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Here's the setup. It's 1999, and UFO sightings (of the classic variety) have become common. Aliens are starting to routinely land in major cities, infiltrate governments, and destroy the population. There's
no hope of living in peaceful coexistence; these guys don't care about anything but colonization, and they don't exactly speak "human", either. These aliens are of the Roswell 1947 variety - mysterious,
deadly, psionically enhanced. No single world government stands a chance of fighting their superior technology. This is where you come in: the U.N. has created a project named X-COM, whose only
purpose is to put an end to the alien onslaught. You are the commander.
The gameplay is innovatively structured in a two-fold manner. Normally, you play with a 3D view of Earth (you can spin it around, zoom in to see city and country notations, etc.) You start the game with a
base in a location of your choosing, and a certain amount of funds. In this Geoscape mode, you'll be able to look at a 2D plan of your base, add facilities to it, manufacture the technology you already know
(in the beginning, things like conventional fighter planes, rifles, and grenades), research new technology, manage funds, etc. Surprisingly, none of this ever seems boring. In addition, you'll be supplied
with a couple of hangars (on your base), an Interceptor (an F-15-type air-to-air fighter), and a Skyranger (an aerial transport for your troops).
The game has unparalleled replay value. It's definitely quite difficult until you figure out the correct battle tactics and the most efficient resource policies. You'll learn to attack in groups of 3 or 4, to crouch
behind cover, and to sell expensive alien technology at a profit. You'll also learn to research aggressively, and to build new bases to cover more area (after all, countries you're not serving appropriately
will lower, or even drop, funding - eventually, the game ends if enough countries are unhappy). Every mission is different from the next, so you're not likely to run into repetitious gameplay. The aliens
themselves mix it up, throwing attacks ranging from recon to terrorizing major population centers to attacking X-COM's bases, if they can find them. And while it will be difficult, you'll be able to beat the
game - even without finding all the available technology. This means the replays will let you explore further (for instance, you will be able to get your hands on psionic technology to control the enemy!). In
addition, there are five difficulty levels, and the most difficult level is definitely doable once you've gotten good. In fact, once you've mastered the game, you'll realize that the aliens aren't all that scary; their
strengths, which are their superior weapons and psionic abilities, are balanced by the fact that (a) humans can be a lot smarter, and (b) the aliens just can't aim very well. But good luck getting to that point.
Terror from the Deep
It's the year 2040 and the alien menace from 1999 was thought defeated, but in vanquishing the alien base on Cydonia the X-COM troops unknowingly triggered a tachyon beam which has activated a
huge alien base that lies somewhere beneath earth's oceans. These new aliens have started to terrorise islands and sink shipping; your task is to take control of the X-COM Terran Defence Force and
eliminate the alien threat.
The game puts you in control of all of X-COM's activities. With funding from about 20 (new world) countries your aim is to eliminate the alien threat, initially by intercepting UFOs, sending troops to
investigate crash sites and researching alien artifacts. As you capture live aliens you can hope to find out more about the alien origins, their missions, and hopefully the location of their gigantic undersea
Funding is critical; though you can make cash by selling alien artifacts and any items you manufacture, you need the backing of the world's nations to keep X-COM running. Each country will change its
funding monthly depending on your performance in their zone, and overall funding is also weighted by research success. Fail to suppress terror missions and you may find countries pulling out of X-COM
or even signing pacts with the aliens.
You start out with one base, two interceptors and a troop carrier, plus miscellaneous equipment, and some spare cash. There are a number of strategies to try; building new bases (up to 8) to house
interceptors and sonar watch posts, hiring scientists to advance your technology, or spending your cash on lots of troops and heavy weaponry (including tanks). Getting the blend just right is the key to
success. You'll spend a lot of tense moments with the time-skip set to 1 hour, waiting for events; completed research reports, equipment and personnel arrival, construction completion, UFO sightings,
funding announcements, and more.
The strategy in X-COM involves choosing where and when to build and expand new bases, whether to put emphasis on research, manufacture, or troop equipment, how to deploy your submarines (and
what to arm them with), and so on. The tactics come into play when you encounter the aliens, be it on an anti-terror mission, a sub recovery, a crash site investigation, or an all-out assault on an alien
Overall the ground combat part of the game is fun; obviously missions will become a little repetitive as there's only so much variety in the landscapes (and all cargo ships do look rather similar), but each
battle may present slightly different problems as different tactical situations arise.
Winning the war is all about getting the alien tech and using it against them, developing your weaponry (including molecular mind control), finding alien leaders and interrogating them, finding out what
makes the aliens tick, and using it all to your advantage, probably leading up to some awesome final conflict.
To win at X-COM, and to like the game, you have to get into the X-COM world. You need to care for your troops and get involved with their development. Of course it's tempting to use your rookies as
alien bait; the captains and commanders are too important to lose. But if you feel a loss even when that new rookie lass with low bravery and firing accuracy stats gets her brains sucked out, you know
you're secretly enjoying the game.
Unlike previous X-COM entries, Apocalypse does not take place on a global scale. Instead, it is situated within a single city, Mega-Primus, which is being invaded by an alien race unrelated to the
Cydonians from the first two games. Instead of being judged by a global committee, your actions are judged by the local businesses, mostly arms and transportation dealers. You must buy the majority of
your equipment from these businesses (eventually you will begin manufacturing some of it yourself), and only a limited amount of goods are available each week. If you look past the unrealistic economic
model of Mega-Primus (why these companies are charging you for equipment when the whole city is on the verge of being destroyed is never explained), it feels like a real city. Cars drive around,
transports bring you your equipment, buildings are damaged as you blast away at UFOs over the skyline, huge aliens wreak havoc in the streets, and minor skirmishes are waged in the streets between
corporations. The only minor problem is that Mega-Primus looks bad. In the day, your hometown is a nightmare of bright primary colors, and things only get bearable to look at during the evening, when it
gets good and eerie like an X-COM game should be. This is in sharp contrast to the creepy ambient music, which would be terrifying if it didn't jar with the decidedly un-creepy environs.
The city model lends an air of innovation to the combat in Apocalypse. The majority of the battles take place indoors: Large warehouses, factories, and apartment buildings (both ritzy and run down) will
need to be defended. These settings also include perhaps the best addition to X-COM's combat system - they can be destroyed. Machinery explodes, huge chasms can be created in the floors, and
whole levels can come tumbling down on unfortunate combatants standing underneath. The dynamic environments can be used to your benefit, but they will cost you - enough damage and the owner will
come looking for some payback, usually of a financial nature, but occasionally he'll just take some potshots at your vehicles or stage a raid on one of your bases.
The alien race you're up against is by far the most interesting thing about Apocalypse, and brings back that spark of excitement each time there's some new species to research (and there are many more
alien types this time out). Research is split into two areas, Bioengineering and Quantum Physics. The latter researches new equipment and technology, while the former researches the prisoners and
corpses you bring back from combat, as well as a great deal of the alien technology, which, it turns out, is almost entirely organic (leading to some terrifying weaponry you must face, including an enzyme
-based firearm that dissolves your agents' armor and sets off any explosives on his person). The end game is more elaborate than in previous chapters as well. Instead of a single attack on a distant base,
you must infiltrate the alien home world, turning the tables as you raid their buildings one by one.