Pocket UFO (SMK Software) Review | RGCD - Everygamegoing


Pocket UFO
By Smk Software
Pocket PC

Published in RGCD #1

UFO: Enemy Unknown available for Pocket PC - a flawed masterpiece.

Pocket UFO

Before I start, I have to admit that this review is likely to be highly biased as the original game on which Pocket UFO is based (Microprose's X-COM: UFO Defense or UFO: Enemy Unknown - depending on which side of the Atlantic you call home) is my all-time favourite game. I spent more hours playing this on my old Amiga than any other game, and I still can't quite get my head around the fact that I can now play the same sci-fi strategy epic on my mobile phone.

It also has to be said early in this review that Pocket UFO is not the most accessible of games - in fact, considering how many hours a typical game takes to play (and we are talking *days* here), the mobile phone is far from the perfect platform for a remake of this classic. However, for fans of the original (who already know their way around this complex game), being able to play a truly portable version of UFO is a real bonus, although admittedly it'll probably result in me severely damaging my eyesight due to squinting at my PDA's tiny screen for hours on end.

The game is based in the near future (which is actually now the past - 1999 - bonus retro points already!), in which the world's governments have united to thwart the growing UFO epidemic sweeping across the globe. Initially provided with a secret Area-51 inspired underground military base and a small team of soldiers, scientists and engineers, you will have to defend cities from alien terror attacks, capture, research and manufacture alien artefacts, combat UFO's both in the air and on the ground, and ultimately discover and destroy the source of the invasion.

The game is essentially broken down into three different sections. First of all is the 'Geoscape', a tactical map of the world from which you intercept UFO's that are within your radar range, send troops out to defend attacked cities and select sites for building new XCOM bases. Secondly is the base building/resource management side of the game, where you design the layout and choose the facilities to build at each base, as well as manage troops, research, manufacture and funding. To win the game, this is the area where you really need to make the best decisions. Then finally there is the 'Battlescape', a randomly generated and totally destructible isometric 3D battlefield where the actual ground combat takes place.

This last main element of the game is where the player will be spending most of their time. Although it may seem dated by today's standards, the turn-based squad combat in UFO is wholly engrossing and the aliens are challenging adversaries to beat. The ground battles take place at UFO landing/crash sites over a variety of different terrain types including rural, city, desert, polar and jungle, each with their own unique tile sets, and as each battle is randomly generated the player is provided with a fresh challenge every time. The game-play is highly strategic and to beat the game you'll need to master the tactics of ground combat in order to succeed in infiltrating the alien bases on (and off) our planet.

These elements when pieced together result in an enjoyable, cohesive and incredibly addictive product. Everything about UFO has been well thought-out and executed, from the ground combat battles to the technology research trees, and although the game is initially difficult (you will lose a *lot* of games when starting out) it is always fair and the player genuinely learns from their mistakes.

As for the remake itself, SMK Software has done an amazing job porting the game to the mobile phone platform. Although the current build (1.25) is quite buggy, it is still wholly playable and shows a lot of promise for the future. However, some of the bugs do affect game play dramatically - as an example, the grenade timer doesn't work, which means that you'll have to play the game solely reliant on projectile explosives instead. Also, there are a lot of spelling errors (due English being the development team's second language), but hopefully these problems (and others) will be resolved in the next release.

As it stands, Pocket UFO is essentially a flawed masterpiece - hence the low game-play score. This is definitely one to look out for (especially for fans of the original), but with no timescale set for the next release it may be a while before all the bugs are ironed out.

Note that there is also a Windows version of Pocket UFO for use on your desktop PC.

James Monkman