With every publisher and his mum releasing a 3D shoot 'em up based on some revolutionary engine or other, we are in danger of becoming swamped by games that task us with: a) shooting things, and b) shooting some more things. With X-COM Alliance, the fifth game in the X-COM series, MicroProse are to be praised for attempting to bring an element of originality to a genre plagued with clones. X-COM Alliance features the management and research elements that have made the series such a success to date, and first-person shoot 'em up action using the incredible Unreal engine. To say this project is ambitious is something of an understatement, given that many development houses can happily spend two years working on just one of these two concepts and still manage to get it wrong.
The designers of Alliance have decided to take the series back in time to the ruins of the Cydonia base which formed the backdrop for the first X-COM game - UFO: Enemy Unknown, as it was known in the UK. As the game begins. X-COM ships are in orbit around Mars when an abandoned dimension gate throws them 60 light years from Earth, into the middle of a war between the aliens which inhabited the first game and a new race called the Ascidians. This is the first time in the X-COM series that you ever have an ally, because the Ascidians will join your forces and aid you in your attempts to foil the alien threat.
This is also the first game in the series to place the emphasis firmly on action. The first four games split the resource management and combat sections more or less down the middle, but MicroProse intend to pitch Alliance at a wider audience by trimming down the strategy side of things. This does not mean that longstanding X-COM veterans will be deprived of the resource management and research side of the game, just that it won't be as prominent. As Adrian TUmer, Product Manager for X-COM Alliance, explains: "This is not a Quake clone glad to hear it - Ed. You'll still have to get to grips with the research and management side of the game to succeed."
Cynics could opine that MicroProse are tacking various combat models on to the X-COM management and research engine and claiming they've come up with a new X-COM game. Nothing could be further from the truth, says Adrian. uWe are not trying to fool anyone. The X-COM branding may be strong, but people will judge new X-COM games on their own merits. The new X-COM games will run parallel with one another, and gamers can decide which games to buy depending on which genres they like."
Whatever the case, these screenshots have caused quite a stir in the PC, and we can't wait get our hands on some playable code. When we rerevisit this game we'll bring you a full report.
It's been so long since X-COM Alliance was announced, you've probably long since given up hope of it ever seeing the light of day. The last time we saw Alliance it was being developed in the UK and it was also looking seriously good. Now in the latter development stages in the US, the game is not only looking better, it's also shaping up to be considerably more advanced and ambitious than it ever was. A tactical squad-based first-person shooter could have got away with a lot a year ago, but a few small milestones like Rainbow Six, Hidden & Dangerous and SWAT3 (not to mention Half-Life, the standard by which all FPSs are now judged) have come along since then, and MicroProse know it has to pull off something pretty special to beat those games. And you know what, it looks as if it might do just that.
X-Com Out And Play
If, like us, you've been a fan of X-COM since the classic UFO: Enemy Unknown, you'll know all about the addictive and immersive features of the series, as well as the enduring quality of each title (except the rather feeble Interceptor). You'll also understand why the prospect of a truly intelligent shooter with this kind of depth and history behind it is enough to make us weak at the knees with excitement. Purists who fear the game will lose the true essence of the brand to become another generic alien-blasting exercise can rest at ease. Alliance is best described as a cross between the scary atmosphere of Aliens Vs Predator, the team-based tactics of SWAT 3 and the scripted elements and sheer quality of Half-Life. Add to this the RPG characteristics each member of your squad has and the importance of the research side of the game, and you've got a serious contender for 'game of the year'. The game still uses the Unreal engine, albeit a heavily modified version of it, so the gorgeousness of the visuals is already guaranteed.
In case you don't know the story, the game take place in 2063, after the Second Alien War but well before the setting of Apocalypse. You are the squad commander of the research vessel UGS Patton heading towards Mars, but in a Voyager-like twist, you end up on the other side of the Universe, caught up in another alien war. Because of this there is no base management in the game, although managing your supplies becomes all the more important.
As with all the titles in the series, research plays a massive role in both the strategic choices you make and the actual combat. Apart from the weapons your ship is carrying (rifle, pistol, laser rifle, demolition charges...), you'll be able to collect alien weaponry, including new technology, such as fusion pistols and ammo. In typical X-COM fashion, you need to research them before you can use them, leaving men behind on the Patton to do the lab work while you're away on a mission. In addition, if you take a team member with high research skills into combat and discover a weapon, you'll be able to leave him or her behind to figure out what the weapon is so that your team members can use it.
The game will work similarly to SWAT 3, in that you will only have direct control over the squad leader, issuing commands to your team members through a highly intuitive keyboard interface. The level of interaction with both your men and the environment is the highest we've seen yet, and you'll also be able to set up a thoughtful tactical attack by placing your soldiers where you want them and asking them to perform all sorts of complex actions. The A1 promises to be at least as good as in Half-Life, and uses a technology that allows every friend and on-screen foe to perform complex actions at the same time.
There are only 12 soldiers in all, four of whom you can take into the actual missions, making each and every one a precious resource, and enhancing the feeling of attachment X-COM games have always been so good at developing. If you lose one of them, you can't just go to the recruitment screen and hire a few more hands. One of the main reasons combat in the series was always so exciting was because you got to know and care about the characters (which you can still rename, by the way), eliciting cries of despair whenever one of them got killed. This time, though, the characters aren't small matchstick men moving from one square to another; they're highly detailed people, each with their own voice (with more than 200 lines of speech), skills (which will improve with every mission and determine who you take with you) and personalities.
Game designer, Christopher Clark, delighted in showing us all the different motion-captured animations (over 300 for each trooper) for deaths, falls, gestures and everything else likely to happen. Depending on their personality and what happens around them, soldiers will panic, act cautiously or with bravado. You will also be able to see the effects of psi-attacks on them, while your own vision will distort when you're attacked. And, yes, you can use mind control to add aliens to your team for a short while. What's more, because you can see the action through the cameras your team has fitted into their helmets, you can even see yourself being killed by possessed soldiers. And if all this isn't enough to get you excited, you're probably already dead.
We all love first-person shooters, but let's be honest, how many more can we stand that seem to focus on nothing more than blowing someone's head off repeatedly? Enter stage left, Alliance with what seems to be the perfect solution: a first-person shooter with a strong research and resource management side that lends purpose to all the non-stop shooting. We have a sneaky feeling that if Hasbro get this game right it could well be the surprise hit of the year.
Beautiful graphics, depth of gameplay and the opportunity to kill recognised aliens from the XCOM series in up-close-and-personal confrontations must surely be a recipe for success.
Alliance is scheduled for release at the end of the year. We can hardly wait. No, really.
Download X-COM: Alliance
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
X-COM: Alliance Screenshots and Media
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