Have You Played… X-COM: Terror From The Deep?

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

It’s not quite the forgotten child of the X-COM series – that title probably belongs to the ambitious but confused Apocalypse – but Terror From The Deep certainly gets a slightly raw deal. To a great extent, it deserves it – it’s primarily a quickly-made reskin with the difficulty cranked up. And yet my fondness for it is almost greater than my fondness for the first, admittedly superior game.

To some extent, that’s because it’s underwater, and that means it’s gloomier, stranger and somehow more oppressive. It has atmosphere in spades, and the oddball equipment and slow-firing weapons always made it seem more deadly to me too. This was humanity fighting an impossible war. Its harpoons and nautical UFOs also have a slight steampunk element, without quite relying on tropes. Terror From The Deep is an odd fish, basically, even though almost everything it does beneath the surface is a straight-up repeat of X-COM.

I’m perhaps romanticising slightly because I never owned TFTD myself – a neighbour’s kid did, and wouldn’t let me copy it, so I played it in brief bursts when visiting, and primarily in the glorious week when they were on holiday and asked me to feed the hamster. Even so, I could only get in an hour before I had to rush home, fearing vengeful parents. So TFTD was a rarity to me. These days it’s just one more name on my Steam list, but I never load up it because I want it to remain precious. I want to hang onto the true belief I had back then that it was a true sequel, which did so much more than replicate.

51 Comments

  1. FireStorm1010 says:

    :)

    I can relate that the settign undeerwater has a certain appeal. But i played so much the original UFO:Enemy unkown that i got very much feed up with exactly same mechanics. Plasma->Sonic, gauss->Laser, moleculatornic ->psi, ion armor-> flying amor etc. tT was a bit of a dirty cash grab, a copy cat of the orginial with new skin, just like you wrote.
    + not alwys bigger is better, hutning for that last gilman on thos huge maps was super annoying.

  2. Premium User Badge

    basilisk says:

    I’m one of the odd people who prefer TFTD to the original. The general art direction of it all is more consistent and much more atmospheric than the original (the blatant Lovecraft inspiration may feel a bit old hat now, but it was pretty unusual back in the day); it always felt more serious and menacing. After all is said and done, it is indeed a mere reskin, but I like the new skin better.

    The difficulty was extreme, though. And some of the missions took bloody forever.

    • Ryuuga says:

      Same here! For some reason I stumbled upon TTFD before the original, tho, so anything that was just reskinned I wouldn’t have noticed. When I played the original afterwards, it sure felt like a cheap copy. Funny how these things work out. All that said, I still have to speak up for the awesome setting and atmosphere of TTFD! My fave part was actually doing research to gain yet another blurb & pic telling me more of the background..

      • Niko says:

        Can I join the club? I love TFTD primarily because of the fantastic atmosphere (I’m fascinated by deep sea).

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      TFTD was my first X-Com, and infact I suspect it was one of the first full games I ever owned. I still have the disc somewhere but, alas, it’s long since died the death in some mysterious ‘event’ that claimed about half my CDs.
      I definitely prefer TFTD over Enemy Unknown. I did eventually play the first one and honestly it just feels underwhelming in terms of atmosphere and tension. TFTD feels like you’re not just fighting an alien enemy, but also adapting to an alien environment – even if it plays exactly like Enemy Unknown, it FEELS different.
      Yes, it’s nostalgia, no, I don’t care.

    • Elethio says:

      Same too, played UFO enemy unknown round a friends place, but when I went to buy it myself, could only find TFTD.
      And I loved it!
      Eventually got a copy of enemy unknown too, but not until I completed TFTD and it seemed so easy after that.

      Love both games, but could never get into Apocalypse.

    • atticus says:

      I think the atmosphere and tension in both TFTD and the original U:EU is something they didn’t quite manage to replicate in the new X-COM. Some of the missions in the old games were true horror; the dark depths of the ocean and the close quarters of terrorized ships scared the sh*t out of me.

      For me, the art and graphics in new X-COM became too… cartoony to be scary. Special mention to the Thin Man, who looks like a villain from an episode of Darkwing Duck.

    • icemann says:

      TFTD was my first experience with XCOM as well, and whilst I agree that the first is a great game, I feel that TFTD is the better game. It’s far more tense, the battles are MUCH harder and it’s a far longer game.

      My first play through of it lasted several months. Admittedly half of that was due to the odd design choice to not allow research beyond a certain point before you had a live lobsterman technician (gained only via alien base missions), but meh I love the game anyway. Was a hell of a play through, and I still enjoy playing it today.

  3. jezcentral says:

    I played this more than it’s prequel.

    You’re absolutely right about the way the shots would creep across the screen. You would see them coming, and hope it wouldn’t hit the marine it was headed for, with a massive wave of relief if it did. Brilliant.

    The biggest difference between the games was the resolution (it was 1024×768, while U:EU was 800×600, IIRC). That and the fact you could open the UFO doors by right clicking on them, rather than stepping through them.

    Tentaculates were no chrysalids, though. :)

    P.S. I played it so much, I could beat it every time on Impossible. I’m just THAT good. :)

    EDIT: My mistake. The upgrade in resolution between the two games was 640×480 to 800×600. Luxury!

    • RuySan says:

      I’m pretty sure you’re wrong on the resolutions. These games weren’t even SVGA (which is 640×480).

    • mukuste says:

      Huh… weren’t both of them 320×200, in those glorious pre-SVGA days?

    • welverin says:

      I don’t know, the UI improvements were pretty good, made the game significantly less annoying.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Jiskra says:

    For me TFTD is the better game. I liked ufo: enemy unknown but XCOM TFTD is where most of memories comes from. Atmosphere was superior to EU, and every hidden move was little horror story trying to scare me shitless.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I even managed to shoot C’thulhu in the face (or whatever it was that you had to do in the final room).

    I liked TFTD almost as much as UFO. The one thing that annoyed me was how tedious it sometimes got, because some mission types (attacking an alien base and cruise ship terror missions) were just so incredibly long.

    Also, it had, essentially, flying Chryssalids. That’s just wrong.

    • Premium User Badge

      Qazinsky says:

      Bluerps said: Also, it had, essentially, flying Chryssalids.

      Gee, thanks alot, now I have to buy some net for my balcony, even though I live on the third floor!

      • Premium User Badge

        Bluerps says:

        You know what’s even better? They look like huge flying brains with several long and thin tentacles (and a beak, for some reason).

        • Great Cthulhu says:

          I strongly suspect they were, erm… inspired by D&D’s grells.

          • Premium User Badge

            Bluerps says:

            Hah! Never heard of grells before, but yes, they obviously were.

          • Mormont says:

            Which were themselves based on HG Wells’ Martians. What goes around comes around.

    • frymaster says:

      That was more of a sidegrade. The price for being able to swim was they became underwater-only, which meant they couldn’t be deployed on terror missions, which meant they couldn’t infect all the civillians

  6. Blackrook says:

    This still sends a shiver down my spine when I see this game.

    Mainly as I played it for a few days off sick with a frozen bag of peas against my bad back….

  7. Great Cthulhu says:

    The atmosphere is TFTD is indeed brilliant. Quick reskin though it was, they at least did an exceedingly nice job of it.

    The gameplay though… way too hard and grindy to be fun. Doesn’t hold a candle to the original or Apocalypse.

    • hotmaildidntwork says:

      That sums up my feelings nicely. Had a lovely atmosphere and variety, but the first base assault broke me. After beating my way through phase 1, composed entirely of footsoldiers armed exclusively with the most powerful missile launcher in the game and flying chryssalid shock troops, I began phase 2 to find that my highly trained operatives had split up and scattered across the map, frequently deep inside the base and surrounded by super chryssalid.
      I took a moment to consider that I had to do about a dozen of that mission to advance the plot and I just said “well fuck you too, then”

      • Joshua Northey says:

        I loved the first XCOM, and your description is exactly what happened with me the first time I played TFTD. I was like, well, time for something more fun as soon as I was on my second base assault.

  8. Maxheadroom says:

    I played TftD back i the day but found it inplayably unfair.

    For example the aliens would mind control my guys at random without having line of sight to them. I remember testing it by leaving all my guys in the sealed landing craft and hitting just hitting ‘end turn’

    After half a dozen turns one of my guys would get mind controlled and kill the rest.

    Never went back to it after that

  9. Wowbagger says:

    I see you say he wouldn’t allow you to copy it, but that you had ample opportunity to do so due to hamster feeding duties. You must of been a very honest child as I would have ripped that fucker as soon as he was out of sight.

  10. Laurentius says:

    Of course I played it, I even have playthrough going right now to an extent (now put on hold for a bit ). Is it as good as it gets. Great game.

  11. Moraven says:

    Only have beaten UFO once in the 20 years of playing it off and on.

    Terror From the Deep… still needs to be completed. The best part of the game is the booklets you got with the game. That and general battle flow and UI improvements.

  12. OliverM says:

    I played it, and enjoyed it much more after I realised it was just a re-skin with the difficulty ramped up (at which point I rationalised that cheating was okay and set myself up with a team of super-soldiers, courtesy of some magazine cheats, and romped through it merrily).

    But Apocalypse was just the best of the three. If you’re reading this, Mr J. Gollop, a sequel/remake of Apocalypse would be so, so great. Consider this a Kickstarter pledge.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Apocalypse is fantastic, yup. Now you mention it, I really would like to see what a ‘true’ sequel to Apocalypse – not a reboot, but a sequel in mechanics and setting – would do…

  13. mark.barbara says:

    This was the one I enjoyed the most. Hunting down the one last lobsterman navigator hidden in the bathroom of a cruiseliner was not fun, but over all, I absolutely loved this game.

  14. physical0 says:

    Terror from the deep was the very first video game I purchased with my own money. My neighbor had gotten a demo disk for the game which included a single extremely difficult mission with an undergeared group and some of the most difficult aliens in the game. We bashed our heads against that mission for weeks trying to win it. It was insanely fun.
    When we found it in a store, I saved money and begged for extra and finally bought it. It came with a huge tome of an instruction manual that I read in its entirety and I played that game day and night until I finally beat it.
    Later, we found a copy of UFO Defense at a Computer Swap Meet, and picked it up for practically nothing, and played through it as well. It was a great game, and I appreciated the minor refinements in TFTD, but did feel it was mostly the same game in a different setting. A few of the very hard aliens didn’t make an appearance in TFTD, and that was a bit of a bummer.
    Later, we picked up Apocalypse, and I have never beaten it… Too much going on there, I always failed to spread myself out enough to prevent a total loss. I would try to focus on the issues, and there was always something subtle that overtook me and sent me to a loss. It was a great game. I recently purchased them again on Steam, but haven’t sat down to give them another shot.

    The X-COM series was one of the best games I’ve played. I enjoy the new one, and I appreciate how much effort they went to giving it the same feel of the original, but do feel like it lacks the same feel of immense scope that the originals had.

  15. Arathain says:

    I have lots of good memories of TFTD. Oddly, what sticks with me the most is two interface improvements. The reason I preferred it to the prequel is that you could check the stats of your soldiers on the loadout screen, and you could open doors without having to walk through them. Sounds trivial, but these things noticeably improved the game for me. It was instructional in how much the small things can matter.

    Man, those Lobstermen. They couldn’t shoot straight, but you just never knew how much they were going to soak before they croaked. I had one take a sonic pistol shot and die, whereas another took a full three auto rounds from a cannon and merely fell unconcious.

  16. CMaster says:

    To me, XCOM is TFTD. I’ve barley spent any time with the original UFO, and when I have it’s just too easy, too inconsistent, too lacking in mystery compared to TFTD for me.

    I mean, TFTD occasionally goes a bit overboard with the difficulty (Tentaclats!). But in general being on the losing foot most of the game feels right. Having to make decisions about which fights are winnable or not is what this sort of game is about. So is having to change up your tactics dramatically once Lobster Men and Tasoths become the standard units.

    Some of the small additions between UFO and TFTD are pretty good too. The bigger, often multi stage missions for example. Even if fucking cruise liners were a waste of everyones time.

  17. G says:

    Terror from the deep was one of the first genuinely difficult games I completed as a kid (can’t remember I clocked this before or after TIE Fighter). After a very long slog I sat back to watch the video at the end.

    It promptly crashed.

    I was absolutely gutted but couldn’t face playing through the final mission again. It’s only nigh on twenty years later that I finally saw the end sequence on youtube – it wasn’t worth it of course, I have since learned that really it’s all about the journey rather than the destination.

  18. Rolento says:

    I love TFTD and have very fond memories of it, including:

    Downing a very large at night, investigating the crash site and getting slaughtered + mind controlled.

    using high explosives on the “tropical hotel” map to destroy the hotel, floor by floor – whilst laughing at the fact that the 1st and 2nd were floating without foundations.

    Equipping the guided torpedoes and nuking the top level of the alien base levels. The combined scream of multiple aliens dying still rings through my ears now!

    Good times indeed!

  19. buzzmong says:

    FYI, the guy(s) behind OpenXcom are also now working on a version of TFTD, which I’m quite looking forward to, as this game absolutely battered me in years gone by, and I’d like to have another crack at it, but with all the bugfixes and nicities added by the OpenXcom team.

  20. zaphod42 says:

    I love TFTD and may actually like it more than XCOM, even though everybody says XCOM is better (And they’re right).

    Its not as well balanced as UFO defense and its clearly just a re-skinned version of the same, more an expansion pack than a proper sequel.

    Still, you can do worse than an expansion pack for the greatest PC game of all time. And all that underwater noise, the moodiness, jeepers I was creeped out. They do some light lovecraftian style in the deeps which is pretty cool, and gives the game a little more unique flavor than the first XCOM which was a little more generic sci-fi.

  21. b0rsuk says:

    It was the first X-COM game I played. I found it really hard, but adapted. It had a much better atmosphere and the artwork wasn’t so much POWER RANGERS.

    The only real complaints I have some really nasty, insidious, game-breaking bugs. Specifically, researching certain enemies in wrong order (Deep One, Tasoth Leader) would break the research tree and you’d never get the techs required for finishing the game. So if you’re going to try it, look for some unofficial bugfix patches first.

    Could you believe finished most of the campaign without knowing I can shoot aliens spotted by another trooper ?! I just played extra-careful and it worked.

  22. Shardz says:

    This was the first version of the series I played when it came out and still remains to be the best. They keep butchering this poor franchise to the point of being something completely different…and terrible.

  23. Turkey says:

    TFTD makes me wish there was a turn based strategy game based on the BPRD comics.

  24. Alien says:

    The love of my life. Pure bleak poetry.

  25. malkav11 says:

    I’m hoping that Firaxis and/or the Xenonauts guys will get around to doing a successor of sorts to this one. I don’t want it to be as much of a straight reskin as the original, but I do love the idea of undersea X-Com and I doubt I can go back to Terror from the Deep. Especially given that I couldn’t with the original X-Com.

  26. Orful Biggun says:

    I played all of the “big three” X-COM games as they were being released in the US during the 1990s (telling my age, here), so yeah, summer 1994, summer 1995, and summer 1997.

    IMO, UFO Defense is the “real” game, and I see TftD as a very GOOD reskin that can be considered as something about halfway between an expansion and a true sequel. It’s not the same relationship as, say, StarCraft -> Brood War, but neither is it the same thing as Oblivion -> Skyrim.

    It’s been around 18 – 19 years since I’ve played TftD. I watched a bit of a YouTube Let’s Play of it recently and wow, the memories. :-) Anyway, I do remember melee-ing the lobstermen with the vibro blade, and the slow-firing weapons, and the admittedly *very* cool atmosphere, and – especially – the incredibly boring and tedious cruise ship missions! Argh, seriously? No joke, without those things I’d probably rank these games pretty closely (aside from the obvious bump that UD gets from being the original groundbreaker).

    But I’ve been saying for years that Gollup’s X-Com (and I include TftD) are among the best computer games ever created, and nothing so far has changed my mind.

    Apocalypse was where everything truly changed. So ambitious, and they succeeded in many ways, although IMO it fell short in others (mostly in comparison to its predecessors).

  27. Haborym says:

    I have actually, but I could never beat it cause the game would always crash on the last mission. Oh well. But y’know, now that I have it on Steam and emulated in dosbox, maybe it’ll work this time if I give it another shot. I kinda always did want to beat it. Well w/e, someday I suppose.

  28. manio22 says:

    “It has atmosphere in spades, and the oddball equipment and slow-firing weapons always made it seem more deadly to me too” …Brrr…I totally remember those moments. Dark underwater environments really had a sense of dread when i was out on a mission. And that nasty climactic jump-scare music…

  29. Sandepande says:

    Maps were too big.

  30. Haborym says:

    So you guys, did you think this or the original was better? I was kinda partial to the first myself but I thought TFTD was pretty neat too. I especially like how they added in drills and let you open doors without actually going inside.

  31. Haborym says:

    So you guys, did you think this or the original was better? I was kinda partial to the first myself but I thought TFTD was pretty neat too. I especially like how they added in drills and let you open doors without actually going inside. Also, having to manage your ammo better and scavenge more from dead aliens made it more, iunno, tense or something? Kinda wish there were some sonic weapons that fired in full auto though. I miss my heavy plasma standard issues, with their ridiculously large magazine sizes and full auto and superb accuracy. Well, the sonic weapons had pretty accuracy too.