Hello everyone, today I want to talk about the strategic title par excellence. The game that has rewritten all the rules of the genre boasting many attempts at imitation and inspiration. Let’s talk about UFO: Enemy Unknown, a famous strategic game developed by Microprose and Julian Gollop studio, Mythos Games. The game was released back in 1994 and in America, it was marketed under the name of X-Com: Ufo Defense. Ufo was initially born as the spiritual successor of the previous game created by Julian Gollop, called Laser Squad but then became such an important game to completely obscure his predecessor.
But what made that Ufo: Enemy Unknown collect all this success? Surely the idea of merging 2 kinds of games into one. Overcoming the strategic elements of the 4x classics with turn-based battles phases. In fact, the game had two distinct views, namely the Geoscape and the Battlescape. In the Geoscape view we had to take care of the whole management phase, that is; build new rooms for our base, recruit soldiers, engineers and scientists, produce weapons and research for them and be ready to take down UFOs that appeared on our radar. Once a UFO was shot down, we had to investigate the crashing site by sending our soldiers and so began the battle phase, where our turn alternated with that of the enemy units. Once all the aliens were eliminated, they returned to the base to perform autopsies and find out more about the alien threat and develop new weapons.
I decided to create this list also to make a summary of all those titles that have “faithfully recreated” the mechanics of Ufo: Enemy Unknown and taking advantage of all the features that have made it famous, namely:
- Customization and growth of soldiers
- Research of new weapons, accessories
- Base development
- Turn-based battles
The various game titles are in release date order, starting from 1994 up to 2019. For each of them, you will find a video trailer, description and link to Humble Bundle store & Steam. If I missed some games, please write it in the comments and I will update the list.
UFO: Enemy Unknown (X-Com: Ufo Defense)
Release date: 1994
Developed by: Microprose & Mythos Games
In the game, we play as the commander of the underground organization called X-Com, responsible for protecting the planet from the recent and sudden alien threat. We will have to watch over the world and get the approval of all the governments that will finance us. With this funding, we will have to improve our base and strengthen our soldiers in order to be always one step ahead of the alien technologies. Definitely the starting point for those who want to get into this kind of games. Below you find the fantastic intro that anticipated the game menu.
- Command deadly close-combat battles
Shooting down UFOs is just the beginning: you must then lead a squad of heavily-armed soldiers across different terrains as they investigate the UFO crash site. Tackle the aliens with automatic rifles, rocket launchers, and even tanks in the struggle to retrieve useful technology, weapons or life forms.
- Research and manufacture alien technologies
Successful ground assault missions will allow X-COM scientists to analyze alien items. Each new breakthrough brings you a little closer to understanding the technology and culture of the alien races. Once you have sufficient research data on the UFO’s superior weapons and crafts, you’ll be able to manufacture weapons of equal capability.
- Develop a strategy to save the Earth
You must make every crucial decision as you combat the powerful alien forces. But you’ll also need to watch the world political situation: governments may be forced into secret pacts with the aliens and then begin to reduce X-COM funding.
X-COM: Terror from the Deep
Release date: 1 April 1995
Developed by: Microprose
The sequel to UFO: Enemy Unkown. New aliens and new technologies but with the same formula of success of the predecessor, but this time the threat comes from the abyss. Julian Gollop‘s studio didn’t work on it.
- Sequel to the hugely successful X-COM: UFO Defense
- Actual undersea geoscape mapping system with rich topographic detail
- Full array of undersea military technology
- Rich graphics feature water coloration and wrecks
- Multilevel tactical maps featuring both underseascapes and buildings
- Alien encyclopedia features mutation technology and new watery denizens
Release date: 15 July 1997
Developed by: Mythos Games & Microprose
Two years later there is the return of the Gollop brothers (Mythos Games) with a new game dedicated to the franchise, or X-Com: Apocalypse. The new chapter remains faithful to the structure of previous titles but with some differences. First of all the scene moves to a single city called Mega Primus, all events will take place there. In addition to the aliens, we will have to deal with other factions that reside in this mega city and will have their own agenda that may conflict with ours. Inside the city, we can move with motorcycles, airplanes, and cars. From time to time there will be openings in the sky that will make the alien spacecraft appear, which we will first have to take down and then eliminate. Even the combat phase presents a small novelty, in fact, it is the first game of the franchise that optionally allows you to face battles in real time with the ability to pause and give orders.
- Explosive third game from the highly successful and thrilling X-Com series, following X-COM: UFO Defense and X-COM: Terror from the Deep.
- Battle alien invasion fleets over the city of Mega Primus in real-time.
- Combat the alien infestation in real-time or turn-based tactical missions.
- Research alien-based technology. Create newer and more destructive weaponry.
- Destroy alien sympathizers and stem alien infiltration. Wage war on new worlds in the Alien Dimension.
Release date: 2003
Developed by: Altar Interactive
We are now leaving the Xcom franchise (but not entirely) to talk to you about UFO: Aftermath, a title that incorporates a never-completed Mythos Games project called The Dreamland Chronicles: Freedom Ridge. In this new game, we always find the two phases that characterize the games of this kind, the strategic and the tactical ones. We are on the planet earth that is now invaded by aliens and we will lead a small group of resistance that will have to free the planet by facing missions and conducting research to develop new armaments. The battles are in real time with the ability to put the game on hold and give orders. Battle maps are made with a 3d rolling view.
- Randomly generated tactical missions – each playing field will be unique meaning no two games are the same
- Intricate, rich and frightening alien setting displayed in full 3D
- Over 100 varied mission objectives
- 70 plus unique weapons
Release date: 2005
Developed by: Altar Interactive
The sequel of Aftermath. In this chapter we find ourselves catapulted to the flying haven of the Laputa 50 years after the events of the first title of the series. The mechanics are the same as the predecessor with new objects to discover and use to defeat the alien threat and with the addition of mechanics related to diplomacy.
- Intertwining global strategy and small scale tactical missions
- Strategic resource and base management
- Enhanced SAS (Simultaneous Action System) and RPG system in tactical play
- Fight your way through multi-level buildings, inside and out
- New amazing items and technologies to research and develop
- Radical new training and experience system
- New terrifying enemies and powerful allies
- Added diplomacy element
- New gripping storyline
- Interactive destructible environment
Release date: 2007
Developed by: Altar Games
The third game in the series that in the temporal order of the events recounted is placed at the same time as the second game. The story takes us to Mars and tells the story of a human colony that tries to survive at all costs while on Laputa the other war is fought. Same mechanics with novelties regarding weapons and armor and details on new alien threats.
Release date: May 2007
Developed by: Chaos Concept
A turn-based game developed by Chaos Concept that takes us on Esperanza, a planet colonized by humans, where suddenly an alien invasion explodes and we will have to drive the defenses of the planet. In Ufo Extraterrestrials there are all the elements that have made this kind of games famous. In fact, we will have a world map where we will check and see the UFOs to be taken down thanks to our interceptors. Then there is the management of the base and about 120 projects to be researched to unlock new infrastructures, objects, and armaments. The battles are turn-based and we can bring in battle in addition to the soldiers, even robots and tanks. Definitely a faithful tribute to UFO: Enemy Unknown. A few years later a gold version was released which adds and corrects several features of the original title.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Release date: 12 October 2012
Developed by: Firaxis Games
In 2012 comes the turn-based game that becomes a reference point, especially as regards the tactical part of the game thanks to an innovative covering system and above all thanks to his modern graphics. Developed by Firaxis Games and produced by 2k which holds the copyright of the X-COM franchise. In this new remake, we will take on the role of the commander of the XCOM project to cope with the alien invasion. Geoscape and battlescape are present and more in shape than ever before. Base management, research, weapons production, and a deep military customization system have made XCOM: Enemy Unknown one of the best turn-based strategists of recent years. What’s more, to enrich the whole, a year after was released the DLC Enemy Within, which adds many new features to the game, among all, the most interesting are; the possibility of making genetic modifications to our soldiers to improve precision, movement, resistance, etc, and the possibility of building mechanized exoskeletons for our units.
- Strategy Evolved: XCOM: Enemy Unknown couples tactical turn-based gameplay with incredible action sequences and on-the-ground combat.
- Strategic Base: Recruit, customize and grow unique soldiers and manage your personnel. Detect and intercept the alien threat as you build and expand your XCOM headquarters.
- Tactical Combat: Direct soldier squads in turn-based ground battles and deploy air units such as the Interceptor and Skyranger.
- Worldwide Threat: Combat spans the globe as the XCOM team engages in over 70 unique missions, interacting and negotiating with governments around the world.
Release date: 16 June 2014
Developed by: Goldhawk Interactive
Another turn-based science fiction inspired by the glorious UFO: Enemy Unknown. In the game, we will dress as a secret organization called precisely Xenonauts, formed by governments around the world to counter a sudden alien threat. In this title, we find all the elements that have distinguished the genre, with some peculiarities, such as the ability to shoot down UFO using up to 3 fighters, the presence of friends NPC during the battles and different objectives of victory not limited to the simple “eliminates all aliens ”
- Ground Combat: Xenonauts delivers tense turn-based combat across realistic, varied and fully-destructible battlefields, against almost fifty different variants of enemies. Missions range from capturing crashed UFOs or alien bases to defending cities (or even Xenonaut facilities) against alien attack. You’ll experience the chill of encountering a new alien for the first time and the joys of test-firing a new weapon for the first time. Deeply asymmetric combat keeps the battles interesting – after all, you’re fighting intergalactic invaders with 1970’s ballistic technology!
- Strategic Management: You will also be managing the defense of the planet, dealing with the invading alien UFOs with your customizable interceptors. You need to balance the needs of your funding nations with your own. Your funds are limited customizable to spend them on battlefield equipment, more scientists, or expanding your coverage of the planet? Your priorities must be balanced carefully if you are to win the war.
- Research Tree: Xenonauts has an extensive research tree with almost a hundred projects to unlock, each with its own unique description and painted artwork. It slowly reveals the intentions and origins of the invaders, while also unlocking new battlefield equipment, aircraft, and vehicles for you to use as you harness alien technology and turn it against them.
- Persistent Soldiers: Soldiers in Xenonauts are persistent from mission to mission, improving their stats and gaining ranks with combat experience – but their deaths are always only a single bad move away. You will grow to care about the brave men and women under your command as they slowly grow from green rookies into hardened veterans, but that only makes it more painful when their heroic tale is cruelly cut short by a burst of plasma fire…
- Detailed, Emergent Simulation: Xenonauts contains no scripted missions, just broad rules setting the pace of the invasion. As such, no game plays out the same twice. If you shoot a Scout UFO down over a polar area, you get a Crash Site mission where you can capture a crashed Scout UFO in an Arctic tileset. Commence a battle at night and you’ll be fighting the mission in the darkness with reduced sight range. If your base is attacked, you fight the defense in a perfect replica of your base. A lot of time has gone into weaving the two very different halves of the game together into something that feels both natural and enjoyable.
Release date: 5 February 2016
Developed by: Firaxis Games
In this sequel, it was hypothesized that the battle of the first game was lost and the earth was subjugated to the alien invaders. The XCOM project, after being abandoned by world leaders, has become nothing more than a small resistance force. Although in a slightly different form, ie with a mobile base (Avenger) that allows us to move around the globe to accept missions, create a network of contacts and pull down alien bases. in XCOM 2 we still find all the elements of this kind. We’ll have to deal with ADVENT soldiers and new alien threats to find out what’s behind the AVATAR project.
Some important innovations come from the combat system, in fact, many missions will start with our hidden soldiers and until we open fire or we will be spotted by enemies we can move more freely on the combat map and put ourselves in position to make devastating assaults.
XCOM 2 has enjoyed several DLCs that have added elements and features within the game, but the most substantial and important of all is definitely WAR OF THE CHOSEN released in August 2017. With this DLC were added new factions with new enlisting classes, The Chosen, 3 powerful aliens who will hunt us by appearing in the midst of our missions and other alien enemy units. The factions and new enemies bring with them new game mechanics and new types of missions.
- XCOM ON THE RUN: Take command of the Avenger, an alien supply craft converted to XCOM’s mobile headquarters. New open-ended gameplay lets you decide where to guide your strike team, how to grow popular support, and when to combat enemy counter-operations.
- RECRUIT RESISTANCE FIGHTERS: Five soldier classes, each with its own skill tree, let you create specific soldiers for your tactical plan.
- TACTICAL GUERRILLA COMBAT: New gameplay systems offer more tactical flexibility in combat. Use concealment to ambush enemy patrols. Loot enemies for precious gear and artifacts. Rescue VIPs and save fallen comrades by carrying them to the extraction point.
- A NEW BREED OF ENEMY: A diverse cast of enemies from powerful new alien species to the ADVENT, enforcers of the alien regime, offer a distinct tactical challenge.
- RESEARCH, DEVELOP AND UPGRADE: Configure and build rooms on the Avenger to give XCOM new capabilities on the battlefield. Use your Scientists and Engineers to research, develop and upgrade weapons and armor to fit your preferred tactics.
- EACH MISSION IS A UNIQUE CHALLENGE: Go on missions around the world, from wildlands to the heart of the alien-controlled megacities, to the depths of alien installations. There are virtually infinite combinations of maps, missions and goals.
- ENGAGE IN HEAD-TO-HEAD MULTIPLAYER: Mix-and-match squads of humans and aliens and battle head-to-head on randomly-generated maps.
Release date: Coming in 2019
Developed by: Goldhawk Interactive
After the success of the first title, and after a positive campaign Kickstarter Goldhawk Interactive is close to the release of Xenonauts 2. Compared to the predecessor we will find clearly improved graphics, a deeper story, agents that can perform spy actions in various nations, psionic skills and more. Here is the Kickstarter campaign for Xenonauts 2.
- Ground Combat: Experience tense turn-based combat across varied and fully-destructible battlefields against a multitude of different alien species. Missions include everything from capturing crashed UFOs and alien bases to defending cities (or even Xenonaut facilities) against alien attack!
- Strategic Management: Manage the defense of the planet on the strategy layer, balancing the needs of your funding nations with your own. Your funds are limited – are you going to spend them on new combat equipment, more scientists for the research effort, or expanding defense interceptor squadrons?
- Research Tree: Harness the alien technology and turn it against them! Explore an extensive research tree that unlocks upgrades and equipment for your soldiers and interceptors, whilst also slowly revealing the intentions and origins of the invaders.
- Persistent Soldiers: Your soldiers gain rank and improve their abilities from mission to mission – assuming you can keep them alive!
- Emergent Simulation: Missions are not pre-scripted but are based on your actions; e.g. shoot down a Scout UFO over the Arctic and you will get a mission to capture a crashed Scout UFO in the polar tileset. Launch a mission at night-time and you will be fighting with reduced sight range in the darkness. The game never plays out the same way twice!
Release date: June 2019
Developed by: Snapshot Games
The Julian Gollop return with his new studio and a new IP. Phoenix Point, a turn-based strategy faithful to the mechanics of its UFO: Enemy Unknown, aims to be the biggest and deepest ever. The game put us in command of the Phoenix project, which has the intent to investigate the Pandoravirus that has infected marine creatures giving it the ability to mutate and rise to the surface.
With a successful Kickstarter campaign, Phoenix Point is accessible in an Early Access version that gives us the chance to test the battle phase and some of the Geoscape mechanics.
- A mutating alien threat.
- Turn-based, squad-based battles.
- The Geoscape is reborn. Intricate and challenging boss battles.
- Deep and extensive soldier development and customization.
- A vast array of weapons and equipment.
- Procedural, destructible environments.
- Turn-base dynamic missions.
Ufo 2 Extraterrestrials: Battle for Mercury
Release date: Coming probably in 2019
Developed by: Goldhawk Interactive
The second game of the series by the Chaos Concept currently under development and already postponed several times. Many new features and improved graphics. Also on the official site, we read that in addition to the development of Battle for Mercury, there is also Shadow over Earth that should add to the title the ability to change the limbs of our soldiers to enhance them and give them tactical advantages in battle a bit as it happens in XCOM Enemy Within.
- A fully 3D game combining real-time global strategy & air combat with turn-based tactical missions
- A turn-based “I-Go-You-Go“ tactical squad-based game system
- Interactive environments with destructible terrain
- A large number of technologies, weapons, and combat units to develop
- A large number of aliens to interrogate Strong RPG elements where soldiers’ stats improve with experience
- Dynamic lighting for intense fire-fights
- Final Gameplay design and balance tweaks by the author of the popular original UFO: ET Bman Ease of Use Mod
I did not list some modded versions of the games presented above, such as OpenXcom (the modded version of Ufo: Enemy Unknown) or the Long war and Long war 2 respectively of XCOM and XCOM 2 (created by Pavonis Interactive, the mods in question change deeply many elements of the original titles) and therefore deserve at least a mention.
In the meantime, you can take a look at these lists, to discover some interesting turn-based games.