In the world of massively multiplayer games like World of Warcraft, graphical eye candy like NBA 2K11, and epic adventures like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a DOS based, single player tactical game seems rather dull. In the case of X-Com: UFO Defense, nothing could be further from the truth.
Originally released with the title UFO: Enemy Unknown, I, like most gamers, never played the game until it was re-released with the title X-Com: UFO Defense.
In all honesty, I think I hated the game when I first played it. The tactical game play was nothing like anything I had ever seen before and the semi-real time strategic elements were just as alien.
In short order every one of my marines was killed or injured and my bases were heavily in debt. I got so frustrated I reset my game and started again from scratch. I haven’t enjoyed a PC game more than this one since.
Once I pushed past the steep learning curve, the game revealed a hither unseen world of excitement. For starters, X-Com: UFO Defense practically invented the tactics genre of gaming.
This game wasn’t a Space Harrier where all you needed to do was shoot as fast as you could. Real world tactics like scouting, covering fire, and squad based movement were essential to success.
The formula was unique to games of the time, though it would be copied in the future by successful series from Disgaea to Call of Duty.
Tactical game play was just the start of what made me enjoy this game so much. In addition, the game used a subtly brilliant semi-real time strategy system that incorporated global politics.
The political system was simple, to be fair, but it managed to create a sensible goal structure and created meaningful time limits on play. In combination with the research and crafting elements, this system perfectly complemented the tactical combat portions of the game.
Finally, the game had beautiful audio and video. While neither the graphics nor sound compares to modern games, they were both impressive for the 90s.
The terrain was diverse, interesting, and excitingly, destructible. The aliens were identifiable and surprisingly terrifying. The music ranged from foreboding to downright eerie. Even now, almost 20 years later, neither audio nor video detracts from game play.
The truth of that statement can be seen in the fact that the game is not only available on Steam, but still sells consistently even 15 years after it was first released. Even more telling is the fact that Firaxis Games will be releasing a re-imagining of this game, titled X-Com: Enemy Unknown, in 2012.
I have played games on the PC ranging from Commander Keen to Master of Orion II to Heroes of Might and Magic 3 to City of Heroes. But during all of those decades of playing PC games, none has compared in quality to X-Com: UFO Defense.
Even today, with a PS3 and Wii in my living room and Portal on my PC, I can load up DOSBox and start X-Com: UFO Defense and have as much fun as I had 15 years ago. I have every reason to believe that will still be true 15 years from now.