After disappointing fans of X-COM (or UFO: Enemy Unknown in Europe) with Terrors from The Deep, the uninspired sequel that should have been sold as an add-on, Julian Gollop and his team at Mythos Games brought the series back to life with X-COM: The Apocalypse, a game worthy of the name and our Hall of Belated Fame. At first glance, X-COM veterans have reasons to be skeptical. For starters, a cliche plot (the war with the aliens has spread pollution and left many cities in ruins) explains the reduced game scale from the whole world to only one city, Mega-Primus, mankind's last hope of survival. As commander of the X-Com Mega-Primus Chapter, it is your job to command the city's army of planes, cars, hovercraft, and ground troops to defeat the aliens. In another risky twist to the tried-and-true formula, X-COM's elegant turn-based tactical gameplay has been replaced with real-time combat. Although the option to play turn-based is still around, it just doesn't have the same feel as the original. This change alone is enough to convince many X-COM fans to never give Apocalypse a chance. Those creepy night missions that give you the adrenaline rush when seeing the Sectoid's eyes glow in the dark are also gone, as Apocalypse has no night-day cycle, thereby making all missions occur in broad daylight.
Fortunately, it only takes the first tactical battle to convince X-COM fans that the incredible addictiveness of the first classic is still there, if not greatly enhanced by SVGA graphics and even more creative alien technologies and weapons to research. Basic gameplay is still the same as in the previous two games: you buy and invent new weapons to equip your soldiers with. When a UFO is discovered, you try to shoot it down with your fighters. After that, you send a transport vehicle with a soldier team to the crash site and kill all aliens in either the familiar turn-based or new real-time mode, StarCraft style. During the battles, you must be careful not to harm civilians who seem to always run in your way. So far, it's all familiar territory to X-COM veterans who will have no trouble learning the controls and jumping right into battles without ever opening the manual.
But what makes Apocalypse a true sequel (albeit an evolutionary one) rather than an add-on like Terror from The Deep is the numerous new gameplay elements that add extra dimensions to the already solid tactical combat engine. Gone are the tile-based cities in X-COM which look identical to one another except for the layout. In Mega-Primus, you will wage wars in burned-out slums, shiny corporate headquarters, frail glass-encased farms, factories, crowded apartments, and of course the enormous smoldering wreckage of a crashed UFO. The city also lives and breathes. If you want to hire new scientists, you now have to wait for the taxis to drive them to your base. When buying guns, you have to make sure no-one ambushes the transport from the Megapol factory. Instead of governments, you deal with cyberpunk-style mega-corporations who sell you the equipment you need. Annoy them, and your supply line will be cut short before you know it.
Naturally, in real-time mode, the combat is faster and more frantic, and also a lot of fun. While it doesn't give you the chance to execute that well-timed master plan like the turn-based mode does, the furious fun of real-time combat will lure even die-hard X-COM fans to try it at least a few times. With the return of X-COM's solid gameplay and many new features that make the game even more fun, X-COM: Apocalypse is a must have. It's a high point in the uneven series that saw the last game, X-COM Interceptor, turn out as little more than a glorified shooter. Two thumbs up, way up!Reviewed by: Underdogs