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Review by: Bob Mandel
Published: May 14, 2001
One of the hardest things for any company to do is to change the basic nature and public image of an established franchise. For years Microprose’s X-COM (standing for eXtraterrestrial COMbat unit) series has emphasized tactical turn-based strategy in coping with an alien threat, and a loyal following has developed to play each successive release. Now unexpectedly Microprose has released through Infogrames a third-person shooter, X-COM Enforcer, which departs in almost every possible way from its predecessors and instead tries to appeal to the action crowd. While other unorthodox X-COM offshoots have emerged in the past, such as the space combat simulation X-COM Interceptor and the email game X-COM First Alien Invasion, X-COM Enforcer is the most deviant. Is this new product successful in this uncharted territory?
The plot is absolutely standard issue: After a massive alien invasion of the Earth, a committed X-COM professor named Able Standard decides he has to take direct steps to repel the intruders. He painstakingly builds the Enforcer, the ultimate robotic super soldier composed of earthly robotics and scavenged alien technology. Although he loses his outside funding, Standard keeps working in his private laboratory and completes his mechanized creation just in the nick of time. You play the role of the Enforcer, and your task is to defeat the alien hordes. As aliens are destroyed, they spawn data points you must collect quickly before they disappear. It becomes clear from the outset that this is not in any sense a story-driven game.
The setting is the United States within the 21st century, quite a switch from the usual pattern of placing titles dealing with aliens in the far distant future. The Enforcer battles aliens within all sorts of locales, including city streets, hover boats, industrial zones, malls, offices, rooftops, sewers, stadiums, and supermarkets. You face a huge range of elaborate physical environments in this combat, from narrow claustrophobic passages to wide open areas. Many of the buildings you see contain walls or windows which you can blast through to get to your objectives. The medium size battlefields are never bland or boring, but rather full of intriguing elements displaying excellent overall design.
There are over 30 missions in store for you to wade through wave after wave of enemy alien attackers. At the start of each mission you receive a short briefing about what lies ahead. There is even a level editor included which allows you to play with user-created maps; but this is not particularly user-friendly and is explicitly designed for those who are already experienced and know the basics of building levels with the Unreal Editor. In the provided levels you primarily just have to destroy all creatures in your path, although occasionally you need to rescue trapped innocent bystanders by touching them, or even protect a group of vulnerable citizens. There are tons of hidden locales and secret bonus levels to keep those who don’t just want to head straight for the designated objective without looking around. So even though the mission objectives are not that varied, you feel like you are having to manage different predicaments all the time.
You engage in a heroic struggle against 20 different dangerous alien species. Among the creatures you will encounter are Chryssalids, Mutons, Reapers, Sectoids, Snakemen, and Sectopods. Everywhere you look you see monstrous creatures racing at you ready to do you in and put an end to human hope. Critical to your success is the destruction of the transporters which keep spawning a seemingly endless supply of these aliens. Every now and then you encounter a much bigger “boss” behemoth, and these take a lot of skill to defeat. As you progress through the levels, your opposition becomes more fierce and lethal, but because your weaponry also is improving you are never placed too much at a disadvantage. A favorite tactic of the aliens is to surround you so you cannot move and then demolish you. I found myself pleasantly surprised by the new attackers I encountered within successive levels, keeping me guessing all the way through about what I would encounter next.
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