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It's 2AM Already?

Posted 10-13-2008 at 01:27 PM by VorpalBunny
Before the days of grind before you waffle and pass out, I had two games that would basically kill my weekend without mercy. Civilization and X-Com. To me, this was worse than vodka and Red Bull mixed together, because it made my free time disappear like a fresh tray of lobster at a Chinese buffet on a Saturday night. Both of these games are hideously addicting, and if I didn't completely master them, I would likely still be playing them. They had a bit of a learning curve, but when the ways of building cities, bases, and elite soldiers were mastered, there was no walking away.

Civilization had at least 4 direct sequels, including the Alpha Centauri spinoffs, numerous clones, and Ikariam, which is as close as you can get to an MMO version of the game. The game centers around you, as a ruler of a civilization, who must conquer the world by force or by technological might, as you compete with other civilizations also trying to make their mark on the world. I still consider the first one to be the best, but only because the crooked balance issues made it more interesting. Nothing delivered quite the same thrill as having your cavalry unit visiting one of the random huts scattered throughout the world and discovering an advanced tribe, which gives you another city and really helps early on. Cornering that elusive barbarian leader later on in the game with a tank and collecting a large ransom on his oily hide never felt as good as it did in the later games either.

The same could be said of the X-Com games. It also had a ton of sequels and spinoffs, but I still consider the first one to be the best. In this game, you were commander of a multi-national task force... that fights against an unknown alien menace. This involved building bases, researching technology, shooting down UFOs, and of course, saving the world against little green men. Graphically speaking, it was an amazing game for it's time. It had a great opening that looked like it came out of a Saturday morning cartoon, and all the menus, base facilities, and cities looked nice and detailed for it's time. The turn-based combat had you in control of a squad of soldiers, and really captured a sense of fear. During terror missions, when you had to rescue a city from an alien menace, there were civilians involved, and when the screen went dark during the alien movement, you would often hear screams of people dying and have no idea of where they were.

The worst ones involved the snakemen, who had terror units called chyrssalids following them around. During the first turn, they would always infect a few people and turn them into zombies, before their skin falls off and becomes one of them. Worse still, they could run across several screens and take a lot of hits before dying. Having an army of them crawl across a populated city after dark was terrifying. You had no idea how many you were up against, line of sight and accuracy were reduced at night, and every scream during the enemy turn could possibly mean another one of those freaks were now after you. You could only hope that the snakemen got to them first. That said, the sequels and spinoffs never really captured the magic the first game had. The third in the series, X-Com: Apocalypse, came close, but it just wasn't the same.

The good news is all of the games are now available and playable on Steam, and the original game developers are still making spinoffs. Rebelstar: Tactical Command for the GBA is basically a squad-level version of the game. You don't get to hire troops and build bases, but it's decent in it's own right. Also available on PC is Laser Squad Nemesis, a tactical turn based game which still has a small online following. It's good to see these two franchises still alive and kicking; when stuck on assignment in some isolated town during the weekend, it's nice to have one of these games around and kill time when I really need to.

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