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XCOM 3 has to be my most awaited game of 1997. Ok, I was looking forward to Dungeon Keeper too, but it was XCOM that really got my attention. I'd even started playing UFO - Enemy Unknown in preparation for the big day. Well, now it's here, XCOM 3 is sat in my CDROM drive and installing away in it's almost unique (these days) DOS based manner. I'd seen the screen shots, played the demo and was looking forward to many a night of "Ok, just one more mission" before realising that it was 6.00am and I was due to start work in an hour.

Actually, I'd better come clean. The Demo had taken the edge of XCOM 3 for me, I thought the real time combat was crap and that I wasn't going to enjoy the game as much as it's previous incarnations. Also I'll freely admit that I wasn't impressed when I first started playing, but my, how things change!

UFO - A Classic in our time 

UFO or XCOM to our American friends was an instant strategy classic, longer lasting than a Duracell battery on steroids, more involving than an orgy and so well researched you thought the programmers had to have been based in Area 51. 

UFO (for both of you who don't know) was about aliens invading the Earth, and the XCOM organisation's battle against the invaders. You controlled the XCOM infrastructure and the combat missions in a traditional intermixed arrangement. However, UFO was different. You had big weapons. You had total control. You could destroy buildings. And all without a hex in sight. 

XCOM 3 - The Next Generation 

XCOM 3 is more of the same, but rather than patrolling the whole world you patrol a city, Mega Primus. Now, while this would sound like it's a simpler game than it's peers, this simply isn't the case. Whilst XCOM 3's area of operations is smaller there's much more to keep your mind occupied than in previous XCOM games, you're given much more freedom than before and much of your success depends on finding things out for yourself. Typically in XCOM 3 when things are going wrong you only find out when it's too late. 

Of course, it's now presented in SVGA as well.

XCOM 3 - Let me tell you a story 

After the second Alien War, the planet was pretty much totalled, so the city of Mega Primus was born. Everything went fine until dimension gates started to appear within the city walls, and soon after that, aliens started to appear again. XCOM (neglected for the last few decades) was again called upon to address the alien threat. OK so "address" is a bit politically correct. What I really mean is destroy the alien invaders with extreme prejudice.

XCOM - The Game

XCOM contains many of the sections found in earlier XCOM games. You have to manage your bases, attack alien craft, do a lot of research and, best of all, kick some alien butt!

The game starts on the cityscape with your one freely donated base. In this sanctuary you'll need to build research centres (both biological and quantum physics), living quarters, store rooms, workshops, repair centres, hospitals and training areas.

Building a good well rounded base is very important in the early sections of the game as much of your initial combat will be encountered from this base. Later in the game you get to deal with many of the game's more advanced features and buildings, which is where good resource management comes into play. Yes, resource management. You see all of the building within Mega Primus must comply to certain building standards, so, unlike the previous XCOM games, your bases are differing sizes and cannot be built on a single plan. All of the buildings have differing options for building so it becomes even more important to plan several bases and expand into them as the game goes on.

Combat! 

Eventually you'll get a sighting of a live alien and will naturally have to go and investigate, erm, I mean kill something. This is where XCOM 3 shows it main differences between it's earlier incarnations. Combat can be turn based or real time. 

The turn based combat is pretty much the same as in earlier versions. You move, the aliens move, and it alternates ad infinitum. Real time combat, admittedly taking some of the suspense away, is the preferred way to fight, as it allows you to intervene and react to circumstances as they change. To add to this, the real time combat makes things significantly harder. It's far to easier to lose control of events and end up with a few posthumous decorations rather than a more experienced group of fighting men. 

All the usual controls are there, like snap shot, multi shot, kneeling and the new one, lying down. Added to this is the fact that you now have be careful that you don't total buildings completely as you did in the first XCOM's, as their owners tend to get upset and start attacking you directly!

Life in the Big City 

As I mentioned earlier XCOM 3 requires a little bit more on the investigation front. There are several factions at work in the city some of which are allied to you some of which support the aliens. Think Independence Day and you'll have some idea. 

During the non combat sections you have to keep and eye on organisations that may be infiltrated by the aliens. To do this requires raids on hostile organisations, investigations into alien activity and pure and simple bribery to keep them on your side whilst you develop more and more powerful weapons - just wait until you get your hands on the alien technology, luvverly. As I said earlier, XCOM 3 requires you to do an awful lot on your own initiative.

Incoming, incoming! 

The UFO raids happen frequently, you will lose craft and men easily, XCOM 3 is as much about resource and combat tactic as keeping a hold on the purse strings. This even before you start to venture into the alien dimension - but enough about that, XCOM 3 is a game of discovery as well as combat so I can't give too much away.

OK, It sounds interesting, but why should I buy it? 

Well, it's certainly not for the graphics. The graphics (in the glorious tradition of the XCOM games) are a bit crap. They're not terrible but they hardly stand out. However, you don't really care because the aliens are well drawn and behave intelligently enough. The UFOpeadia is also a joy to read through in particular, and this is one area where the graphics don't disappoint. 

The sound is particularly good. Aliens scream (as do "innocent" bystanders) convincingly, the flames crackle as they burn ever higher, the explosions rock the house (literally) and the music isn't too bad either.

So why the initial bad feeling then? 

I'll be blunt. When I first started to play XCOM 3 I couldn't be bothered with it. It didn't grab me like the first ones did (even Laser Squad back on the C64). The real time combat didn't seem to fit either. I was starting to think that I was going to be only reviewer to slag this game off! However the more I played it the more I got engrossed in the game. I won't lie to you, upon first impressions this game does seem like an attempt to cash in on the XCOM popularity, but the game has hidden depths that aren't revealed until the game has been played for a while. This magical point will no doubt differ from person to person, but it will come. As a word of warning, once it does arrive your life will go down the pan. I'm sitting here writing this review and my friend, Andy Hicks, is playing Dungeon Keeper but I want him to die horribly on it so I can start to play XCOM again. It took a while but now it's got me and I'll never let go until I've finished it!

Time to sum up 

Buy this game. After you've got over the initial disappointment you'll find this game will grab you and not let go. The game has so much depth to it. As long as you play you'll always find something to battle against, whether it is aliens or alien worshippers. God help you if you find yourself battling against the government or the police! 

The research areas of the game alone, are enough to hold your interest, especially if you have any kind of interest in UFO's. The research elements combine with the face to face confrontation and the political manoeuvering to produce something much greater than the sum of it's parts. 

XCOM 3 is not the best looking of games you can buy, and it's by no means got the funkiest soundtrack. This game has what so any games today lack. Total and unadulterated game play, what's more it's got it by the boat load.

XCOM 3 - Aliens at home

I can only say one thing about this game - Buy it. You won't regret it.

Score - 9/10

X-Com Apocalypse by Microprose
Specs O/S Processor RAM Graphics CD-Rom Soundcard MMX Direct3D
Required DOS 5 or Win95 DX4-100 or Pentium 8Mb or 16Mb 1Mb SVGA X4 speed SB and compatible No No
Tested On Win95 P166 32Mb 2Mb Cirrus Logic 5446 X8 SB AWE 32 N/A N/A

Darren Clarke for Game Over!

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