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X: Beyond the Frontier

From the Database of Home of the Underdogs

GAME DESIGNER:

GAME DEVELOPER:EGOSOFT

GAME PUBLISHER:THQ

Copyright 1999, EGOSOFT

I’d love to be able to recommend this game, honestly I would. This is one of the only space trading sims I’ve seen released outside of the Privateer and Elite series of games, certainly the only one I can think of that’s come around in the last few years.

The actual trading system I have few complaints about. In fact, it’s quite imaginative. Each of a number of races in the game has certain similarities, they all have three types of fighter craft, each has a fleet carrier and a battleship and they all have common trading staples such as a basic foodstuff, raw materials and power supply. Each race’s trading habits have some element of crossover with the other races, the Boron for example, produce a highly sought-after spice which is used in the production process in nearly all of the food factories in the game. You can buy production stations, freighters and fighters, give yourself a military escort befitting an interstellar trader and become astonishingly rich all round. Weapons can be bought directly from production plants or from weapons depots, a pretty sensible idea at first glance, you’d think.

Sadly, the weapons trading system brings me to my first sore point. While it’s reasonably easy to put weapons onto your ship (you have two cannon hardpoints, two shields and ten missile slots), simply by tracking down a place that’s willing to sell them to you, it’s rather more difficult to get rid of the things once they’re there. You see, weapons can only be sold at weapons depots. Trying to flog them anywhere else comes up with a “Products cannot be sold” error from your shipboard computer. Of course, that only applies if you’re at a factory that makes the weapons you’re trying to sell. If you’re not actually at the specific type of factory that manufactures the weapon you’re trying to get shot of, it doesn’t even come up on the screen to be traded in the first place. Of course, this highly specific trading system will get to you at the weapons depot, too, because if they don’t sell the specific weapon type, they won’t buy it either.

Now, you’d think that in any sane game, you’d simply be able to check the local equivalent of the telephone directory to see who wants one of your spare particle accelerators (well, in any sane game you wouldn’t even have to check, but let’s not get into that), but due to the game’s plot, you can’t. In brief, you’re a test pilot for an experimental fighter craft with a teleportation-type drive that will break the reliance on jumpgates. Needless to say, everything goes horribly wrong and you’re flung off into the vast depths of nothingness, ending up near to a local settlement of reptilian types who repair your shipand set you up with a small bankroll (and quite a debt to repay. No charity here). Now, usually someone would tell you where to go, what to do, or possibly even have a conversation with you that felt like it wasn’t being deliberately scripted to give you no information whatsoever about anything. Suspension of disbelief and gaming convention well and truly shattered, you must solve all the problems of the local population and end the devastating war that has presumably destroyed all of the local maps, seeing as not one single system in the entire game has any information records at all and must be manually mapped by the player travelling around and individually targeting every station to see what it is.

Ah, yes. Travel.

Travel is not X‘s strong point. You see, your experimental fighter craft was apparently specially engineered to not be able to fight anything. I’m forced to conclude this from the fact that you start the game with no weapons, no shields and engines that take a good ten minutes to get you from station to station.

This is not an exaggeration. Journeys in X take ten minutes, minimum. Okay, sure you can use the turbo function. Unfortunately, the turbo function not only shorts out your shields but also throws you wildly off course, leading to frequent stops to reorient your ship. Sure, you can use the “SETA” function to speed time up by a factor of ten (after a full ten-second warm-up). Except that you can’t change course while you’ve got the SETA engaged, leading to frequent stops to reorient your ship. Also, you don’t start the game with this item and you have to play for a good hour or so to get enough of a cash reserve to buy it without crippling your budget. There’s an item in the game which will engage both the turbo and the SETA at the same time, but it’s such a bad joke that I can’t be bothered to go into it.

More random gripes include the fact that your ship’s an absolute dog to control, a 360 degree rotation takes quite a few seconds and then you’ll be spinning uncontrollably until you slow yourself back down. Your ship’s top speed and acceleration are similarly idiotic. Mapping is a pain due to the slow travel speeds, incomprehensible radar and lack of information about what the hell anything is. Docking takes ages. You can’t engage your SETA within two kilometres of a station. Certain races in the game hate you and you have to earn their trust to even be allowed to land at their stations. The most profitable station in the game is artificially crippled by not allowing you to buy it a freighter, forcing you to go on all of the supply runs yourself rather than just sitting back and watching the money roll in as you can for every other factory in the game. No explanation is given for this. Ship to ship combat is insane because the enemy deliberately rams you, bypassing your shields and killing you instantly. Some other stuff, I’m sure, also annoys me.

But.

But, but, but, but, but, if you put in a full ten hours of work (not gameplay, work. It’s too awful to describe as work) into this game, then it begins to improve. You’ll finally be able to afford to upgrade your ship some to improve its speed and handling. Advanced shielding and weaponry will slowly, slowly, slowly come into your price range and you’ll be able to wander about the universe without a mortal fear of actually encountering an enemy ship. A full two hours of work on combat runs against enemy ships in a certain species’ territory will allow you to land at their stations and begin to slowly, slowly, slowly begin to work up the money to buy the all-important autopilot, which will reduce travel times from “catastrophic” down to “almost bearable”. You’ll eventually have your escort of fighter craft, you’ll eventually have your trading empire, you’ll eventually have your well-equipped, speedy, hell, even enjoyable ship. Combat will still be a pain because the enemy will still ram you and destroy you but hey, we can’t have everything. So, finally, after forty, maybe even only thirty hours of blood, hatred, sweat, frustration and tears you will at last be well equipped enough to begin the game’s main storyline. This lasts about four hours by this point with all the speed improvements and then you’re back to trading and lame combat like you’d been doing for the past forty hours.

Some people like X. I’ll have to give them the involved trading system. It’s clever. I’ll have to give them the reasonably well-realised universe, the almost coherent storyline, the pretty-good-for-the-time graphics. My counter to all of that is that the gameplay… well, the gameplay isn’t, basically, and I don’t like it. If the trading and the waiting and the fact that combat’s random, infrequent and utterly uninvolving sound like your thing, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this game. If you’re looking for Elite, then go play Elite, sorry, but this isn’t it.



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