« UFO, Enemy Unknown » and insomnias.

There are games which mark you.

Title : X-COM : Ufo Defense (or Ufo : Enemy Unknown in europe).

Genre : Strategy.

Date : 1993.

Editor : Microprose.

This one landed at my home in 1995, a little time after my first PC. It was an enormous shock. The invasion of the small grey men coincided with a television series which we followed regularly with my group of friends: “X Files”. The theme was fashionable 😀

Being in student residence the week, I spent my weekend almost complete there. I also remember it because we played with friends (in “hot seat” mode), around “drinks of cola”, small cakes, even pizzas! Lots of good memories 🙂


To part be the reference quoted by almost all the amateurs of turn by turn games of this period… What X-COM?


On the basis it’s a strategy game designed by the Gollop brothers. The player is put at the head of a multinational organization, X-COM (eXtraterrestrial COMbat unit), to counter an extraterrestrial invasion. This one is financed by the various states depending on the results.

X-COM - Titre

X-COM – Title

The game associates a phase of real time (Geoscape), a phase of management (Base) and a phase of tactical intervention in turn by turn mode (Battlescape). The management of the soldiers have a back taste of role playing game (statistics and progress).

X-COM - Geoscape

The Geoscape part allows essentially to advance the time between two actions which consist of the arrival of staff and equipment in one of the bases, the outcome of a research or a production, even the detection of an UFO!

X-COM - Base

X-COM – Base

Bases are the nerve centers of the fight against the invaders. They serve as center of detection (radars to spot vessels), of operational bases (sheds for interceptors or transport), of training centers (soldiers), research and production. Additionally, they can be attacked 😉

X-COM - Recherche

X-COM – Research

The research is one of the sinews of war. The main thread of the game is to study and to assimilate the extraterrestrial technology, to learn to use it and to develop solutions to put an end to the invasion. To assimilate in next to no time a superior technology… They are too strong these human beings 😉

X-COM - Interception

X-COM – Interception

Once an UFO was detected, it’s necessary to intercept it. Sometimes a formality, sometimes impossible… Everything depends on the size of the UFO, the interceptors models and the available eapon technology. We attend then a track race on the globe…

X-COM - Tactique - Debarquement

X-COM – Tactical – Landing

When a UFO is shot down, or if one landed to accomplish a mission, it’s necessary to send a carrier with an intervention team to get back of the equipment, the technology, the extraterrestrials or still protect the population (Terror). The landing is always a delicate moment because you never see the surrounding ground…

X-COM - Tactique

X-COM – Tactical

Gone down from the carrier, it is necessary to deploy, find the extraterrestrials and neutralize them before they can respond. The tactical part takes place in turn by turn mode. The player moves his troops according to a principle of action points. Then it’s the turn of extraterrestrials… And so on.

The lines of sight (orientation of the soldiers) play an essential role. Exploration, shooting, explosions… It’s necessary to reach the goal: protect the civilians (Terror) or neutralize all the extraterrestrials. Folds is possible almost always…

X-COM - Tactique - Destruction

X-COM – Tactical – Destruction

One of the big strengths of this game are the destructible grounds… Almost everything can be destroyed, burnt… It is practical to get free of lines of sight towards a target. On the other hand, you are never really shielded from an explosion…

X-COM - Tactique - UFO

X-COM – Tactical – UFO

When it comes to capture an UFO, a delicate moment is the entrance to the vessel… It is very often the ideal opportunity for an ambush 😉


Altogether, the game consists of a multitude of balances: incomes (monthly balance assessment of efficiency) in front of maintenance cost, radar cover with regard to the target zones of the invaders, the level of research with regard to the level of the extraterrestrials (over time they become more and more powerful, bigger and bigger UFO), management of the space of storage and the supply, capacity of the carriers, etc.

The big strength of the game is in the Tactical part. Even with a good equipment, an intervention can turn to the disaster (ha the blaster blow or the inconvenient mental control). The tactical possibilities are infinite: choice of the equipment, the destruction of the ground, the lines of sights, mutual covers, explosives with delay… The tension is always present.

The game is not without weaknesses: it is necessary to re-configure the equipment of his soldiers in every mission, the configuration of planes X-COM would have been able to be more detailed, is lacking intermediate equipment between the equipment of departure, that of the extraterrestrials and the ultimate armament…

But globally, all the old players have anecdotes to be told on their games… As an isolated extraterrestrial chased away only having completely shaved a floor of a building… “Failed” shootings which hit the bull’s eye on another not visible target (the importance of certain noises in this game)… Or a shooting of the last chance made a success on a target at the other end of the map 😀



X-COM is a fascinating game, globally balanced well (except toward the end, and still), by the kind which captivates you until the next event: another last research… Another last UFO… Who allows you to move forward… And another last one… To find you to go to sleep at two or three o’clock in the morning 😉

Fortunately, I had no PC in the student residence 😀


See you soon for new adventures!


About Sylvain Bories

Software Developer (.Net, C#) and hobbyist game programmer (Unity 3d, DirectX). Interested in Technology, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Ecology and Fencing.

Posted on October 2, 2011, in Game, Strategy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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