The guys are Microprose are hoping that I can get through this review without once mentioning X-COM Alliance
. Maybe they should skip ahead to the next paragraph. A year and a half ago, we went to visit the guys at Microprose to preview a new team-based shooter based on the X-COM license. The game, called Alliance, quickly became one of our most anticipated titles. We bitched and complained about the numerous delays to the project (still no "official" word yet on when it will be out, by the way) so you can imagine how bitter we were when we were offered a look at X-COM Enforcer. We thought we'd hate it. We were wrong.
While X-COM Enforcer doesn't offer a tremendous amount of depth in terms of design, it does deliver fast action and a sincere application of the X-COM setting. For the two of you out there who aren't already familiar with X-COM, the story is simple enough. A global paramilitary force has been formed to combat an invading alien menace. In the case of Enforcer, you play as a robot designed by an X-COM scientist. Your job is to defeat the aliens single-handedly in a series of increasingly difficult levels. All of this is rendered in a third-person perspective in the manner of Slave Zero or Tomb Raider.
But unlike Tomb Raider, Enforcer is focused exclusively on action. While there are some "puzzles" here, you won't need to search for switches or push crates around. And as the separate levels are divided into self-contained zones, you'll rarely be far away from whatever you need to do next. Even if you do wander off the path a bit, a handy arrow steers you in the right direction. All of this ensures that the focus stays on shooting (with a little jumping thrown in for good measure).
The game uses the Unreal Tournament engine to good effect. While the UT engine has never been my personal favorite, it really shines here. The various levels that you work through are very well designed but tend to close off the z-axis. There are some levels where you'll jump from rooftop to rooftop but the chance to explore the levels in a vertical sense is rarely offered. Over the course of the game, you'll lead your Enforcer through trailer parks, city streets, supermarkets, mountain passes and a host of other locales killing aliens and rescuing puny humans from the alien menace. Most levels boil down to a "kill 'em all" format, but there are enough hidden areas and bonus levels to reward the more explorative player.
Enforcer suffers from a few of the liabilities of the UT engine. First off, there's very little sense of weight or force to the character models. The character models themselves are mixed -- some good, some bad. The Enforcer looks really cool but there seems to be a problem with the animation, as he just never seems to be walking on the ground. Most of the aliens are damn impressive but they tend to get less and less detailed as they grow in size. Anything larger than a Muton just looks clunky.
But the effects are great. The green flash that heralds the appearance of your various extra-terrestrial enemies is downright cool. Weapons fire is equally impressive with a credible distinction between the weapon types. Lots of little touches have been added (like scorch marks on the environment from the mass driver, or little ice crystals from the freeze gun).
Each weapon in your arsenal can be upgraded in between the missions by spending data points. Data points are obtained by killing aliens and destroying certain other objects. You may spend data points to increase your weapons' capabilities (such as adding a bouncing, homing or increased damage ability) or the components of the Enforcer itself. You can add increased running speed, jumping power or the ability to repair yourself in the field. The various power ups you find in the game (healing, speed, multipliers, etc) can also be improved to provide greater bonuses once you're fighting against the aliens. In all, I found the balance between upgrade potential and available data points set just right. It offers enough challenge while still giving you access to new toys.
I was impressed with some of the weapons. Others I just couldn't stand. Once you get all the upgrades for it, the disc launcher is by far the most convenient of the weapons. Not only does it include a homing ability, but it also scoops up any data points it hits. The freeze gun and lightning gun are equally cool, stopping your enemies in their tracks. The only weapon I really hated was the grenade launcher. You can't really get this to hit much in the game itself, so I was kind of ticked off that I bothered to spend the data points to unlock. Even more regrettable than the loss of the data points, was the fact that once I unlocked the damn thing, it kept showing up on the mission maps where another weapons might have been more useful.
The campaign is well designed. With almost forty missions, Enforcer will keep you occupied for a while. And the fact that you can't save in the middle of a mission will add a little longevity on top of that. The fact that you can't save doesn't really bother me overly, since it only takes ten or fifteen minutes to clear out the various levels. Unfortunately the game isn't being released until next Tuesday, so we haven't had a chance to put the multiplayer game through its paces. There is an option to play through the campaign in cooperation with other players. The only other option for multiplayer is a straight deathmatch.
Enforcer is a perfect example of a decent console game on the PC. It requires very little from you in terms of investment and, while the game does have its sophisticated side, it's pretty much nonstop action. There are a few games on my hard drive that are perfect for when I've only got fifteen minutes to kill and X-COM Enforcer is right at the top of the list (Airfix Dogfighter and Risk II being the other main contenders).
-- Steve Butts