For previous entries in this diary, start here.
Since I’ve started this diary several people have asked me the obvious question – why the hell am I playing Apocalypse and not the (arguably) superior UFO? I touched on this briefly in Part 1 but I’d like to go into it in more detail here if you’ll permit me.
The most practical reason is that I’m simply better at Apocalypse. I’ve played through it nearly a dozen times in my life time (though this current playthrough is the first time I’ve taken a crack at it in about three years) whereas I’ve never successfully completed UFO, or even come close to completing it. The more I know about a particular subject the better I can write about it, and I very much had the goal of entertaining people with this little chronicle. That doesn’t mean I’m not immune to making silly, almost noob-level mistakes in the course of the game (see the start of Part 3), but I’m confident enough with the game to take some risks I normally wouldn’t for the sake of possibly creating a more interesting narrative and that’s no bad thing. And I’m still learning new things about a game I’ve owned for over a decade as a result of this diary. Remember the end of Part 3, and my expression of confusion and horror at what I’d seen? That was genuine. I’d never, ever noticed that detail before.
Secondly, Apocalypse is that little bit easier to play. To this day UFO is an extraordinarily challenging game, with its sequel Terror From the Deep infamous for being even harder, and I just don’t quite feel up to tackling something like that. It’s hard enough keeping track of things to knock out a diary entry after a play session, never mind actually trying to do well at the game. Given the option, I always play a game on its easy or normal setting because part of the reason I play games is to feel powerful. Harder difficulties in games almost always make me feel weak, and unfairly so, which hampers my enjoyment. (There are exceptions to this of course, but that’s a discussion for another time.) My whole life I’ve played Apocalypse on the easy setting, but I’ve knocked things up a notch to make it a bit more interesting to the outside observer. Besides, named as I have the entire organisation of X-Com for the J-Server, it just wouldn’t feel right if there wasn’t the very real possibility of terrible, humiliating failure.
And thirdly, well, Apocalypse is just special to me. It is, without doubt, the last great X-Com game before the franchise (and I’ve said this before) dove off a cliff. Interceptor may have been an interesting, if failed, attempt to mix up the series in interesting ways but Enforcer was just a plain bad idea from the get go. What’s worse, the canceled games we only caught glimpses of, Genesis and Alliance, had the potential to be something special. The memory of Alliance in particular has stuck with me, ever since I read a preview of it way back when in one games mag or another. It was going to be an FPS set on the other side of the galaxy, where your lost X-Com ship and crew meet another alien race currently on the receiving end of Sectoid aggression. (Sectoids being one of the villainous races from the first game.) Together you’d team up and take the Sectoids on in their own back yard. It was going to massively expand the scope of the series. For the first time humanity would have an alien ally, another race that had gone through the terrors of an invasion like the one on Earth during UFO. If it had worked, it would’ve been brilliant.
Chronologically speaking, Apocalypse is also where the X-Com story ends. Though Interceptor and Enforcer were released after it, the events depicted in Apocalypse take place long after the events in both of those titles. And what events. Mega Primus is pretty much the last untouched enclave of humanity on Earth. The events of Terror From the Deep, culminating in the massive explosion of the alien city of T’leth in the Atlantic ocean, spread tremendous pollution around the planet and Earth has been dying ever since. X-Com ostensibly won both of the great alien wars, but at too high a cost. In Apocalypse, you’ve already lost the planet your predecessors fought and died to save. The war for Earth was won by the little green men. Now all that’s left worth protecting is one, tiny enclave that’s been rotting from within for years. Reading through the introduction in the game documentation you get the impression that even if the new breed of extra-dimensional aliens hadn’t kicked things off again, Mega Primus would’ve succumbed to its self-inflicted wounds eventually. The retro 50’s futurism of Mega Primus, with its shiny hovercars and people tubes, can’t cover the fact that the city is broken.
Man, that’s pretty fucking grim. And it’s what you’re tasked to save, in the face of a populace that doesn’t want you, a government that’s afraid to properly fund you and a dozen other political and industrial organisations that might all want something from you. This is X-Com’s last shot, the chance to pull everything back from the brink and the encroaching darkness. And even if you succeed, even if you send every last alien to an early grave and stop the invasion, Mega Primus might just die anyway. Just like Earth did before it, in spite of your organisation’s efforts.
How can you not dig that?
Behold, Part 5!