There is much praising to be done, for UFO: Enemy Unknown is available on Steam for $5 (or with the rest of the XCom games for $15, with 10% off for the first week which slightly offsets the VAT). Much passing of ammunition is also needed, for some of those aliens are tough buggers.
UFO: Enemy Unknown (or X-COM: UFO Defense, if you want to be all American about it) is just fantastic. Fifteen years later it’s still got it; finishing Audiosurf last night after “just one song” (and then another, and then…), the Steam news box popped up with the aforementioned offer, and even though I’ve got four of the five games somewhere (the three “proper” games, and I picked up Interceptor for about 99p in a bargain bin somewhere, played it about twice, never did bother with Enforcer), at that price it seemed rude not to grab ’em. I guess it’s a sign you’re getting older and value time more than money when it’s easier to shell out a tenner than to go hunting around dusty piles of old game CDs. I fired up UFO just to see how it looked (surprisingly good, I thought), then while I was there I figured I might as well allocate a bit of research, and then this UFO turned up so I sent out an interceptor, and, well, might as well go and investigate the crash site…
UFO has a slightly warped difficulty curve. Have you ever watched the old Doctor Who serials, when fearsome alien threats would be confronted by the brave lads of UNIT armed with rifles, the Brigadier would order “five rounds rapid”, bullets would have absolutely no effect on the Ogron/Cyberman/Dalek/Shambling-plant-thing/Plastic-death-beast, and the poor old UNIT chaps would be exterminated/vaporised/heat-ray-ed in short order? That’s the template for early UFO missions. You dispatch your brave lads (and lasses, no discrimination in the workplace of certain death here) kitted out in the finest protective armour the earth has to offer (beige nylon jumpsuits) with the most potent weaponry (the contents of the cutlery draw from the base canteen, plus a couple of rocks to chuck) against space aliens from planet alien space, resistant to just about anything short of a rocket to the head. Even though your team are the most elite soldiers earth has to offer (or possibly some bums who wandered in off the street, it’s hard to tell), they have an average of a 7% chance to hit anything smaller than a barn door more than ten paces away, while the pinpoint accurate aliens pick them off half way across the map with insta-kill weapons. Being turn based, it needs a bit of strategy; on early missions, I’d merrily send everyone roaming across the map without bothering to save enough action points to react during the alien turns, then watch helpless as they were shot, poked, eaten and generally had a pretty bad time of things. Learning from my mistakes, I’d form up a tight phalanx, a bristling hedgehog of firepower ready to meet threats from any direction, until a previously unseen alien lofted a plasma grenade into the middle of everyone and wiped out the whole squad. Once you played a bit, though, the options opened up; kitting out troops as grenadiers (and keeping them well away from the rest of the squad to avoid the fun of arming a grenade one turn, then that soldier getting shot and the live grenade rolling out of his twitching fingers…), the fearsome rocket launchers (avoid trouble with aiming by using a weapon with a massive blast radius! Only really effective when the aliens were standing near walls, though, in open ground the rockets tended to just fly past, off into the nearest town to take out a few civilians you were supposed to be protecting.) House clearing could be especially dangerous, stepping through a doorway behind which aliens could be lurking, but destructible scenery meant a high explosive makeover could create a really lovely open-plan living area. Or dying area, as the case may be. Armed with such techniques, your surviving soldiers would improve between missions, your scientists researched new and devastating technologies, and (with enough reloading of saved games) by the end the roles were almost reversed as you sent out armoured hover-tanks to scout the battlefield while your heavily armoured squad hid behind stuff using mind control powers, lofting multi-waypoint smart bombs and giggling.
So much other great stuff in the game, base building (including the possibility of aliens landing and invading, fighting it out on maps of the very bases you built), storming alien ships, (REALLY OLD SPOILER WARNING!) tracking the threat back to Mars… A truly worthy Best Top 10 PC Game In The World Of All Time Ever. Buy it now! Though if you’ve never played it before, it might take a bit of getting used to.