has vacated the first platform and your other marine, located at the original control panel, has moved onto the platform that was previously occupied by the Gore'Ther. When you've positioned all your units on the top-left platform, rest your troops -they're going to need it.

Now you need to activate the left control panel, which will move the platform over to the other side. Place your entire squad on defence mode and let the Scay'Ger come to you.

marines directly to the room to the right and line up the rest against the second wall. The first soldier should bait the Gore'Ther out of the room and into position -use the platform to provide an optimum distance of safety. Keeping your units along the second wall, you should use the first marine to bait first the Gore'Ther to the right and then the ones to the left - at this point it's a duck shoot. Be careful however that you don't kill the last Gore'Ther before you've opened all the containers.

Dr Reich

Available: Three containers with ammunition, nine with equipment points, and one with an extra talent point for both light and heavy weapons. In this mission, you'll need to calculate your movements precisely - especially in the beginning. Your opponents consist of Gore'Ther, RayTher, and a new variety known as Cy'Coo; they don't move but eject a deadly fluid that kills anything it hits. They target the hindmost position, but if you consistently move your units, they should pose no other difficulty. You can't attack them successfully unless they attack you first, and then only in defence mode.

To complicate the mission, there are spans of walkway that give way if two objects occupy the same area. Deploy your units on a platform that automatically moves over to two parallel spans of walkways. In the middle, two spans run perpendicular and lead to a large area that harbours the Cy'Coo and the Ray'Ther. To the left and right you'll find two pairs of Gore'Ther.

Leave one person on the platform to act as a decoy, not only for the Cy'Coo (keep moving) but also for the Gore'Ther. Send decoys to the left and to the right and the rest to positions in the middle. Bait the two pairs of Gore'Ther down to the span adjacent to the deployment platform. As soon as they've moved decisively in that direction, the units in the middle should move out to positions on the second parallel walkway span that enables them to get in behind the advancing Gore'Ther. They'll also need to contend with Ray'Ther advancing from the large area directly in front. Both spans leading to the large area are unstable and you shouldn't allow two Ray'Ther to occupy the same span - if they're allowed to collapse, you won't be able to get to the other side and you'll fail the mission. When the Gore'Ther have been neutralised, it's hunting season on Ray'Ther. Dr Reich is in the room to the left; in the room to the right you'll find your bonus package, but be sure that you can enter the room in one round.

Escort Dr Reich

Available: One ammunition container, one with an extra (+1) condition point, and four with equipment points.

It doesn't matter if there's one or five Cy'Coo because they all fire at the hindmost target, as is the case in this mission. Position your marines in such a way that all but two can be moved to new locations on the same platform. Those that remain on the platform should be able to hit targets that are at long range. A marine with a flame-thrower should move down to the control panel, but not activate it until the second round. The other should move out onto the unstable span to the right. The rest move to new locations on the start platform - don't worry about the two Gore'Ther near this location. Activate the control panel in the second round and, with the remaining action points, the marine should fry the approaching Ray'Ther near his location and move one space. The units on the platform should concentrate on the Ray'Ther located where the platform stops. The unit on the unstable span should kill as many as possible of the Ray'Ther approaching with the Gore'Ther from the east. The marine at the control panel acts as bait not only for the Gore'Ther but also for the Cy'Coo, so don't forget to keep him moving. As soon as the units on the start platform have eliminated the Ray'Ther in the north, they can eliminate the two Gore'Ther near the start position and open the containers located in the north. The marine with the flame-thrower then acts as bait for the Gore'Ther approaching from the east. After you've eliminated the Gore'Ther, it's just a simple march to the east. Your bonus is located in the area behind the three Cy'Coo.

Rutherford's solo mission

Available: Two containers with ammunition and 12 with equipment points. Move Rutherford near to the wall in the east. With the jetpack, she should land inside the room but behind the small wall that juts out. Rest her until the weapon cools down and repeat the action for the second room. After the third room, pick ammunition and go to the east sector of the mission area. Eliminate the.Ray'Coo waiting around the corner before jumping into the room. Jump into the centre of the room for cover. Start with the west section of the room. Take your shots and move back undercover. With the western section secure, rest up and then move into the other side of the room.

Halls II

Available: Three containers with ammunition, one with extra talent points for light and heavy weapons, one for technical weapons, and 11 with equipment points.

Clear the deployment area (two Pry'Coo and one Eelher) before moving into the room in the centre - in this position, you have more of both plus some Declher falling from the ceiling. Use the grenade launcher to prepare the way, open the door and let the rapid-fire machine guns do the rest. If you don't succeed in killing all the Pry'Coo. close the door and wait for the next round before entering or leaving the centre room. In this one, you should never rely on just one method - plan back-up measures. The destination area has two more Eelher.

The bonuses are located to the west of the deployment grid on the other side of the wall and behind the containers in the deployment area against the wall in the east.

Spaceport 1

NB No containers available.

Your deployment area is surrounded by Scay'Ger. Eliminate the Pry'Coo and Dec'Ther in the area, and then take cover behind the big container on the edge of the platform. The Pry'Coo that can't wait to be blown to bits will of course come to you. In the meantime, it's target practice on the Dec'Ther. When the situation has calmed down, move your squad around the north end of the platform. You'll find firing lanes to eliminate the remaining Scay'Ger.

Spaceport II (final mission)

NB No containers available.

The Boss, a giant spider, is coming - did you really think you'd get out without confronting him? Move your squad off the ramp and over to the east (safe is safe). As soon as the Boss shows up, use your high-energy laser in B-Mode to paralyse him.

Now, in combination with your grenade launcher and multi-target destroyer, you can comfortably blow that badass spider to bits. The Dec'Ther in the area and those falling from the ceiling all add colour to the spectacle - there's nothing like victory.

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System Requirements

Processor: PC compatible,

OS: Win9xWindows 9x, Windows 2000 WinXPWindows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.

Game Features:Incubation: Time is Running Out supports single modeSingle game mode

Incubation: Time is Running Out Screenshots

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