X-COM Terror From The Deep

 · 9 mins read

X-COM 2: Terror From The Deep

The sequel of UFO: Enemy Unknown, this is other timeless MS-DOS classic. After the success of UFO, Microprose reused the same engine to create a sequel focused on underwater combat and expanded with new missions and enemies.

By the way, the previous game UFO: Enemy Unknown was also called X-COM UFO Defense and X-COM: Enemy Unknown but it’s a game from 1994, don’t confuse the last name with it the remake of 2012.

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Strong points

  • The game mixes two distinct styles, a strategic realtime world map and the tactical turn based combat scenarios:
    • Geoscape: the player must improve it’s base with new facilities, research tech/interrogate aliens, manufacture weapons/tools, recruit troops and personnel, equip crafts and create new bases to cover the world with sonars to protect against alien activity. It’s realtime but it pauses on menus. It’s fun and probably the reason the game is so good.
    • Battlescape: the player must accomplish a mission objective to avoid alien mission success, this also nets alien artifacts and aquanauts levels (stats are gained by experience).
  • Good variety of enemies and weapons. There are various weapon types and there are various synergies against enemies.
  • The alien missions (type, objective, crew) and the random battle scenarios are randomized… there will be surprises.
  • Tactical combat is awesome. In most turn based tactical combat games (usually SRPGs), map is small and every individual move counts, so a strong unit is so important as doing the right thing. But in X-COM, even if it counts too, it’s more important to apply the right strategy: split carefully and don’t move too packed, keep some snipers back to give some support fire, don’t rush doors, preemptive grenades, break walls … Maps are big and weapons are not always reliable.
  • In other games, the player just attacks the enemy mission after mission but not here. In XCOM the aliens also play against you. There is a clear dualism between player and aliens:
    • Both build basses and try to accomplish missions. Both use ships and USOs to
    • Player missions are carried by aquanauts and “tanks” (called SWS). Alien missions are carried by aliens troops and terror units (which act as SWS).
    • Aquanauts and alien troops are equipped with weapons and have ranks. Both aliens and aquanauts have limited line of sight.
  • Deep gameplay: total freedom to build and do missions as whatever you want, no penalty for pistols when shotting with second hand occupied, walls block line of sight, light vs dark affects line of sight (fire, sunlight, smoke/dye…), …
  • Horror theme.
    • There is a slight influence from Lovecraft world in this game.
    • This game does a good job building tension during the combat missions. To be honest, it’s actual scary.
  • It’s a hardcore game. Very hard, but in a fun way. Going to a cargo ship or a colony is always scary.
  • UFOPaedia. Great stuff. The game’s got an ingame manual called UFOPaedia, where the player can read information about game things and concepts. New UFOPaedia entries can be gotten by researching.

There were some improvements over the previous XCOM game:

  • More missions: artifact sites and terror missions on islands, ports, cargo ships and passenger ships.
  • Many 2-part missions. Colonies now are 2 part missions.
  • Added damaging melee weapons and big torpedos.
  • This sequel is scarier than the previous game.

They didn’t changed previous game gameplay, which is good because it was already perfect.

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TFTD, even if it’s a near perfect game, has some issues:

  • Difficulty curve is steep. It starts hard and only get easier if you manage to do it fine on early to middle game. But it’s part of its fun.
  • Game is randomized, so it can be (more) unfair if you get unlucky.
  • Some missions, particularly crashed UFOs (USOs), are a bit repetitive when you’re on endgame.
  • Finding the last alien during a mission could be difficult sometimes. Some maps has lots of small rooms and line of sight can be misleading as walls can block you more than you think. Particle disturbance sensor also won’t help there because that alien usually is not moving, but I feel OpenXCOM doesn’t suffer so much from all this.
  • Base defense mechanics are weak: when aliens find out a X-COM base, they send ships for retaliation. The problem is that they won’t stop sending ships until they can assault the base. If you build enough defenses to shoot USOs down, the attacks won’t stop and it’s annoying.

Also, original TFTD vanilla game had some serious bugs related with research and to maps. That is solved the open source remake, OpenXCOM, which you should use. It was also solved with custom mods in vanilla game.

When compared with UFO Enemy Unknown, TFTD has the same flaws but there are two new:

  • Same physics in both surface and underwater, which doesn’t make sense, specially when throwing grenades. This is for gaming reasons: engine was developed for surface and there is now way to implement grenade throwing, so it’s just omitted.
  • Some missions are too long.

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Why to play?

It’s the best tactical combat game ever done. Battles are hard because there is a severe handicap on the player during early game and it punishes mistakes very hardly. But, in the other hand, it rewards doing the right things.

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How to acquire

X-COM Terror From the Deep can be bought in both gog.com and Steam. I recommend buying it from gog, DRM free. Both versions include DosBOX so it should be playable.

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Version / Platform

I’m reviewing the OpenXCOM remake. It’s a new opensource game engine which reuses the assets of the classic X-COM games. The gameplay is the same, it’s moddable, includes game enhancements that existed on the form of old fan-made patches/mods for the DOS game and adds many new enhancements of it’s own. I totally recommend OpenXCOM over the vanilla game on DosBOX.

OpenXCOM 1.0 supports UFO Enemy Unknown game but the nightlies builds (in-development version) works perfectly fine and it support both UFO and XCOM TFTD.

You must install OpenXCOM and the locate/copy the original game data files you bought in gog/steam. To do it manually, copy ANIMS, FLOP_INT, GEODATA, GEOGRAPH, MAPS, ROUTES, SOUND, TERRAIN, UFOGRAPH and UNITS folders into openxcom/TFTD folder. After that, you should also download and apply the TFDT data patch. It’s not very complicated and it’s worth to get the best experience.

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Some years ago, in 2012, they officially remade UFO Enemy Unknown. Sadly, that game changed too much and it’s actually just worse. I think it’s more a reboot than a remake. Anyways, 2012 game even had a sequel.

But, regarding XCOM Terror from the Deep, there never has been other remake than OpenXCOM. To be honest, I don’t think there is need of other remake than that, unless they improve graphics without changing gameplay.

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Games like X-COM Terror From The Deep

XCOM concept&implementation of geoscape and battlescape is pretty unique, probably a subgenre on it’s own. It’s worth to note there are other XCOM-like games that could be tried:

  • UFO Enemy Unknown (1994). I already talked plenty of this. You should probably play it before XCOM TFTD, but it’s not so important and I just had to recommend TFTD because it’s just the best for me.
  • Xenonauts. It’s a new game from scratch, reuses same concepts of UFO Enemy Unknown with some minor improvements and changes. Nice looking graphics. It has a fan-made update called Xenonauts: Community Edition. Also, in 2019, it had a sequel.
  • UFO: Alien Invasion. This other game was made from scratch too but by fans. Again, mostly same UFO:EU concepts with newer graphics and some re-imagining.
  • XCOM Apocalypse. This is the 3rd official game of the XCOM franchise. After UFO and TFTD, fans were eager of a new title but this one has gone a rather weird route and it had many critics. It’s the same genre but it’s not same gameplay.

We could point to few tactical combat games that are really good:

  • Valkyria Chronicles (PS3/PC/PS4/Switch). Like XCOM, this strategy game innovated a lot. It mixes nice storytelling and anime-like graphics in a TBS game. The tactical battles are pausable realtime executed like a 3RD person shooter. It’s also a slightly hard game if you’re a perfectionist.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions. Probably, the best old-school turn based Tactical RPG. Very good tactical combat. The genre, tactical (strategy) RPG, is totally different to XCOM.
  • Fire Emblem saga. Another well known TRPG saga, released for Nintendo consoles.
  • Tactics Ogre. Same game concept as FFT and FE. Ogre Battle and its sequels formed another long time TRPG saga.
  • Master of Magic. This is other genre, a pure 4x strategy game, but it has two sides too: tactical combat with spell casting, 4x civilization like game.

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A lovecraftian world and tactical battles, what can go wrong? XCOM TFTD is a masterpiece among strategy (tactical) turn based games. A bit rough and hardcore, but totally amazing.

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