UFO: Enemy Unknown
for PC (DOS)

Popular Vote:
Alternate Titles: X-COM: UFO Defense
Company: MicroProse
Year: 1994
Genre: Strategy
Theme: Science Fiction / War
Language: English, Deutsch, Francais
Licence: Commercial
Views: 138882
Review by Looger (2006-01-07)

It is November 28th, 1998. UFO activity has increased significantly on earth, and the UNO founds an independent organisation called X-Com (eXtraterrestrial Commando). This organisation is lead by the player to save earth from the threat.

At first, you build a base which will remain your only one for a long time somewhere on the world map in real time. In theory, you can build several ones, but this costs too much money at the beginning. In this base, you can hire fighters, scientists and engineers and also build new sectors within the base. Furthermore, soldiers are equipped with weapons - ranging from handguns to grenades and automated cannons - here, to be ready for the fight against the invaders. It's also possible to build tanks. While you're in a base, time is freezed, so that you're not under time pressure. Only on the scrolling world map, time is constantly running with choosable speed.

Sometimes, you actually get involved in battles. There are different kinds of those; the most common and easiest one is to shoot down a single UFO and then examine to the crashing site. If the UFO has already landed, shooting it down is not necessary anymore, but the battle gets a lot harder in exchange. Once a month, the aliens commit a terror attack on a city. In such a scenario, you have more than one goal: Again, you have to kill all the aliens, but this time, your time is limited: Only if you're quick, you can prevent innocent civilians from being killed. Each dead civilian decreases your score significantly. The most difficult battles are attacks of bases. Either you find an alien base and try to defeat the onslaught of aliens, or they are attacking one of your own bases. Then, it really gets hot: If you lose, the base is lost. If you don't have another one, the game is over.

As soon as the first UFO appears on the radar, the game really begins: It's shot down and a small, at the beginning restricted to 14 people, group is sent to the crashing site to clean up with the last remaining survivors. That's done in turn-based tactical battles: Each fighter has a certain amount of action points (AP) which he can use to duck, run, shoot and reload. When the AP are all spent, the next fighter gets his turn; once all fighters are done, the computer-contolled aliens' turn starts following the same scheme.
The basic structure of the battles are similar to board games like Axis and Allies or Risk. The player can only see what's in his soldiers' view, some turns are therefore only used to find the last remaining enemies. That can be very time-consuming and annoying, especially since the game - in contrast to Jagged Alliance - doesn't switch to real time when there is no foe around. When you've beaten all enemies or if you retreat your team, a summary about the mission is shown which rates your performance in different grades. In addition, you take the alien materials and dead enemies with you. The aliens can also just be stunned.

Of what use is that? Stunned aliens can be studied in a climate cell (if you've built one). The dead bodies are brought to the scientists. There, they're dissected to find out about the weaknesses of the aliens - knowledge which you can take advantage of. The materials are meant for the laboratory where they can be studied, too. After some research, your engineers can replicate items. This way, you get your hands on advanced alien technology, and you can even build your own spaceships for example. Research is one of the most important elemens of the game in fact: I don't know of another game in which studying technology is so much fun. There are just so many different possibilities.

There is only one resource in UFO: money. Money makes the world go 'round, as they say. Soldiers, scientists, research, expanding your base or building a new one, everything swallows huge amounts of this vital resource. Because money doesn't go on trees, you have to work hard to get it. 16 countries are involved in the project, at the beginning, they're paying the sum of 5.999.000$ together which you have to invest intelligently. If you're not successful and lose against the attackers, the affected countries will certainly not increase their payments to your project, but decrease it. And if your performance is really weak, or if a terror attack isn't prevented successfully, you can count on this country quitting altogether; this is the worst thing which can happen. From now on, the aliens can build bases in this country and thus operate more easily. Bases have to be found and destroyed in tough and expensive battles.

The soldiers in your team gain experience raise level gradually in an RPG-like fashion. The player can't influence how they're improving. There are twelve basic abilities for the soldiers, the most important being the amount of action points, the hitpoints and the energy. Each shot and every step uses energy, and if it reaches zero, the soldier can't be used for a couple of turns. In heated situations, this can often be fatal, it's better to five your characters a little rest from time to time. If you're facing several superiour aliens, some soldiers may panic: They're just running and shooting wildly. Some aliens can even take telepathic control over your fighters.

At the end of each month, there is a summary. Again, you're rated in five grades. The better you get away, the higher your chance to get more money; on the other hand, weak performances can cause countries and thus money sources to quit. If you've done badly over a longer period of time, the game will probably be over at the end of the next month.

The mixture of real time strategy and turn-based tactics goes on this way over many years in the game without getting boring. Month after month, you're hoping for good results, are happy about technological advancements and gloat about the various new alien races. This is really the special thing about UFO: It can never get boring for the player, because if you get bored - or if you get too self-secure - and lean back, have one or two bad months, you can pretty much forget about winning the game. Only if you really concentrate and stay careful all the time, you can beat the game. UFO is certainly not easy and above all not a game for beginners. On the other hand, it's not unfair in its difficulty which can be set to five levels.

Graphics and sound are okay, the two-dimensional view always stays easy to grasp and the musical score is limited to the very basics, but it also doesn't get on the player's nerves, but fits the athmosphere.

On the whole, a very recommendable game, but be warned: Completing the mission against the aliens can take weeks. And after that, the next difficulty level awaits you because of the completely non-linear campaign...

An almost completely identical sequel was released a year later under the title “Terror from the Deep” which offered a slightly changed scenario and a halfway-new and amusing story. All the other X-Com games released later (Apocalypse, Interceptor, Enforcer) are only related with the first game through their names, and they're not as recommandable as UFO.

Translated by Mr Creosote

Archived Review(s) ↓

Review by MeowMeow (2016-09-03)

This is my all time favourite game. Originally released in 1994, this game was ahead of its time. In this game, you take command of a government sponsored alien defence organisation tasked with protecting the earth from alient invaders. As the game progresses and you learn more about the aliens, you learn where they are coming from and can seek to attack their home base.

The game itself is broken into two distinct phases – the Geoscape and Strategy. The Geoscape is a world map where you build bases and equip your units. The base building is quite interesting and allows you to choose what types of rooms will be in your base to enable different options like research and manufacturing. You can research new weapons, armour and crafts and you can manage and equip your soldiers. While in the Geoscape, UFOs will occasionally try to visit various cities around the world and you need to intercept them with fighter craft. If the UFOs are successful, they can persuade local governments not to fund your project, making it harder to fight them off. Once a UFO crash lands or just lands to conduct experiments, you can send a jet with your soldiers to battle the aliens. Then begins the strategy phase which is an isometric turn based phase. The soldiers you equipped earlier can now move around the environment, hunting aliens. As the game progresses, your soldiers get stronger and you also uncover new and exciting aliens to fight. The scariest of all being the Crysallids. These black cicada like creatures cannot shoot, but if they get near your soldiers and bite them, they instantly turn your soldiers into walking zombies. Once a zombie is killed, a Crysallid hatches from inside it!

All in all, this is a very fun game to play and definitely worth checking out.

Review by Wandrell (2006-01-07)

Also known as X-Com: UFO Defense. Here you will have to take care of a special combat unit to keep a war against the superior alien invaders. From air and ground combat to investigation and development of new technologies, everything in this war will be under your control.

All revolves around your hidden bases. They will be your action centre where the installations are built: radars, stores, laboratories, workshops, hangars... And also where the research, development and combat units are kept, waiting for an UFO to travel close enough to the base to be detected. Once that happens an interceptor, and then a carrier with a squad, will be sent to hunt it.

The hunters, alone or grouped, will engage with the UFO and try to shot it down. If they are able, or if it lands, the squad will eliminate the aliens and recover whatever is left.

Your soldiers will fight a turn based combat, which, being one of the main points, is well cared. Each soldier is different, as all have a set of attributes, being them things such as their action points (which will be used, if left, for counter-attacking in the enemy turn), the hit points (and also the resistance to being stunned), the weight they may carry or their aiming. One of the more important is their morale, which will be reduced as they get wounds or their comrades die. If one soldier is demoralized bad things can happen.

Once the combat ends the surviving soldier will be promoted, have their attributes risen in accord to the equipment used, and carry back the spoils. As the starting equipment won't be effective against the highly advanced invaders (you will only have gun powered weapons and even the heavy ones, or the tanks wont make much difference) those spoils are fundamental for developing new technologies.

Advanced aircraft constructions, alien tools, psychical technology, extraterrestrial biology, and even their society and goals will be discovered through the scientists studies of the artefacts, bodies and captives taken back. All of this will be stored in the UFOPaedia, where it can be consulted any time, and sent to the base technicians, who will transform and adapt much that knowledge in weapons and tools: plasma guns, remote controlled missiles, new armours and even psychical technology, all of which will become the only way to win this war.

The other participants of the war, the aliens, won't stay watching as you advance and fight them back. They react to your actions, and have they own noticeable tactics, which with a bit of eye can be predicted. A single big ship exploring the country will be searching for a city in which start a terror attack, a scout scanning a region of X-Com activity is looking for bases in which later take vengeance, a flotilla of UFOs landing in the same site will be building a base (which can be discovered through air patrols) and big escorted ships will probably be trying to infiltrate in a country.

As games advances those and other tactics will become more common and the alien menace will vary as not always is the same specie attacking. From the grey sectoids and their mind powers to the snake men and their heavily armoured bio-weapons, the chrysalides; you will fight against a mysterious menace with their own organization, in which your enemies are not only soldiers, but also pilots or biologists that react differently to the squad actions.

As a note, it seem to be not well known, but the principles of this game are based in an old english series of 1969 called “UFO” created by Gerry Anderson, the same who in that same decade did the puppets series “The Thunderbirds”.

Comments (6) [Post comment]

Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 21:03 on December 22nd, 2008:
I've been playing again to "Terror from the Deep" [...]

Don't you think this is more suited for the Terror from the Deep comments thread? ;)

Anyway, that sequel feels rushed, because it is. How long after Ufo was it released? Three months? Obviously a cash-in sequel made by Microprose (the original team wasn't even involved). It's not without its merits, though. I like the inclusion of a few Lovecraftian motifs.

It was indeed a bad game. But I liked the underwater scenario because I allways wondered
what happened to the Ufo's which crashed on water in the first part of the X-Com series.

Mr Creosote:
I've been playing again to "Terror from the Deep" [...]

Don't you think this is more suited for the Terror from the Deep comments thread? ;)

Anyway, that sequel feels rushed, because it is. How long after Ufo was it released? Three months? Obviously a cash-in sequel made by Microprose (the original team wasn't even involved). It's not without its merits, though. I like the inclusion of a few Lovecraftian motifs.


I've been playing again to "Terror from the Deep" (this time I finished it) and compared to UFO it looks rushed.

I don't dislike having to face cyborgs honed for combat like the lobstermen, which are killing machines, or the alien missile launcher having an absurdly big area. But most of the changes (because they didn't really add anything new) where to unbalance the game, the only good weapons are the alien sonic rifles. And adding to it, there are lots of investigation bugs that will get you stuck or simply make sure it takes forever to get the new armors and ships.

The first game of the saga, UFO, is great and shows a lot of care. But the two next looks rushed. Look at Apocalypse, they didn't even finish the graphics and the aliens are still ugly place-holders.

Eagle of Fire:
If you want to play a game which is based on UFO and Laser Squad (both made from the same guy, mister Gollups), I recommend Laser Squad Nemesis. Clearly the best Xcom-like strategy game I ever played. :)