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X-Com Alliance

Microprose take the classic X-Com series into first person shooter territory.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

The days of the classic X-Com games - all low resolution tiles, sprites, isometric viewpoints and sedate turn based combat - are long since gone, thank god. These days it's all texture mapped polygons, coloured lighting and fast paced real time battles.

Last time round it was space combat in the form of X-Com Interceptor. The next installment, X-Com Alliance, returns to slightly more familiar ground though - squad based combat. This time round though the combat is up close and personal, in first person form and powered by the Unreal engine.

But does X-Com Alliance really offer something new, or is it just another first person shooter clone tagged on to the valuable X-Com franchise? Take The Long Way Home

At the start of the game your ship, sent to investigate the ruins in Cydonia on Mars, is caught up in "an abandoned dimension gate". Which conveniently places you and your crew members 60 light years from home, and in the middle of a war zone.

During the game you will have to carry out a series of missions, but unlike most first person shooters, this time you don't go in alone with a popgun. Instead you select a team of up to four other people to accompany you, from the range of scientists, engineers, X-Com troopers and other specialists that were on your ship when the accident happened.

Different missions will require different skills to complete them, so you'll need to pay attention to the mission briefings and pick your team wisely, instead of just marching in with your biggest hardest mates and hoping that firepower will solve all your problems. Something else to bear in mind is that the crew members you take along will gain experience as they excercise different skills on the various missions.

And this can often be critical. For example, in one level you will need to take down a force field. To do this you need an engineer, and the more experienced he (or she) is at that kind of work, the faster they will do it. With aliens trying to kill you before you can remove their force field, the skill level of your engineer may mean the difference between life and death for your team. Everything Is Under Control

Controlling your team seems to be fairly straightforward - simply select one or more members of your team and then point them at whatever you want doing. Your team mates can be told to open doors, repair machinery, attack aliens, pick up items, defend other members of your team...

If your team becomes seperated, don't panic! You can always see what the other members of your away team are up to in little windows in the top left corner of the screen. Each team member has their own little window pane which displays their view of the world, allowing you to tell if they've become stuck, wandered into an ambush, or found something interesting.Living In Fear

One unique feature of X-Com Alliance is the way that stress effects your team. For example, whereas in most first person shooters you're best bet is to keep moving and to run everywhere, in X-Com Alliance running will gradually tire you out.

It gets harder to aim your weapon as you pant to get your breath back, and eventually you'll collapse from exhaustion! Your health can also effect your aim, and leg injuries will cause you to limp. It all suggests a much more realistic approach to combat than in most 3D shooters.

Fear is another factor that can effect your team. The characters' voices will change as they become more afraid, and even the way they move will change. Unfortunately the animations are still very much "in progress", but if the system lives up to its promise it should make the world much more convincing. Graphic Violence

X-Com Alliance uses the Unreal engine, so it goes without saying that the game looks beautiful. The coloured lighting is rather garish in places, but generally the world of X-Com is very atmospheric, and this is helped by interesting level design.

For example, in one map you must get on board a giant tracked vehicle rolling across a wide open desert. It reminded me a little of the Jawa transport from Star Wars, and it looks spectacular as it slowly moves over the sand, churning up the sand in front of the tracks and leaving tread marks behind it.

The levels also feature cinematics and scripted events, similar to Half-Life and Sin. All of the cutscenes are done within the game engine, keeping you immersed.

The multiplayer aspect of the game also sounds interesting. As well as the usual CTF and goal-based missions, there will also be a unique "battlefield" mode. Each team starts with their own range of weapons, but they can capture enemy weapons and then use them as part of their own armament to help them capture the enemy base. Conclusion

X-Com Alliance aims to bring the classic X-Com style of squad combat, scavenging and research to first person shooters. It's an interesting idea, and another example of how developers are pushing the first person shooter genre forwards.

So far it's looking promising, but the game is only 60% done and isn't likely to surface until at least summer 2000. The weapons, AI, animations and multiplayer are all very much "under construction", but hopefully we'll be able to bring you a fuller report on the game as it nears completion.

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