An Hour With UFO Online’s Beta: Choose You Faction

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.’

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33 Comments »

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  1. GallonOfAlan says:

    A browser game BSOD’d your PC? What’s on it, Windows For Workgroups?

    • Premium User Badge

      Malcolm says:

      If it uses WebGL I guess it’s possible. Although I’ve not had a graphics driver bug bluescreen my PC since XP. Windows 7/8 just restart the graphics driver.

    • Chalky says:

      Yeah, I was just about to comment on that too.

      It shouldn’t be possible for anything in a browser to bluescreen your PC unless something very bad is happening to your hardware or OS unrelated to the site you’re visiting.

      • Dominare says:

        What, you think he’s lying?

        Look, I’ve worked tech support, and one thing you never ever say is “That shouldn’t be possible.” Obviously if it happened then its possible! I think the word you’re perhaps grasping for is ‘unlikely’.

        • Chalky says:

          No, I think there’s probably something wrong with his underlying hardware or OS/drivers.

          I mean, if I could write a website that would bluescreen your PC, don’t you think clowns would be doing that sort of crap all the time in some sort of bluescreen-goatse prank?

          The only situation in which I could imagine it being directly related to the website is if the site isn’t using flash or java, but instead is using some bespoke browser addin they’ve written specifically for that game. Even if it was WebGL as mentioned in the comment above mine, it’d only BSOD as a result of a driver issue.

          If someone’s website is interacting with your PC at a low enough level to cause a bluescreen without the help of a driver or hardware issue, then you’ve got bigger problems than a bluescreen now and then.

        • GallonOfAlan says:

          It’s Unity Webplayer be the looks of it.

    • Milky1985 says:

      Remember browser games are still downloads, just because its done via a plugin in your browser window doesn’t mean its much different from downloading and executing yourself, still just as possible to have bugs and game crashers, just a bit harder and more impressive when they manage it because the plugin or player should be catching them :P

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      Yeah, a BSOD especially in the Windows 7+ era indicates a hardware or driver problem… weird to still see this kind of ignorance, especially on RPS.

      • Phasma Felis says:

        How DARE people review games without a thorough technical grounding in operating system design. Why, that’s as bad as letting someone review movies when they’ve never even directed one!

  2. Premium User Badge

    Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    […]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.

    Is that Julian or Nick Gollum?

  3. Premium User Badge

    stoopiduk says:

    Alec’s zen at naught?

  4. Choca says:

    Sounds like it’s worth every penny then.

  5. TechnicalBen says:

    So, the business proposal of giving away “manure sandwiches” with purchasable DLC/Payper use/cosmetic upgrades of “lettuce” and “bacon” does not work? Who would have thought it…

  6. Screamer says:

    “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.”

    Never has so much truth been spoken by one man. Meer be praised!!.

    • Christo4 says:

      Hear Hear!

    • Soldancer says:

      I mostly agree with this idea, as my favorite F2P game right now is Path of Exile. It has only cosmetic microtransactions and is a very fun and well-made game.

      I’ve also played several F2P games with game-altering MTs, and I know for certain it can be done in a balanced and fair way. Single player games can offer cool items or other shortcuts, but still be balanced enough to allow a player to not feel obligated to buy them.

      An MMO which offers things like extra bag space, fancy faster mounts, or XP boosters in addition to any cosmetic stuff is generally fine. None of those things directly affect combat, and stuff like XP boosters requires that you actually put in the time to grind out the extra XP against mobs.

      I think it’s more of a problem with image. Public perception of F2P in the rather vociferous gamer sector is piss-poor because the most companies are disingenuous about its inclusion.

      If more developers were both fair in their implementation of MT features and HONEST about why they are included, they might be a bit better received.

      Or maybe I’m just crazy.

  7. Curvespace says:

    I seem to remember a bit of a twitter storm over some F2P evangelists claiming that XCOM was ripe for the treatment.

    Furball!.. *aoacchchuggh* : http://www.gamesbrief.com/2012/11/5-reasons-why-xcom-is-the-perfect-f2p-game/

    • Grygus says:

      To be fair, their argument was that it was ripe for competent f2p implementation, so this would not appear to be a test of their assertion. The best f2p games make you feel like the decision to buy is entirely up to you; the paid product is tempting, but not necessary.

      • Curvespace says:

        That decision is always up to the player, it’s more a question of whether the F2P design imposes itself in such a way as to fundamentally undermine the integrity of the existing mechanics, which in turn alienates the a chunk of the audience.

        You either make the game slow (pay to progress) or hard as nails (also pay to progress) and ultimately, solving problems with money is not a rewarding experience.

        Incidentally, I’m yet to meet an F2P designer who spends money on these games…

        • fn8rd says:

          howdy, allow me to remain anonymous (i _hate_ NDAs, but they are a part of the business, sadly) but admit that i a) earn my salary by designing – occasionally f2p – games and b) having spent money on them willingly.

          why, you ask:
          o) not all of them are crap. i spent my first five euros on atlantica online (ah, the olden days…). i actually felt a bit cheap, then, that i did not give them more, but it would have just been unnecessary. paying five euros for the approx. 100 hours of fun i had in this game is ridiculously cheap compared to the 50 euros i’m paying for any boxed product before i even had a chance to try it out. reviews notwithstanding: sometimes you just want to see for yourself.
          o) those that are crap, you can just stop playing _before_ you’ve spent any money at all.
          o) spending most of my week either working or, you know, doing the usual like having a social life, leaves me with plenty little time left and not particularly rich. i _love_ games. i want to know everything about every game that is out there: are there some good ideas that we can improve upon in our next game? does a game fail miserably because of some silly little detail? what detail? spending 50 bucks on every single one of those research-subjects (ehm… for science! and all) would be _far_ out of my reach. playing most of them, perfectly legally, for little or no money at all – i’ve yet to play one where i even come close to the 50 euro treshold – is wonderful!

          • Curvespace says:

            Hey,

            In that case I stand corrected – you’re the first I’ve come across :)

            Having also worked on a few F2P games I found that the majority of the design discussions were focused around the monetisation systems rather than the game design. That’s not to say it doesn’t work well in some instances and genres (DOTA etc.), but I think it is definitely a misnomer to presume it will work with all types of titles, XCOM to my mind being one. I’m of the opinion that the moment you are diverting attention from the overall player experience you are to some degree undermining the integrity of the game. I realise there is the argument of it reaching a broader audience, but I don’t think that should be the objective of any piece of work.

            Also, there’s the issue of consultants charging businesses pretty considerable rates for their input, citing the major successes of the model, but ignoring the many failures. In my experience it just caused bad will amongst the team, who didn’t want to be chasing whales and children around so that everybody in between those two extremes could play the game for free.

            I think, now we are the age of Let’s Play’s, video reviews and free opinion everywhere, you’d have to really mess-up to drop a ton of money on a game you hated. Saying that, it does happen and if I had things my way we’d still get demos! I know, old school… ;)

  8. ShanDaMan says:

    I tried to buy a building permit but it told me I didn’t have enough ‘TEX’.

    So, can you build a new base in Texas to get more ‘TEX’?

  9. CobraLad says:

    Recent nonRPG f2p games are bullshit. Why do I even need to pay the game to stop abusing me?

  10. WrenBoy says:

    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.

    Preach it, brother!

  11. GeminiathXL says:

    Games like this sicken me, especially if they use old favourite franchises.

  12. SkittleDiddler says:

    CHOOSE YOU FACTION!

    YOU’RE WINNER!

    ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US!

    If only all crappy games could be instantly identified by there bad grammer.

  13. Tukuturi says:

    This was a great read. Alec, you are a true martyr for the cause. Write more scathing reviews of free to play trash please.

    edit: I’m really not being sarcastic. This was one of the most fun posts I’ve read on RPS in a while.

    • Triplanetary says:

      Write more scathing reviews of free to play trash please.

      This could be a good idea for a spin-off site. brb registering WordPress blog

  14. kraed says:

    I gave this a spin because I’m a total sucka for turn based tactics games, but maaaan this is bad. I didn’t think it possible, but it’s easily worse than the article.

    I picked the sniper class, since snipers seem to dominate XCOM games. After the first mission I was given an ‘easy’ mission to do to show the rookies not to be afraid, and jumped right on in. On turn 1 I was surrounded by 3 enemies and had no melee attacks, so I literally could not do anything and was instantly killed next turn.

    I bought 3 squad members (with in-game money that you start with, not real money!) and tried again. 5 turns into the mission half my squad was out of ammunition, and new enemies spawned into the map every 2nd turn. I clicked the button to reload and it asked me to pay virtual currency in order to reload my guns. About 40p worth of virtual currency, for 5 bullets, per soldier.

    Soooo.. yeah. Gives a whole new definition to ‘pay to play’. It’s certainly not a f2p game that is p2w, because you cannot even complete missions without paying for more ammo.

    Also the engine is crap and the gameplay is even worse. There’s that too.

    • Buckermann says:

      This sounds almost exactly like the “F2P” Jagged Alliance game.
      You are free to play the first mission, and then you are free to pay (for ammo, mercs, and everything else) to play.
      I suspect they are from the same developer.

      Edit: I had a look around and it seems indeed as if Ufo Online and Jagged Alliance Online are from the same developer.
      Really not surprising, considering that they are both utter garbage.

  15. m_a_t says:

    The hilariously dumb and awkwardly punctuated German description already gives it away.
    It basically boils down to: “Go any further and you brain will melt”.