X-COM: Terror from the Deep is proof that you should be careful what you wish for. When X-COM was riding high on acclaim from gamers and critics alike, a bunch of us said we’d love to see a sequel, even if it was just more of the same.
Unfortunately, that’s just about what MicroProse has given us.
In Terror from the Deep, you’re back in command of the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit, once again defending the earth from alien invaders. The twist -- and it could’ve been a good one -- is that this time around the aliens have traded in their UFOs for submarines and are attacking us from the world’s oceans.
When word of Terror from the Deep first got out, members of the gaming press in Britain (where Terror was designed) reported that it would simply be a new scenario for owners of X-COM. MicroProse was quick to correct that assumption, saying Terror would be a full, stand-alone game. Having played both X-COM and the sequel, though, I find it hard to imagine why Terror couldn’t have been marketed as a simple add-on disk.
There’s certainly not much new here. New graphics, sure, and some new names, but they’re just thin disguises for the same weapons, creatures and technology that appeared in X-COM. The Sectoid is now the Aquatoid, in keeping with the game’s primarily undersea action. The Motion Sensor is now the Particle Disturbance Sensor. Hangars are Sub Pens, and Missile Defenses have become Torpedo Defenses. You get the idea. There are even Magna-Blast Grenades and Dye Grenades. Why put hand grenades in a game that takes place deep under the sea, you might well ask (especially if you’ve ever tried throwing something underwater). Because there were grenades in X-COM, that’s why. Maybe it was easier to rename them and give them new art than to just write them out of the game engine.
There are a few minor changes in Terror, but even these aren’t really improvements. You can now click on a soldier’s rank insignia to access his skill ratings from the arming screen; convenient when you’re trying to decide who should get the best weapons or how much equipment each operative can carry. There’s just one hitch: when you right-click the mouse to exit this screen, it doesn’t take you back to the arming screen; it takes you straight into battle. Any soldiers you hadn’t armed at this point will have to make do with whatever equipment the computer saw fit to give them, or waste precious movement points by dropping and picking up weapons as the battle rages on around them. It is possible to exit the stat screen without ending the arming stage (you simply click the left mouse button twice) but it’s natural to try right-clicking, since that’s how you exit a menu or cancel an action everywhere else in the game’s combat segments.
There’s also a new button on the combat menu. In addition to clicking on buttons to reserve movement points for aimed shots, snap shots or automatic shots, you can now make sure a soldier has enough points left over to kneel behind cover at the end of a turn. It’s a well-intentioned addition, and one I had hoped to see -- but it doesn’t always work, so it’s almost worse than not having it there at all.
The only real change in gameplay springs from the fact that you’ll be fighting the aliens on land as well as under the sea. Certain weapons in Terror, like the Hydro-Jet Cannon or the Torpedo Launcher, won’t work on land. That means you’ve got to be sure you have a wide variety of weapons, and that you choose the right ones at the beginning of each mission. It makes Terror a little more challenging than X-COM, but since equipping your ships and soldiers is one of the few tedious aspects of the game, it also makes it more frustrating. The problem reaches its peak when you begin getting missions that are split into land and sea phases with no chance to re-arm in between.
Still, it is the successor to X-COM, which we called the best strategy game of 1994. That means Terror is a very good game. But it lacks something X-COM had going for it; the original was fresh and innovative, where Terror is more of what we’ve already seen. If you’ve already played X-COM, there’s little reason to spring for Terror from the Deep. You’ll get roughly the same effect by going back to the original.
-- Dan Bennett