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Have You Played... X-COM Apocalypse

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Everybody seems to have an opinion about Terror From The Deep, the first sequel in the original X-COM series. I’ve heard people dismissing it as a reskin or complaining that it is too difficult, while its defenders will happily gurgle about the Lovecraftian splendour of it all. The third game, X-COM Apocalypse, receives less attention than either of its predecessors but has always been a worthwhile addition to any library of games.

Apocalypse takes place in a single city rather than across the entire Geoscape of the previous games, but it’s one of the most reactive and convincingly functional worlds ever constructed for your interactive pleasure. Julian Gollop claims the original plans for the game were even more intricate than the design seen in the eventual released version. The goal was to create a future city in which every significant detail was simulated to some degree, to the extent that it would be possible to track individuals as they went about their business.

The aim was to recreate in some detail the events, organisations and personalities within a futuristic megalopolis. Each corporation had a leader who could be tailed, arrested, interrogated or assassinated. Organisations could buy and sell buildings as their financial fortunes changed. X-Com agents could spy on other organisations to gain valuable information. A sophisticated diplomacy display allowed the player to instigate aggressive or defensive alliances with other organisations. There were multiple alien dimensions, generated pseudo-randomly, and the aliens gradually expanded their empire as the game progressed.

Gollop reckoned “everything that could go wrong did go wrong” but the result is as absorbing a strategy game as I’ve ever played. I never enjoyed the real-time combat but turn-based is available, and the awe that the life of the city produces has never faded. Oh, for a Syndicate game of similar ambition. Perhaps Satellite Reign?

They don’t make ’em like this anymore but, then, they never really did.

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Adam Smith

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