X-COM: UFO Defense

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X-COM: UFO Defense
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Developer(s) Microprose
Publisher(s) Microprose
Release date(s) December 31, 1993 (MS-DOS), October 25, 1995 (PlayStation)
Genre Strategy
Mode(s) Single player
Rating(s) ESRB: K-A ("Kids to Adults"), ELSPA: 15+
Platform(s) Amiga, DOS, PlayStation, Windows

X-COM: UFO Defense (called UFO: Enemy Unknown outside North America) is a video game created by Microprose Software. It is the first game in the X-COM series.



In 1998, reports of UFO sightings began to increase dramatically. Tales of abduction and terrorism by the unknown aliens became widespread. The nations of the world came to perceive this as a threat and attempted to form their own forces to deal with this, such as Japan's Kiryu-Kai; but the forces failed miserably (the Kiryu-Kai did not intercept a single UFO in its month of operation). On December 11, 1998, representatives from some of the most powerful nations in the world met in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss the issue. From this meeting was born the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit—X-COM.

On January 1 1999, X-COM's first base became operational, beginning what would later become known as the First Alien War - a period of time lasting three years. Hundreds of UFOs were intercepted, but forces sent to clean up the crash sites took heavy casualties. Major cities came under attack by the alien forces, and at one point the alien forces even began establishing bases on Earth itself. From the crash sites, however, valuable knowledge and technology was discovered. Aliens from several distinct races were captured and interrogated; technology was reverse-engineered and put to use by X-COM forces.

In 2002, the major breakthrough came—an interrogation revealed the alien's forces were based in Cydonia, on Mars. A heavily armed and armored strike force was sent to Mars in X-COM's Avenger craft (based on alien technology) and managed to destroy the alien brain creature that was apparently responsible for masterminding the entire operation. Shortly before the Cydonia base was destroyed, however, a mysterious transmission was beamed back to Earth from the wreckage of the base...

Single-player gameplay

From the main game screen, the player has the choice of starting a new game, loading a previously saved game, or quitting. If the player chooses to start a new game, they choose one of five levels of difficulty, following which the game proper begins.

Gameplay starts on January 1, 1999, with the player choosing a location for their first base on the Geoscape screen. The Geoscape screen is a representation of the world, which displays X-COM bases and craft, UFOs, alien bases, and sites of alien activity (alien terror sites). The player can choose from here to deploy X-COM craft to either patrol designated locations, intercept UFOs, or land at a UFO crash site, landed UFO, alien terror site, alien base, or (when research allows) the alien's main base. They may also choose to view one of several statistics screens, load or save the game, or quit the game.

Clicking on a base on the Geoscape screen takes the player to the base screen. From here, the player can purchase weapons and other equipment, recruit soldiers, scientists, or engineers, build expansions to the base, build new bases (up to eight in total may be complete), and organise research and production.

Funding for the above is provided by the ten founding nations of X-COM. At the end of each month, a funding report is provided, where nations can choose to increase or decrease their level of funding based on their perceived progress of the X-COM project. Alternatively a nation can sign a pact with the aliens which results in withdrawal of all funding by that nation to the X-COM project.

When a craft is sent to land at a UFO crash site, landed UFO, or alien terror site, the game shifts to a tactical phase known as the Battlescape. Here the player commands their soldiers against the alien forces in an isometric turn-based battle sequence. One of three outcomes is possible in this phase: either the X-COM forces are eliminated, the alien forces are eliminated, or the player chooses to withdraw. These battles lead to recovery of alien artefacts which can then be researched and possibly produced at the X-COM bases, and can also lead to the recovery of live aliens which may then be assigned as a research project to produce information, possibly leading to new technology.

The game may end in several ways. If the player's performance (as judged by the founding nations) is poor for two consecutive months, or the player runs a defecit for two consecutive months, or all of the founding nations sign pacts with the aliens, the game ends in defeat. If the player mounts an assault on the alien's primary base and loses, the game ends in defeat. If, however, the player is victorious in the final assault, the game ends in victory.

Game internals

A heavy weapons platform (HWP) is the general name for several military vehicles used in the game. HWPs are considered very useful: they usually have superior firepower to that of regular soldiers, and are less prone to enemy fire. However, they cannot improve as the game progresses. They can only be replaced by superior craft. Later in the game the player can research Hovertanks, which can fly above the terrain.

Types of HWPs include :

  • Tank/Cannon
  • Tank/Rocket Launcher
  • Tank/Laser
  • Hovertank/Plasma
  • Hovertank/Blaster Launcher

There are eleven different alien races in the game:

Some aliens may have a rank/title, the possibilities are Soldiers, Medics, Navigators, Engineers, Leaders or Commanders. Researching each of these leads to different information.

Technical details

As was common with other games in the time period, UFO Defense makes use of VGA graphics and Sound Blaster-compatible sound effects. It was also one of the first games to be released on CD-ROM.

For the PC, the game required an Intel 386 (20 MHz) or better, 2MB of RAM, 3.5 inch floppy drive or a CD-ROM drive, a keyboard, and a mouse. A 486 with 4MB of RAM and a sound card were recommended.

The Amiga AGA version of the game featured higher resolution graphics and (arguably) better music than previous versions.


No expansion packs were created for UFO Defense, but several sequels were created. X-COM: Terror from the Deep and X-COM: Apocalypse are the two direct successors, maintaining the same style of gameplay. X-COM: Interceptor is a flight simulator set in deep space. X-COM: Enforcer is a first-person shooter which is loosely releated to the rest of the series. X-COM: Genesis, planned to be the rebirth of the strategic roots of the series, was started in 1999, but cancelled by Hasbro Interactive later that year.

Other information

Though the premise of this game was simple, it was executed exceptionally well and the game became popular among strategy and war game fans, for reasons such as the excellent squad-based tactical interface, the combination of tactical and strategic elements and the ability to discover and create new weapons and other items. By researching the alien items recovered following combat missions, much better equipment can be built to combat the alien threat.

A final reason for the game's success is the creepy atmosphere the game evoked. Soldiers are fragile with or without armor, and the use of line of sight allows alien snipers and ambushes. Aliens strike both in day and at night, forcing nighttime battles with scurrying figures unknown in the darkness. UFO mythology was used well in small touches like adding mutilated cattle on the operating tables of landed UFOs and naming a new, mystical element "Elerium." Elerium was based on "Element 115," which Bob Lazar claimed was used as fuel by UFOs stored at Area 51. The enemy comes in numerous shapes and forms, and players run into new, deadly aliens repeatedly without knowledge of their capabilities.

Unofficial game editing software is available allowing players to change the qualities of weapons and equipment, and to change the standard maps and layouts of UFO's that were provided with the game. Such editors and patches greatly extend the replayability of the game.

See also

External links


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