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SummaryImproves on X-Com : UFO Defense in every way. Except you can't beat it.
The GoodThe most obvious positive is that it's virtually the same game (Which can be a good or bad thing with games - in this case it's, for the most part, good). If you have any prior experience with "X-Com : UFO Defense", then there will be a very low learning curve in regards to this game's interface. Missions that involve underwater combat may initially present some interesting challenges to those used to fighting on land, however, namely due the rather bumpy and litter covered terrain. Speaking of terrain, it may only be because it's more detailed, but it does seem at times that randomly generated maps (particularly underwater ones) are somewhat larger than they were in UFO Defense (though I could be wrong).
As far as true improvements to the game engine itself, the sound department is quite a bit more impressive this time around, with ambient environmental sounds in the background, generally more impressive sound effects, and sound distortion while underwater (I believe this was the first game to do this, in fact). Another plus is the in-game music, which is a vast improvement over the comparatively dull music in UFO Defense. It has sort of a low-budget early 1980's synth sound to it, which complements the invading sea creatures theme rather well indeed.
As far as graphics, there are also several improvements here as well. Besides a more colorful palette to work from during land battles, there appears to be a palette shift while operating underwater to allow for more blueish-toned colors than those seen on land (either that or it's a semi-transparent blue overlay), which, especially during night missions, lends a certain atmosphere to underseas missions. Also, while there was animated terrain in UFO Defense, there wasn't very much of it. Not so in TFTD. A particular favorite of mine is the underwater volcano terrain, which feature bubbling lava vents and "streams" of molten material illuminating the nearby landscape. Great stuff.
The BadMicroprose did a fairly good job regarding the design of the features that came with this game, but they failed miserably with monster creation. The aliens are either too easy or (more often than not) too hard to defeat. The worst offender is the Lobstermen, who are walking crustaceans with tank-like body armor and enough health to soak up the damage of a small thermonuclear device. The only way to kill them in an expedient manner is to use various melee weapons that you later research to drill rather large holes in them, and many times that is rather difficult, if not impossible, to achieve, forcing you to expend several magazines of ammunition to kill just one (!) of them. The only way to fix these problems is to use an editing program to increase or (again, more often than not) decrease the statistics of the various types of aliens, even though that's commonly regarded as cheating.
Another problem is the sameness this game shares with UFO Defense. While I did list this as a positive earlier, there are some things I would have liked a little different, in particular the available inventory. It's rather disappointing to find that most of the weapons and utilities available for use are exact carbon copies of items from the previous game, with some new sound effects and a change in graphics and text. Also there are three weapons that only operate underwater, but besides that they are also carbon copies of land based weaponry from the previous game. The only new additions are the Vibro-Blade/Lancer weapons (which are quite useful against Lobstermen), and that's really about it.