Nobody has yet recreated the magic of MicroProse's X-COM, but it hasn't been for want of trying. It seems like every six months or so, someone has been releasing a fresh take on this early 90s strategy masterwork about shooting down flying saucers and sending soldiers to hunt down the survivors, and each attempt has only sent disappointed diehards back to the original. UFO: Extraterrestrials adds another chapter to that unhappy saga. This effort by development studio Chaos Concept is dissatisfying both as a rip-off of a legend and as a game in its own right because of odd design decisions, bugs, and bottom-drawer graphics and sound. The best that can be said about the game is that its sci-fi atmosphere and smart artificial intelligence make it a somewhat acceptable way for the desperate to whittle away a couple of dozen hours waiting for someone to finally do a proper remake of X-COM.
Look familiar? The main screen's global point of view is straight out of the original X-COM.
Gameplay in UFO: Extraterrestrials mirrors X-COM right down to the global view on the main interface screen. There is a big change to the setting, in that you're now defending the colonized planet of Esperanza against little green men instead of Earth, but the concepts remain the same. So you outfit alien-busting bases with various facilities like interrogation rooms and laboratories in real time in each of the nine nations on Esperanza, send out fighters to intercept and shoot down UFOs, and then attack the downed saucer sites with teams of RPG-styled soldiers in turn-based tactical combat sequences based on an action-point-reliant movement system. At the same time, you also need to research the aliens and their technology to reverse-engineer it into sci-fi weaponry and hardware for your troops. It's all formulaic and familiar if you have any experience with X-COM or its copycats.
However, attacking saucer crash sites remains suspenseful because you never know what sorts of ETs you're going to encounter. There are numerous creatures featured, including giant insects, half-humanoid slugs, and floating blobs, each with different attacks that range from laser blasts and gas bombs to paralyzing mental blasts. Aliens are also smart enough to know when to retreat and when to attack (although they're not great at taking cover). If you hit one with superior firepower, it will often take off given the opportunity. And you can't just follow these cowards because doing so can draw you into an ambush. ETs don't always run either. If the numbers are in their favor, aliens have no problem blitzing you with head-on assaults.
Still, missions are more annoying than anything else. Too many aspects of the tactical engine are skewed against you or simply don't work well. The pace is really slow, even for a turn-based game. Some sort of hybrid system where you move in real time when not engaged in combat is needed to speed up the tedious map exploration. Animations are also slow and jittery, so you spend more time watching troops stutter or aliens slither. Aliens can see farther than your grunts, so you regularly take fire from the blackness. Peripheral vision is equally awful. An alien might just be a smidgen outside of your direct line of sight, but you won't see it. Shooting distances are wonky. In the early stages, before you can level up troops, increase their shooting skills, and provide them with high-tech guns (the initial equipment loadout is pathetic, aside from jeep-tank hybrid vehicles), you have to get within a couple of squares of an alien to have a better than 50 percent chance of hitting it. This leads to Police Squad-style shootouts where you're blasting away at each other across a few feet but still missing a good deal of the time (sometimes by laughable distances), or even worse, accidentally shooting each other or tossing a grenade into your own lap.
Soldiers may be immortal here, but they still mess up your saucer-smashing plans by regularly winding up in the hospital for long stretches of time.