By Alec Meer on May 9th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.
UFO Online is a free to play, browser-based turn-based strategy game from Gamigo, and it’s heavily based on both X-COM and XCOM. It’s in open beta now. I tried to play it.
It’s enemies’s turn! I do love me a shonkily-translated game, and whatever happened while gamingo’s browser-based X-COMlike UFO Online was being transformed from German to English, the net result is that it reads like it was written by Gollum.
Grammar-snark aside, does this turn-based strategy offering manage to capture the glory of the all-father of PC gaming? Well, I made it less than an hour in before it bluescreened my computer, but that was more than enough to make me feel like I’d taken a bath in a tub full of used nappies.
Part of my distaste is obviously and inevitably about the fact it’s shoehorned microtransactions into the X-COM formula (or at least ghosts of the X-COM formula – ground missions and researching/buying stuff are mostly what’s come through). I could pretend to be balanced and argue that I suppose it’s good because it makes the game itself free, but if I did I’d really be trying to shut down comments from people who claim I’m just afraid of change. No, microtransactions in a game of strategy turn it into a game of business rather than a game of a strategy, the interruption of an in-game economy with real world money totally disrupts fantasy and immersion, and free to play on any level beyond cosmetic differences or buying new chunks of carefully-made content is bullshit designed and defended by people whose interest lies not in the creation of great games, but in consciously abusing player compulsion in order to make money. Do not listen to their self-serving lies.
This stuff is also particularly egregious here, because it’s all about buying better and better weapons with all sorts of perks, as well as temporary boosts to experience and energy and all the other things that other things still rely upon, thus turning a strategy game into a weird, loot-obsessed MMO sort of thing rather than tactics and thoughtful team-building. Even on a level beyond that – because I should resist accusations that boil down to ‘it’s not exactly the same as X-COM waaaah’ – the way the game is flooded with a half dozen different currencies, all with different purposes, is just ludicrous. Energy, building permits, Tex, diamonds, rat testicles, I don’t know.
It’s so inelegant and incoherent and painfully cludgy to navigate through, much like the appearance of the game itself, which looks like the user interfaces of 48 different games from 1998 glued haphazardly onto an engine from 2005. It’s a garish and visually noisy game, to the point that I had to actively fight a constant and overwhelming urge to just close the browser window and walk away. I might have abused my own eyes terribly through decades of excessive staring at monitors, but they didn’t deserve this.
On the other hand, the first mission has you defending your base, which is more than last year’s XCOM ever did. But the base turns out to a glorified storefront, and the bit of it I defended was just one room with what appeared to be two cardboard bats in it, so I wouldn’t really call it a meaningful exploration of my virtual home.
What else? Did I mention the typos? And the bluescreening? And the extreme ugliness? And the innumerable currencies? Oh, surely that will do.
Alright, alright, the combat is turn-based, involves time units and line of sight, there is overwatch, there are classes for your soldiers which are very similar to XCOM’s classes, although there is a new Guy With A Knife type. I started off with Guy With A Knife, because trying to stab terrifying alien invaders when I knew all my mates were carrying guns seemed inherently hilarious. Unfortunately it wasn’t, as the game chooses to show combat by having the camera turn to face your character, so you can’t see whatever it is they’re fighting, and instead they appear to be shooting/stabbing at thin air. Once it’s finished it’s prehistoric animation routine, you get another prehistoric animation routine showing how much, if any, damage the enemy took. It’s like a fight between two people in completely different rooms, alternately shouting “I shot you then! Did you feel anything?”
Then I bought a Sniper and a Heavy and did another mission, which this time had a sort of slug-cat to kill, then I tried to do another one but it told me I didn’t have enough soldiers. I tried to buy another soldier but it told me I didn’t have enough room in my barracks. I tried to upgrade my barracks but it told me I didn’t have enough building permits. I tried to buy a building permit but it told me I didn’t have enough ‘TEX’. I tried to get more Tex by going on a mission which had Tex as a reward, but it told me I didn’t have enough soldiers. I tried to go on another mission, but then it made my PC bluescreen and I was glad.
N.B. this is billed as the game’s ‘open beta’, so I suppose it is theoretically possible that every single terrible thing could have been improved by ‘launch.’