New X-COM revival is playable and awesome

Dan Stapleton at

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One of Rock Paper Shotgun’s readers spotted this fan-run freeware project to resurrect the original X-COM: UFO Defense (aka Enemy Unknown) as a multiplayer game. It's called UFO: The Two Sides, and it lets you take control of either X-COM or the invading aliens (in multiplayer only). I just played the public beta, and it’s awesome.

TTS isn’t the first attempt at retrofitting X-COM for multiplayer. Most notably, UFO 2000 has been up and running for years, though last time I tried it everything was still very rough and missing a lot of features, like the Geoscape map view. TTS’s beta, by comparison, is off to an incredible start. Not only does it have a fully functional Geoscape, but nearly everything else is in place as well. The only thing glaringly missing after the first hour of play is that the projectiles, from pistol bullets to rockets, all look the same at the moment. Note: you have to own X-COM: UFO Defense (you do own the best game ever by now, right?) to import the graphics and sounds to play the game properly.

The new Geoscape screen looks great next to the low-rez original.

X-COM’s UI is the part of the game that’s aged the most since it came out in 1994, but TTS is already making inroads into whipping it into shape. While it’s still not exactly pretty, the higher resolution gives a wider view of the tactical battle map, and the extra room allowed them to combine the inventory and stat screens. A couple of other nice touches: it retains troop weapon loadouts from one mission to the next, and even gives a warning when weapons aren’t loaded. They've also redone all of the base screen graphics to avoid blowing up the ancient sprites to block-tastic levels.

But how does it play, you ask? I just played a quick multiplayer round against Evan, connected over direct IP on our office LAN, and oh my god, this is better than a double rainbow. After I figured out how to get my alien base up and running (it’s a little tricky, but mostly a mirror of the X-COM base) I sent out a UFO stocked with Sectoids to terrorize the people of Denver. Evan responded with a Skyranger full of rookie X-COM squaddies, and the battle was joined.

Equipping everyone with rocket launchers is a great way to level the map in a hurry.

I’ve waited 16 years to play as a plasma-pistol-packing Sectiod soldier, running around an urban map zapping fleeing civilians and ambushing X-COM troops—now I can die happy. My only regret is not grenading Evan’s entire force the moment he stepped out of the Skyranger, as the AI has done to me so many times in the past. In retrospect, that might’ve been the wise thing to do, since my UFO only held three Sectoids. I was vastly outnumbered against Evan’s crew of eight, and early tinkering to figure out my sight range (right now the Alien player doesn’t see fog of war) led to one of my guys eating a couple of aimed shots from Evan’s troopers in the opening turns. Fortunately my plasma pistols were more potent than his standard-issue rifles, and through a combination of my own extraordinary tactical cunning and Evan not really knowing how to play, my remaining two Sectoids decimated his troops. His last survivor pulled a reverse-bug-hunt on me, forcing me to scour the map to track him down, but when I finally cornered him I made him watch as I executed a civilian, then triple-tapped him with an autoshot. Denver is mine!

Then Evan had to quit and go play ArmA II to rebuild his self-confidence. I had a fantastic time playing with The Two Sides, though a full game of multiplayer would take a really, really long time, so I hope they introduce a skirmish mode to quickly get in and start blowing stuff up in tactical combat. In any case, it's a fantastic development for X-COM fans. It's not the multi-million-dollar remake we should have by now, but it's a start.

Also, keep your eyes on Xenonauts, an independent spiritual successor to X-COM that's showing a lot of potential.


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