So, as an addition to the last post, I've been playing a bit of UFO:EU again to compare with my recent recursion to Syndicate Wars.
This in itself is not unusual, I frequently get the old UFO bug again and fall back into it every few years, like the Silmarillion. But in light of some of my recent comments about it, and about save games, I've developed some more thoughts.
Firstly, I tried playing the game, from the start, without saving and loading. It was impossible. Even playing 'perfectly' - saving time units for aimed shot, meaning walking forwards at a snails pace - does not guarantee your troops survival. A shot from a hiding alien can come out of literally no-where, from your first step in a mission, and your defenceless grunt falls over nine times out of ten. First mission: 5/8 made it back. The fallen were replaced, but second mission, all were dead in a few turns. So I started trying to judiciously save before each mission, and loading only if it all went wrong, but before long, I was saving every time I made a good move, and loading every time a troop was iced. It's just the only way I can get through the game, especially early night-time terror missions. It's like having infinite free re-rolls, and to be honest, breaks the game, because it becomes a dream walk-through.
This changes considerably after you research the heavy plasma gun. I clearly remember the first play through with my brother, or atleast the first one after we'd got the hang of it. The game starts with only primitive, 20th century tech available. We dilligently worked our way through all the research topics that were presented to us, through all the iterations of laser weapons before looking into the items recovered from excursions. By the end of the game, we had everyone equipped with the heavy plasma gun, met mere weeks into the game. Now, I know better; skip everything, head straight for that weapon. It's now 2 months in, and already my squad are unstoppable. the time cost is lower and the power and accuracy way up, meaning you can stroll forwad while carrying it and still have time for an aimed shot, which now almost certainly hits and kills. my lot, with barely four missions experience, are picking off sectoids ss soon as they see them. I know it'll get harder again, but still.
But stiller, UFO is not a game you can win in the battles. You can try, but eventually you will be overrun. The whole thing is about winning the battles but losing the war; each mission won merely puts off the inevitable defeat of earth for another day. I preferred playing it when I didn't know what to do. It's a great game to dick around in, to be directionless in, because even when you've got no idea of how to progress, there's still the day to day running of your organisation to do.
The story is completely simplistic, but I think that's an inevitable consequence of having such a free-form, replayable, game structure. Not that it's inevitable for a computer game to have a simple story; for instance, an RPG like Torment's replay value comes from the fact that any one play through will only show about a quarter of the story. But a linear plotted game like, say, a classic Lucasarts graphic adventure, has less replay value, because a playthrough shows you pretty much everything there is.
SO how can you improve this game? I can't think of another game that gives you so much control and freedom. There really are not many ways of improving the game, but the only thing I can think of is making the enemy less lethal. Some rudimentary armour, available from the beginning, just to keep your people from dying so quickly, would make it... fairer. Towards the end of the game now, with all my troops in flying power suits, they usually don't feel being hit, or get away with a few wounds. It's quite surprising there's not a flack jacket or something amongst the random things you get given at the start - like hi-explosive, flares, and rocket launchers. But the only way to play the game from the start is by breaking it through saving and loading, which sets a dodgy precedent for the rest of the game.
And as I have nearly finished the game, again, with nothing left to research, and the last mission is in sight, I must wonder why I have wasted so much time on it, when I've got so much other stuff to do. Because it seems to fit into those little five minute slots I have, when I don't have time to sit down for a few hours and work on music. Even if those little slots turn into hours. It's a 'brainy' game, but I still don't really have to think while I'm playing. Not compared to doing the things that I really enjoy doing. And then I go and write a bloody boring blog post about it, because it's taken over such a huge part of my brain. I'm quite embarrassed by this, but it feeds into something I think I'll save for a future post regarding the lack of conversation on the internet these days. So... mu. bollocks to it. I'm posting this complete waste of time because it's better than deleting it. I apologise.