X2: The Threat
This Very month. one of the most delayed games of all time dropped out of orbit and splash-landed in our reviews section. It's a nifty little space number called Freelancer, and it's been keeping hopes alive for a true modern-day successor to Elite for some five years now.
However, just as I was about to cancel my mail, declare myself captain of the good ship Presley and head out into the inky blackness of Freelancer, never to return, I received a call from Jamie 'Setters' Sefton at HQ. Prez, do you fancy popping in and taking a look at X2 with us?" My curiosity duly aroused, I turned up, only to find Setters in the company of one Bernd Lehahn, head of X2 developer Egosoft, who promptly proceeded to blow my mind. For you see, X2: The Threat is a modest, unassuming space game, with barely a fraction of the production costs of Freelancer, yet, from what we've seen, it looks even better.
Freelancer may be the closest rival, but from what I know about the game it still seems to be quite different from X2," comments Bernd when asked about the competing title. I don't think it's possible in Freelancer to build your own factories, for example, and I think that this is partially because it does not have a simulated economy. I also think that its missions are more linear than ours. Freelancer doesn't allow you to control large amounts of ships and extend your ships' computers. But this is really all just a lot of guessing. We haven't really looked at it yet. Too many I thinks'! he laughs.
The original X: Beyond The Frontier was one of those titles that divided everyone who played it. Where some people saw sedate beauty and engrossing freedom, others saw dull monotony and confusing gameplay. Others still were faced with a storyline that seemed superfluous and tacked on. Which, indeed, was the case. Egosoft's ultimate ambition was never Star Trek but Elite. The story was there because it was thought necessary. This time, Lehahn is under no illusions about his aims.
From X:BTF to X2 we have made many steps towards our goal of total freedom," he says eagerly. For example, you can control ships with many turrets manually or just sit inside one of the turrets while your ship computer steers the craft for you, all using a breadth of Al options. You can fly around inside factories and stations, but only if you want to. It isn't strictly speaking necessary -although we will be hiding some objects inside some stations for the truly dedicated pilot to discover. You can also extend your ship computer with lots of enhancements. You can add new commands to remotely control your ships which could, for example, allow pirating commands to be issued to send your fleet on a plundering mission or assign them to protect your stations.
While it's fair to say that the team at Egosoft are a talented bunch of lads, it's also true that a number of these gameplay ideas have come from the likes of you, fair reader, through Zs huge online fan community.
We've had a lot of feedback from the last two games. A hell of a lot, exclaims Lehahn. It was always a big motivation for us to see how enthusiastically the many fans reacted and to hear their ideas and suggestions for us. The best thing is, it never stops. Even today, more than two years after X-BTF was first released, we get many such mails every day.
A lot of this comes by the way of DevNet - Egosoft's amateur coding community. There is a very strong community of fans and we try to do what we can to help them and to communicate with them, he explains. Mainly this happens through our website. It has chat rooms, forums and a huge developer community, where people can get all the technical information needed to program the missions for our games. In fact, they're such a strong base of fans that many of them have even penned X fan fiction. Trekkies eat your hearts out.
Love or hate the original X, one area everyone couldn't help but agree on was its beauty. Well, X2 is a million times better looking. It's the kind of space that makes you want to forget about the trading, the piracy and the hostile aliens and just blaze up a space doobie, put your feet up on the dashboard and sit there marvelling at the swirly colours and the awesomeness of nature. Man.
Which is why it's all the more bizarre to hear about the creative influences at work in the game. Ideas really can be taken from everywhere," says Lehahn, in fact some of the most beautiful ship designs are based on household appliances. Uh-huh. Somehow the thought of zipping about in a Breville sandwich maker of doom doesn't have the right feel.
It was always important for us that the very unique races in the X universe are also recognisable by their ships and stations," Lehahn continues. Take the Boron for example. They are originally underwater creatures so it just makes sense that they take some of the designs they developed in their home planet's oceans and adapt them to their space vehicles. Maybe for aesthetic reasons, maybe for more practical ones." As brilliant as X2 looks however, there's still one small problem - finding someone to publish the damn thing. At the time of writing, Egosoft was in the middle of frenzied negotiations with an unnamed firm. Finding a publisher for X2 has been a bit chaotic," Lehahn explains. But now things are looking really good. We are confident that we can announce the publisher for the game really soon.
Let's hope so, because if X2 lives up to both its own potential and the potential shown by the previous X titles then not a single wannabe space trader out there will be disappointed. And if not, well there's always Freelancer.
Advanced Users Only!
Do Your Own Al Scripting With X2's In-Game Editor
Halfway through his demo of X2, Bernd Lehahn showed Setters and meself one of the innovations the game is bringing to the genre. It was about then that my brain put on its best shoes, left a note on the table and buggered oft down the pub to drown itself in Highballs.
Apparently the game will ship with an editor that allows you to reprogram any or all of the game's Al routines in order to customise your fleet to behave exactly as you want. I'm not talking about piddly little on/off switches for pre-programmed encounters or anything. We're talking full-on, Master's degree in computing, boffins-only editing software here.
Want your fleet of pirates to perform cunning bait-and-trap ambushes? Want a team of escort fighters to form a giant phallus every time they're attacked? As long as you can master the software you can pretty much have them do whatever you want.
Gleaming intricately-patterned ships, sparkling with a myriad of tiny lights move gracefully through infinite space, decorated with supernovas, asteroids, stars, exotic planets and massive space stations. Sounds idyllic, doesn't it? Well, it would be, if there wasn't a terrifyingly evil race of aliens known as the Khaak heading straight for you, bent on the destruction of the universe...
Space trading/fighting sim X2: The Threat looks set to eclipse the original in sheer size and scope. Egosoft's managing director Bernd Lehahn states that his aim is: To make a simulation that allows every possible freedom, that you're never finished." In the X2 universe, a completely simulated economy for immersive trading and resource management exists, but you can also keep your triggerfinger exercised with spectacular space battles involving dozens of alien adversaries, each with unique ships and special abilities.
X2: The Threat has just come out in the US, but the European release in February will be the full, polished version, with cut-scenes, an improved plot and the ability to download new Al plug-ins for your burgeoning capitalist fleet.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode