I really enjoyed taking a look at UFO Online a few years ago at E3, but the game has been stuck in what seems to be that standard gamigo tunnel of time, where games go to be semi-released. What do you get when you start playing? Well, if turn-based, squad-based combat is your idea of a good time (mixed with doses of factional control), then you will enjoy the game.
Unfortunately it's still a bit rough around the edges and could really use a pass with the text and control brushes, but I'll cover that in a minute. First, let's talk about why folks enjoy squad-based gaming so much.
The fun thing about a game like UFO Online is that it can be played to the finest detail, meaning that players can tweak every single squad member as much as they want. Each member of your team can be outfitted with different weapons, armor, ammo, and other helpful add-ons, and skills can be trained and leveled up through an interesting, triangular skill tree. So have at it, min-maxers; you just might find yourself stretching toward perfection.
On the other hand (and this is where I come in), the game can be played as casually and as sloppily as a pig after a rainstorm. I just threw together a rag-tag crew of random characters and tossed them into battle. At first I struggled simply because I used up those first moments of a training period figuring out roughly how the enemy AI worked. After a while, I utilized the simple "wait, and they will come" strategy that had me park my squad somewhere relatively safe but with a good line-of-sight. As I stood there, waiting, the dingbat enemy would roll right into my trap and I would mow them down before they ever did much damage.
As many of you might know, this strategy works for only so long. All that needs to happen is a charging enemy, one that can rush into the ranks of my men and women and cause immediate confusion. Sure, I could use some of my tougher squad members as meat shields to prevent much of this unfortunate battlefield tactic, but I did not want to leave my soldiers out in the open for long. Some of the enemy's weapons were simply deadly.
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So I tried to sneak a bit, then tried a few flanking maneuvers. Overall my performance went up, but the path was perilous. I came back with several dead squad members much of the time, even though they were soon healed and OKed for battle once again. As I mentioned, players who cannot stomach anything under perfect performance might not like my style of play, but I like suffering first and learning after. When I play a game like UFO Online, I don't want to read up on a wiki or peek at some YouTube videos just to figure out the easiest way to do the most damage. I want to fail, a lot, yet not become frustrated. I learned how important ammo and AP (action point) management was thanks to running out of ammo and becoming too tired to move on the battlefield. I also had to consider line-of-sight and even hearing the enemy.
That's where UFO Online is strong: its ability to treat someone like me with semi-kid gloves. I never really felt as though I sucked or was being punished. I had fun, learned some tactics, and leveled my characters, even though I didn't perform at the top of the class.
I eventually tried my hand at multiplayer world-domination gameplay, but the community seemed pretty dead. Most of my matches (when I would click on a region of the world that was controlled by the enemy faction) ended up feeling sorry for me and saying quite literally, "It looks like no one else came to the fight... here's 10 faction points for showing up." I even got the war-time participation badge. Pathetic? Possibly, but the matches I was able to join were so much more interesting than a PvE match, thanks to the tactics my enemy used. I'm not above stealing ideas from the soldiers on the other side. I was drawn into many traps as well, and I took notes on how those traps were set. I also learned how to manage team loadouts and -- again -- how important ammo is!
I often forgot about the multiplayer section because I was enjoying the standard game too much. While that's not a good thing for an MMO-ish type of game, it's still a good sign for browser-based gaming and its ever-increasing share of the market. UFO Online looks great, other than a few hideous character models; the camera is annoying as heck due to a lack of precise controls. Some players might have issues with the cash-shop model, but I found myself enjoying the title when I played it casually with several matches or missions per day and a level here and there. I can only imagine that grinding out missions in the game would quickly become tiring because many of the single-player ones tend to repeat goals. The enemy acts a bit predictably, as well.
It's a shame that UFO Online doesn't seem to want me to play multiplayer matches that much. I saw some action, but overall it felt like the multiplayer was not that active. Ironically, I have a feeling that there are sections of players who would laugh at that notion, but I am only reporting on what I experienced during this week of play. It should be noted that the international (emphasis on German) community was more active during my early morning hours.
If you like turn-based games and a casual atmosphere, you'll probably like UFO Online. If you're looking for something that has a lot more depth to it, you might have to go for something else.
Next week I will be looking at City of Steam, finally. It's a fantastic-looking browser-based game that has already charmed me. I'll be streaming the game live on Monday, the 2nd of September, at 5:00 p.m. EDT, right here on our livestream channel!
Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!