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Archived Review

X-COM E-mail

So, want to spice up your email without contravening any federal or international pornography laws? Then this is the game for you.

X-Com was one of the best games ever made. I still play it despite the fact it was written for a 486, and these new -angled Pentium III’s add a whole new dimension to the game. But as good as X-Com’s original mix of research, financial planning, and gut-wrenching turn-based combat was, there was never a multiplayer aspect to the game. Until now. Kind of.

X-Com Email (XCE) takes one simple aspect of X-Com, the combat, and turns it into a simple, fun, and enjoyable little game. Don’t get me wrong- this is not Unreal Tournament. Hell, it’s barely X-Com, but it does have charm.

Here’s the game. Take 50 missions, six different alien and six different X-Com units, add power-ups and traps, put on one of five different map types, and let friends email little moments of tension and death to each other. This is more fun than hate mail.

The main difference between this version of X-Com and its earlier incarnations is that the map is top down as opposed to the ¾ view you may be used to. This makes it easier to move your squad, but I still found myself yearning for the old maps.

Is this going to be a stand up fight or another bug hunt?

Each mission is pre-set with respect to starting units and starting position. I looked through the files in the XCE directory, but could not find any readily editable files. However, all the graphics were present as JPEG’s, and I wonder if a little editing could put a different look on the game.

Each Unit has a starting weapon:

Rookie- Pistol
Squaddie- Rifle
Sergeant- Autocannon
Captain- Rocket launcher
Colonel- Flame Thrower
Commander- varies

Chrysalid- Claws
Snakemen- Rifle
Sectopod- Launcher
Muton- Helium Weapon
Sectod- Pistol
Ethereal- Psionic powers

On each map are crates and red barrels. Obviously if you shoot a crate you get a power-up and if you shoot a barrel it blows up real good. The power ups can be good: 2x damage, grenade, Spy sat, 2x Action Points, Medi Kit, Mine, Shield, X2 range; Or bad: Mine (armed), Mega-Mine (kills anything), or Man Trap. All power-ups are one shot deals, use them or lose them.

Oh, Man I was getting short!

Game setup is simplicity itself. Load the game, all 5MB’s, and choose either an E-mail or Hotseat game. In E-mail you then choose one of five areas: UFO, Urban, Alien Base, X-Com Base, or Ice, and one of the ten maps in that area. Once that is done, it’s your turn.

To give a unit an order, just right-click on it and you will be presented with two or three choices: Move, Move and Shoot, or Shoot. Once you decide, you click the path you want the unit to travel or click on the target if you want to shoot. If you can not hit a target or move, the cursor with be a red x and a default ‘no can do’ noise sounds. Once you’ve finished your move, click on ‘send move’ button, write some pithy comments to your hapless opponent and off it goes. Then the game plays your turn for you. Hotseat is the same, but with no time delay to send the turn. .....Here’s the cool part- the person you want to play with does not need the game. The e-mail they get has full instructions on downloading the 1.13 MB file that will allow them to see the turn then send one back. When they open the file it plays your move, then they plan, move, and send. It plays their move for them and then they wait for your reply.

That’s it. Deep it’s not. Just e-mail after e-mail of footsteps, power-ups, and quick deaths.

Games take between 10 and 15 turns, depending on the skill and deviousness of the players. At the end of a game you are presented with a screen that rates each player on Mobility, Stealth, Firepower, Bravery, and a Final Rating. This is a nice little touch and it does drive you to develop some strategies other that run and shoot. Remarkably for such a simple game there are some fairly complex strategies. The bounding overwatch is the best way to cover yourself, and the good old cover-fire-cover move that worked so well in X-Com still does the job.

Oh, You want some too?

The best way to play this game is to chat with a friend on ICQ while sending the turns back and forth. I wasted an entire afternoon doing just that. I caught up with a friend and played 5 games of X-Com. But the old spice-up-your-e-mail way is great as well, as the emails are not too large and won’t bog down your ISP.

There is not a lot of depth here. Don’t go looking for the original X-Com in this game, because you will not find it, but you will find a simple enjoyable time-waster, and at a cost of $14.95 US you can’t go wrong.

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