UFO: Aftershock Preview

by , on 15th Dec 2004

PlacidDragon and Slaughter went to visit ALTAR in the Czech Republic in December of 2004. This is their impression of the game at that point.

- Starting the game
- The tactical game
- The strategic game
- Final thoughts

Starting the game:

The first thing that was apparent when we saw the current build of UFO: Aftershock was its overall higher quality. The intro (far from final) was well done, and gave you a good feel for the game. Now we're not talking Blizzard quality, but a good step up from the one in Aftermath (in its defence it was cut considerably).

Main menu:
After the intro the main menu appeared, and again the quality was apparent. Now this isn't really such an important part of a game, but it has to do with the first impression you give. And easy navigation helps put the player at ease from the start.

The tactical game:

Martin started a new game and several improvements immediately presented themselves. The graphics was much nicer this time, and buildings you can enter were a welcome sight. A critique was maybe that the colors used on the interface were a bit too flashy, but this is things I am sure they will look into when the game gets nearer to completion. Another negative part I immediately noticed was that the soldier portraits was as ugly here as they were in Aftermath. When I asked though, Martin showed us how they will look in the final game, and I have no more complaints :). Some people complained that the interface in Aftermath was too large, and thus covered too much of the screen. In Aftershock you can completely hide the interface, and instead use a round menu that is presented to you if you right click the soldier, much like in Neverwinter Nights.

Size of maps:
So Martin showed us around the map, zoomed in to show the nice detail of the textures and models and the different levels of the buildings. The maps have very few buildings on them now compared to Aftermath, but this is natural as the scale of the buildings in Aftermath was too small compared to the soldiers. And believe me, you probably wouldn't want more buildings and larger maps as you'll spend more than enough time exploring them as it is now.

Enter buildings:
Moving the soldiers around was much like in Aftermath, with the addition of the prone stance and a few other things as the most noticeable difference. The addition of entering buildings adds new levels to the tactical game play, as you can suddenly be ambushed from a window or a rooftop.

Gear and soldier types:
Another great improvement was the gear. Now you have many specialized soldier types, from Cyborg to Psionic. They have their own unique gear, like enhanced eyes for the Cyborg and special healing ways for the Psionic. Cyborgs are the heavy assault type units, while Psionics are the light support units. I'll not go closer into their special skills and equipment, but it's nice to know that ALTAR have focused more on unique gear and weapons this time, and not so much on 5 rifles that are virtually the same.

Destroy buildings:
When you meet an enemy for the first time, you may end up seeing another great improvement. As we shot an alien with a powerful weapon, the projectile kept going and hit a wall behind it. This resulted in a large hole in the wall, and the fact that you can blow walls to bits and pieces should add a neat new dimension to the tactics. You can blow buildings more or less to a smoking pile, with only the skeleton of support pillars and the roof left. I like to destroy stuff!

Visually, in addition to good textures and several other nice features added, the animations were the most impressive thing. Now I though the animations in Aftermath was reasonably good, but Aftershock takes this to a new level. Watching a soldier walk up a stair for instance really showed this off. He would compensate for the length and height of the steps and thus look good whatever type of stair he walked. I think this was a general improvement all through the game, and Martin said they had put a good deal of effort into their new animation system.

Fog of War:
There was however three sides of the tactical game we did not get a good look at. First thing was the Fog of War (FOW). A lot of players wished for them to add this, and they will. The inside of the buildings you haven't entered will be black, while the areas you've seen inside buildings and the rest of the map you do not occupy will be greyish. The problem with not seeing this part implemented was that it adds a lot to the atmosphere of the game, and I'd liked to see that in a more final version. But hopefully I will a little later.

What soldiers see:
In Aftermath, when a soldier was standing still, he could see in all directions. This was explained with the soldier constantly looking around to thus keep all angles covered. In my opinion that was a very bad decision, and one they have rid themselves of in Aftershock. Now the soldier looks in the direction he faces, something that will further improve the usefulness of stealth amongst other things.

Enemy AI:
The second thing that was missing was the enemy AI. Everyone we met just wandered around like mindless zombies, as the AI was not implemented. Martin promised that they'd make an effort to produce AI that was challenging and fun to play against, and hopefully that's what we'll get.

Map overview:
The third thing was the map overview where you choose a landing zone. Now most of you can probably imagine about how this will look, but it would have been nice to take a look anyway. You can't land anywhere in the map, but there are some zones for you to choose between.

S.A.S. improvements:
The S.A.S. system has been improved to show the order queues of soldiers more clearly. Exactly how this will work we didn’t see, but ALTAR is putting effort into improving the system. They wish for you to have more control of your every action. They have also put effort into showing clearly how range, cover and the likes affect your chance of hitting, and to make stealth work. So all in all the system will have several small but important changes.

The strategic game:

Earth view:
Immediately upon entering the strategic view of the world you see some serious improvements. The globe looks fantastic this time, and everything has a feeling of quality and thought. It may need some adjustments to be as simple as possible, but it's a very good start for such an early build.

Features of earth view:
Looking at the strategic screen, you can see resources at the top of the screen, and a menu for base management and the likes at the bottom. Besides that there is the standard buttons for time and movements from Aftermath, and a picture of a base at the right hand. If you click for instance base management you'll slide into a new menu for just this purpose. The sliding animation looked very cool the first two times, but I hope there's an option for disabling it, as it will grow annoying after a while. Guess it's supposed to go faster in the final game though.

Laputa - the flying island:
Another important part you'll notice on the globe is the Laputa (flying island with green "cone" that connects it to the globe). This flying island is where your main force is located, and you have to get the mission area inside it's radius to initiate it. It takes a little time to move to the mission area, and thus positioning this island is also an important strategic decision.

Areas of the earth view:
On the map you'll see your areas of control as blue, with your "mother base" in the middle. You have to interconnect the new areas you conquer with a railway that you'll see as a yellow line. If the new areas are not connected to the "mother base" you can't take advantage of the area's resources. Some areas have a cache of resources (one time resources), while others have a mine or the likes.

Another aspect of the game is your diplomatic relations. We didn’t get a good look at it as it wasn't implemented in the build of the game we saw, but it should be somewhat important for the game. If you have bad relations to the Cyborgs or the Psionics you may have to manage on your own. As for the specifics of diplomacy you may have to help protect the different factions, get something for them or the likes.

Speaking of factions, there are several in the game. Cyborgs and Psionics I have mentioned already. Then there are the Cultists, "evil" humans that you primarily have to fight in your quest to regain earth. The Cultists are mutated human beings, and diplomacy with them is a wasted effort. They look bad and are bad. One of the concept screenshots shows a Cultist on his throne guarded by two of his elite soldiers. It's a very stylish concept shot, and I think they will turn out to be a very stylish enemy. Then there's the Reticulans (aliens) from Aftermath of course, and others that we'll not reveal at this time.

Soldier management and RPG elements:
Regarding soldier management and the RPG elements things will be fairly similar to Aftermath. A stat of your choice can be raised when soldiers gain a level, and there are different trainings you can do. This time however ALTAR wants you to notice the effect of training properly, and make the training more unique. Therefore every type of training has three levels, and each level will give you a unique ability. For instance marksmanship to do headshots and doctor to heal serious injuries. Each soldier can only learn three levels of training (so you can max one training, or have basic level in three different trainings), and thus you have to choose wisely. You'll want to develop some special soldiers like snipers and medics, and maybe a few "Jack of all trades". This combined with different types of units should make the RPG part of Aftershock more interesting than what it was in Aftermath, though it will still be fairly moderate.

Base management:
We also got to take a quick look at the base management, and it should be very interesting. You can build a certain number of facilities in each base, and there are a lot to choose from. They can be everything from implant factories for Cyborgs to alien containments. If you have more than one of a certain type of factory, the building of its gear is quicker. But since we didn’t see much of this I can't really tell you much more.

Mission types:
Mission types are another things we asked them about. We didn’t see many different types of missions in action, as this was an early build, but when we asked Martin he said it would be about as it was in Aftermath. Difference is that they'll put more effort into making the missions seem different. If your objective is to destroy an object for instance, you'll be able to use stealth properly in Aftershock and thus do this without engaging the enemy much. You may get unlucky though. Anyway, there are about 10-15 mission types that ALTAR will do their best to make enjoyable, and from what we saw they'll to a better job of it in Aftershock than they did in Aftermath.

Research and manufacture:
The research tree in Aftershock is enormous as far as I could see. You have to play a long time to go through it all, and most people will finish the game long before they do. I didn’t study the research tree intently, but suffice to say there should be something to please most people. And this time you can queue several research and manufacture jobs, so no more worries about troublesome interfaces there.

Final thoughts:

When ALTAR made Aftermath they had a lot of trouble. They had to start the game from scratch when they were supposed to finish a project well on its way. They lost the publisher that had set them to do it not long after they started developing the game, and had to live without a publisher through most of Aftermath's development. No publisher means no money, and developing a game that way is no easy task. And of course ALTAR had less experience when they started developing Aftermath than they have now.

Anyway, because ALTAR now has CENEGA supporting them as a publisher should do from the beginning, and Aftermath did reasonably well, the development situation is very different this time. And this shows in their work. As I said before the overall quality of Aftershock is clearly much higher. Everything from menus to animations has had a facial life, and ALTAR have the time and resources to put the features they want into the game this time. They've had a lot of feedback from the fans, and it was obvious that they do their best to implement as many of our wishes as possible.

All this being said, I'm not one to judge a product by its good looks. As I said, what we saw of the game play was lacking FOW and AI, and thus the impression was mostly visual. Therefore I can't yet say for sure that the tactical game play will be as good as it should be. I can say that I have seen several features that should enchant this part, but playing it is the only sure way to know.

Regarding the strategic game play I am confident that people will love the changes. Everything I saw of it was a huge step in the right direction, and Aftermath was too simple in its strategic part. So to those of you that though that was Aftermath's weakest part I think it's safe to say you'll be pleased.

All in all I am excited by what I saw, and I hope it gets as good as it looks. But since I value AI and atmosphere very much, I will hold my judgement. Looks promising, but I need to see a further advanced version or the finished product to see if it stands up to its promising looks. But after meeting the skilled people at ALTAR I have faith!

Game Card

UFO Aftershock Box
Developer: ALTAR Interactive
Publisher: Tri Synergy



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