X3: Reunion Review
|Release Date:||October 28, 2005 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Craig Dudley (Mani)|
|Buy now at Amazon.co.uk|
X3: Reunion is, as you might imagine the third game in the X series. The first game, X: Beyond the Frontier was followed by X2: The Threat in 2004. It's a hard series to describe, Beyond the Frontier had a very loose story and basically let you get on with shooting, trading and whatever else took your fancy while flying about in a large universe, very much in an Elite style, it ate many valuable months of my life anyway. The Threat was much more story driven, but in general this made the game feel much more confined for me and I lost my love for the franchise pretty quickly. Reunion however has a stab at both, you can start a game that has absolutely no story elements at all if you wish and disappear off into your own little empire for months on end, or you can follow a much better and more loose story, trading and fighting in between different sections of the plot without feeling you must get on with the story, this isn't an RPG it's an enormous free flowing universe that you've been thrown into. Do as you please whenever you please.
You will of course all seen the numerous gorgeous X3 screenshots that have been liberally posted about the intarweb over the last 9 to 12 months or so, and while Reunion is most definitely that same stunning looking game, it does have flaws. Before we discuss those flaws, let's give it the plaudits and kudos it deserves. X3: Reunion is simply stunning to look at, occasionally it's almost breath taking. I find it hard to fly over a planet that has an Earth like atmosphere and see it's weather formations sliding across the globe without just sitting back and admiring, it really will remind you of all that Space Shuttle or Mir footage that almost brings a tear to your eye. There's a definite wow factor anyway.
Texture and shader quality on the ships and stations is also very high quality, much higher than any other space game I can remember seeing. All this quality does however come at a price, to be honest you'll have to play at 1280 by 1024 at least to make your ships interface and HUD seem less blocky and more like it's supposed to be, but at this resolution things being to get a little choppy at times, even a power house PC will struggle on the highest quality settings, it's much better at lower settings but doesn't look anywhere near as good. Fortunately the frequent frame rate slow downs don't cause too many issues, this isn't a twitchy fast reaction style of game very often. Thankfully each patch released so far has improved things a little, here's hoping that continues.
However this is where to caveats begin to appear. Sometimes the larger ships and stations can appear transparent, you can certainly see planets through them, to say this looks odd is an understatement but it is only really apparent when you get close up and even then only when using the highest quality texture and shader settings. My main annoyance with the way the game looks is the really quite horrible debris/dust field movement effects while your ship is in motion, you know the sort of thing, a bit like the ancient windows starfeild simulation screensaver. I really can't understand why you can see it when you only 50 feet away from a huge station and moving at 2kph, an option to turn this off as with some other space games I've played would be most welcome.
If you follow the story line in the game, there are on occasion a number of pre-rendered sequences, these are of much higher quality than those found in X2, thankfully. Some gameplay sequences in this part of the game are somewhat different also, being the rear gunner in a ship flying through a futuristic city being chased by pirates for example.
Sounds effects are quite limited and as usual I really don't know what to say about them, nothing sounds out of place and nothing disturbed me, music is mostly a futuristic style of techno and generally suits the situation fairy well, most of the time it's fairly serene but it does get much faster at times giving a good audible clue of impending danger for example.
If you played X2, you'll know the voice acting was a little comical at times, and while it's better in X3 it's still in that same style, it's fairly obvious that this game has multiple language versions as there has been no attempt to lip sync any of the voice acting with the somewhat characatured avatars. I'm not going to mark the game down for this though, it really doesn't matter that much in the grand scheme of things, although I would imagine the game would be that much more involving if it was fixed, maybe they should use real actors in X4? It's a thought.
This section could quite easily get out of hand, just as the amount of time I've taken playing this game in order to review it has, X3 should carry a health warning, once you've got yourself through the phase of mastering a few controls you can feel yourself being sucked in, as if into a black whole. For those that like to get lost in a game, look no further.
Controlling the game is now much easier with a mouse in my opinion, left click will fire your weapon whilst the mouse is controlling the attitude of your ship, but a right click will toggle the mouse into a mode where it's able to point at things in your hud, double clicking the object will then set the auto pilot to go to that ship or station. After a little while it becomes second nature and reduces the number of keypresses required, which given the number of keys this game has, is more than handy. You can of course still use your joystick if you want. It's good to have options.
X3 is set in the exact same universe as the previous two games, veterans will instantly recognize the names of the systems, traded goods, ships and races. The familiarity most definitely helps, there's a lot to learn and not having to worry about some of the more trivial things is welcome. Flying around in each system is also much the same as the two previous games, longer flights can still be made to seem shorter with the SETA system and the auto pilot is still pretty much the only way you'll get around unless your'e in a fire fight. General flight mechanics don't feel any different either, realism in this respect doesn't come into it. Though being able to relate to the X universe as realistic takes a further dent in the mini shooter sections that occur in the story line early on. You get chased by way too many pirates and they are way too easy to shoot down, it's a bit arcade shooter like to be fair.
Some of the scripted sequences you encounter in the story arc feel a bit clunky too, skipping from one screen to the next in a most ungainly fashion with certain pieces of dialogue being repeated at times. I found myself leaving the story more often that not, fully expecting to go back to it later and perhaps if I had another month to review this title I would have. You can however start a game that doesn't have any of the story elements at all, the universe still has it's general story backdrop though.
Ignoring that and getting back into the real meat of the game is much more important though, while the story can be quite interesting it's trading, combat and business empire building that we are really here for. Usually you'll start the game with a single small fighter with limited cargo space and be able to do small freight runs or passenger trips earning a relatively small amount of money. But before long you may be able to buy freighters and set them on pre defined trading runs. If your trading runs are profitable, you may soon be able to afford your own fleet of freighters, a large fleet will require lots of satellites so you keep an eye on them and in some of the more dangerous systems, they'll also require lot's of defensive weaponry and shields, the X universe isn't safe at all.
Once you are a millionaire, you may consider purchasing your own factories and stations, spotting a gap in the market and building in the right place are critical here. Of course you'll need to have built up your reputation before you can buy a station, most objects in the X3 universe are the same, it's almost like gaining experience and levelling up in an RPG. Shooting down pirates or completing trade run will gain you that recognition with the added twist that it only counts for the race who owns the system your in. Be warned however, not all of the races in the X universe like each other very much, being too pally with one can cause friction with others.
X3 is close to being the most realistic looking 3D space game of all time but for two issues, the nasty looking debris fields effects and the semi-transparent stations when using the highest quality settings, bad reflections maybe. Still it is stunning to look at. Sound is also fine and even the average voice acting is forgivable.
What set X3 apart is it's massive depth, you can trade and fight your way from the owner of single small ship all the way to a Pan-Galactic Tycoon owning multiple stations and factories with fleets of capital ships to protect them, this is no small task either, it will require skill and time, lots of time. If you have that time and fairly modern PC, then I would most definitely recommend X3: Reunion.
- Stunning Textures
- Unparalleled depth
- Almost complete freedom
- Highly addictive (Will steal your life if you let it)
- Decent story to follow if you wish
Not so good stuff
- Ghastly debris field effects
- Steep(ish) learning curve
- A real system hog
- Semi transparent stations
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