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UFO: Afterlight Review

UFO: Afterlight pack shot
Developer:Altar Games
Publisher:Ascaron / Cenega
Genre:Turn-based Strategy
Platform:PC
Official Site:http://www.ufo-afterlight.com
Release Date:February 9th, 2007 (UK) February 26th (Download)
Reviewer:Craig Laycock (Cragtek)
 

Mankind is in tatters. Earth has gone right down the swanny and all that stands in the way of humankind's fate of eternally drifting throughout the vacuous expanse of space is a red rock called Mars.

Welcome to the jolly world of Afterlight, the latest instalment of the UFO turn-based strategy franchise, which, in carrying on from predecessors Aftermath and Aftershock, this time tasks you with the simple job of relocating the entire human race to another planet: one which, sadly, hasn't much room to spare. Easy.

Fans of the UFO series will no doubt already be aware of the genre-bending gameplay involved - it's like Risk meets Laser Squad Nemesis with a pinch of C&C thrown in for good measure. You'll be asked to build, fight, conquer and manage in the name of humanity, or lose your foothold on the only planet left that'll have you.

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The story picks up fifty years after a terrible war on Earth. A species known as the Reticulans has forced mankind to leave their home, but has also offered them a (somewhat convenient) new chance for survival. Hooray!

Or not, because of the ten thousand people transported to Earth, most are in cryogenic suspension - and the rest of you (a whopping thirty thanks to the limited resources available on Mars) have to fight off unknown enemies, stay alive and take the red planet for mankind.

Most of the gameplay in Afterlight takes place on a global strategy screen showing an overview of Mars. The territory system is handled in much the same way as previous incarnations, with the planet divided up into a series of areas, each open for mining or conquest. Events frequently occur in these areas, some (such as invasions) requiring a crack squad to be put together, equipped and shoved into your UFO: which is where the squad-based tactical game element comes in.

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The game is an unusual mix of turn-based and RTS action. Afterlight plays in realtime, but the action pauses whenever an event occurs, such as a new item being built, an attack or a member of staff healing. In the tactical mode, the same applies, with the action pausing every time something happens to one of your team, such as if they're shot at.

Fans of the out-and-out relentless pace of RTS games like Command and Conquer and Company of Heroes will not enjoy the stop-start nature of the tactical action in Afterlight. Half of your time is spent giving orders and the other half is spent reaching for the pause button again and again. This can be tweaked to your liking in the game options, but this is not made at all obvious and the average player will no doubt carry on unawares, struggling with an horrendously stuttering gameplay experience.

And, while fans of the original UFO game (90s classic X-COM: Enemy Unknown) will be more than happy at the way Afterlight translates; there simply isn't enough variety in each mission to keep even the most ardent player interested for long. "Destroy unit" missions in particular, certainly in the early stages of the game when they are less varied, start to fill you with a familiar sense of apathy. They're straightforward to the point where you'll wonder why you're bothering. Often in these missions, success is simply a case of standing your men in a line and telling them what to shoot at next.

UFO: Afterlight screenshot 9 UFO: Afterlight screenshot 10 UFO: Afterlight screenshot 11 UFO: Afterlight screenshot 12

As if to tackle this, the difficulty of the units you come up against starts to increase in rather large jumps. This can make for a frustrating experience, with lots of saving and reloading to be done: but an enormous sense of satisfaction once a new enemy is vanquished.

One of the big problems with basing the game on Mars is that the landscapes, while looking slightly different each time, are completely bland. Combine this with the somewhat repetitive missions and you can be in danger of nodding off at times.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Fans of micromanagement are sure to love Afterlight's multitude of tabs to play with. Research, production, diplomacy and base development are all possible and you'll have to ensure attention is paid to all of these areas if you want any chance of success.

UFO: Afterlight screenshot 13 UFO: Afterlight screenshot 14 UFO: Afterlight screenshot 15 UFO: Afterlight screenshot 16

The research area in particular is an exciting element, which enables the player to explore a huge technology tree. There is no doubt that the sheer numbers of options available offer a great deal of replayability, with the player able to take mankind down a variety of different paths of his or her choosing and the option of unlocking terraforming later in the game acts as a huge incentive to keep fighting for resources.

The role playing element of the game is not to be sniffed at either. Upon successfully completing a mission, your characters will come back with a shed-load of experience points which can be spent on sprucing them up a bit. By developing your characters in this way you will start to know them by name and losing one of them in battle can have you reaching for the tissues, or at the very least hitting the reload button.

At times the micromanagement can become tedious, particularly when it comes to building things. If you don't have the right people assigned to the right slots, things won't happen and if things aren't happening you'll soon find yourself overrun by bad guys.

And the AI in Afterlight is an occasional cause for concern. My team leader, who had just taken hold of a rocket launcher for the first time, went on to fire it into a railing in front of her while trying to shoot an enemy through it. Her reckless act took out my entire team. Frustrating. Enemies also stand out in the open, refusing to take cover and quite often this leads to several rounds of pot-shots from both sides, leading to dull battles.

Summary

These problems aside, Afterlight is still eminently playable and at times a genuinely fun game, providing a welcome antidote to the armies of cloned strategy games flooding the market. As Arnie famously once said: "Get your ass to Mars".

The bottom line
7.0 / 10

Good stuff

  • Huge research trees
  • Challenging gameplay
  • Clever RPG element
  • Something for everyone

Not so good stuff

  • Repetitive missions
  • Bland environments
  • Irksome jumps in difficulty
  • Fiddly micromanagement


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