UFO: Extraterrestrials is one of those tactical strategy games that wants to be the spiritual successor to the X-COM games from the early to mid 90’s. Like the other UFO franchise out there right now (which includes the “After” titles Aftermath, Aftershock and Afterlight), Extraterrestrials takes the core concepts of the early X-COM games and then gives them a new setting. But unlike that other franchise, Extraterrestrials doesn’t attempt to modernize those concepts. Instead, it is content to do things almost identically to how X-COM: UFO Defense did them almost 15 years ago. Does that strategy pay off? Keep reading to find out.
Extraterrestrials takes place on the distant planet Esperanza. Humans colonized the planet in 2020, but then after a few years of peace and tranquility, aliens started showing up and shooting at them, and they realized that they needed more of a military presence. Subsequently, you were put in charge of the Counter Alien Force, and it’s now up to you to show the aliens who’s boss.
As in most X-COM-like games, Extraterrestrials combines tactical strategy missions with global base and resource management. Esperanza is divided up into nine provinces, and one of your goals in the game is to keep the provinces out of alien hands, and to put a base onto each province. Bases contain things like workshops (for producing items), laboratories (for researching new technologies), hangars (for your air force), barracks (for your ground troops), and more. Sort of oddly, even though Esperanza is on the brink of extermination, money management is also important, and so you can’t just build and research whatever you want whenever you want. You have to make sure that you can afford your improvements, and that means selling off any alien artifacts that you find, and keeping the people on the planet safe and happy.
The tactical missions use turn-based combat. Your soldiers receive action points, and those points allow them to move around, fire their weapons, use stimpacks, and more. The mission mechanics are fairly basic -- your soldiers can kneel but not crawl, and it doesn’t cost any action points for them to rummage through their inventories -- but otherwise the missions work about like you’d expect. Then as your soldiers shoot and kill aliens, they slowly gain ranks, and that allows them to improve things like their strength (so they can use heavier equipment), agility (so they receive more action points), and bravery (so they can withstand mental attacks).
In concept, Extraterrestrials could work. I sometimes feel nostalgic for X-COM: UFO Defense, and Extraterrestrials is a game that attempts to be as much like it as possible. But there are two things that utterly and completely sabotage the game: the amateurish production values, and a whole host of incomprehensible design and balance decisions.
I guess in some ways, if you want your game to bring back memories of an older game, you want it to look older as well, but Extraterrestrials takes that concept too far -- either by choice or by ineptitude, I have no idea. The music sounds like somebody plinking with one finger on a synthesizer, the voice acting is cringe-worthy (both in the acting quality and in the actual script), and the graphics use one of those fixed perspective grid systems that went out of style years ago -- and for good reason, since it’s often difficult to tell even simple things like if your soldiers have line-of-sight on their enemies.
Games that don’t look good can still be good, but in that case the developer has to work extra hard to make the game mechanics work -- but Chaos Concept, the developer of Extraterrestrials, did just the opposite, and as a result their game is more frustrating than fun. Consider base defense. There are a bunch of structures you can place in your bases to defend them against alien attacks, but it doesn’t matter, because base attacks are lopsided way in favor of the aliens. If a UFO assaults one of your bases, each defensive structure in the base gets one attack, which will probably miss or do minimal damage, and the UFO gets several attacks, each of which will probably destroy a structure. That’s lopsided enough, but for some reason assaults only last for one round of attacks, and if the UFO is still standing after that time, then it wins. I never saw a base even come close to beating off an assault, and so there’s no real point to building and maintaining defensive structures. They might as well not even be in the game.
Or consider “reaction shots.” If you move into visual range of an alien, or if you shoot an alien, it sometimes gets a reaction shot at your soldier (and vice versa). I’ve played some turn-based strategy games where if you leave your soldiers with enough action points at the end of their turn, they can sometimes fire off a round, but in Extraterrestrials, the extra attacks are unlimited. This sounds dopey enough -- if you’re making your game turn-based, then make it turn-based, please -- but by mid-game, aliens can usually knock out your soldiers in a single hit, but require a few hits to die themselves, and so those reaction shots make missions almost unplayable. It’s not a lot of fun to sneak up on an alien, shoot it in the back, and then watch it turn around and vaporize your guy.
Or consider the campaign. Extraterrestrials, just like the other UFO franchise, and to a lesser extent the original X-COM game, seems to think that a hundred nearly identical missions is a great way to fill up a campaign. Each mission has the exact same objective -- destroy all the aliens -- and the only thing that changes is the trickle of new aliens to compensate for your slowly evolving technology level. Worse, the campaign only moves forward when you capture “commander” aliens during missions, but these commanders look almost identical to regular aliens, and you’re given almost no tools for knocking them out. Fun, fun, fun.
I could go on -- and on, and on -- but you probably get the idea. UFO: Extraterrestrials is just a poorly made game. Almost nothing about it works, and there’s absolutely no reason why you should buy it when you could play UFO: Afterlight (or even Silent Storm) instead. So stay far away from this game, even if you see it being dangled enticingly from a bargain bin somewhere.