Ah the X series, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways... Every game reviewer has one of these, a game or series that touches them on a personal, intimate and downright naughty level, so enamoring them with their depth, breadth and endorphin-releasing wiles that he will hear no bad word said against them, no minor criticism that won’t be met with a flurry of pre-rehearsed counter points and face punches, no rival comparison that won’t be put down by shouts of “YOU JUST SHUT UP!” through the tears of infatuation as we cradle the box to our chest and run to our rooms to have a good cry.
Yes, we know it isn’t as fast, fun and friendly as Freelancer, never has been and never will be. But we don’t see any sequels to that little number floating about the release schedules, do you? In fact, if it’s in-cockpit, direct-action space simulations you want, well X3: Terran Conflict is about your only current generation option really. Good job it’s still going strong then, eh?
As the title (and ending to the previous game) suggests, we’re on home territory this time round, flying around our own solar system to begin with, marveling at the beautifully rendered rings of Saturn, sighing wistfully at the gaseous beauty of Jupiter, and giggling childishly at the computer’s unrefined pronunciation of Uranus.
The plot doesn’t take long to kick in and, sadly once again, it’s X’s main failing. For all the alien incursions, returns of old threats and attempts at tension, try as they might Egosoft just can’t seem to crack the storytelling nut, and we're not sure it’s one that’ll ever really get solved while we players remain resolutely inside our cockpits. Stories require character development to engage, and for all the communication window talking heads, X’s is a soulless universe. Freelancer scored by letting you stretch your legs wandering around stations, X’s only real star is the universe itself.
But at least it’s a universe that is richer in depth and detail (visual and otherwise) than ever before. X3: Terran Conflict builds upon all the freedom of choice the previous titles offered, increasing the interactivity with a revamped and much more intuitive interface, allowing for easy control of everything from single ships to entire multi-wing fleets. Better yet, the progress made with the combat mechanics shown in X3: Reunion has continued apace, to the point where the new mouse control system that’s on offer is fluid, smooth, enjoyable and easily on a par with Freelancer’s fun factor. What we have then is a universe of staggering beauty and option, one that builds upon the X legacy and enriches it immeasurably without ever actually revolutionizing it. It’s true that this is less a sequel and more an extension of the last X title, a refinement of the prior game rather than genuinely offering anything new.
It’s still a game that you have to want to love, rather than one that will entrance the reluctant majority regardless, but will generously reward you, should you be willing to let yourself go along with it. It’s still not the pick-up-and-play immediate gratification of Freelancer, and the requirement of patience and thought might still dissuade the casuals. We guess it says something that even after five years we can still compare this with Microsoft’s now-dated rival.
But the infatuation continues, even if it’s something of a clearer, where-is-this-relationship-going sort of direction than in previous years. The sex is still great, and we’d love to say we could still stay faithful to one another for many years to come. But it may well be that we’ve come to a point in our lives when it might not be a bad idea for us to start seeing other people. We’ve already got our eye on X-Online, actually. Or we could break this tortuous metaphor, and start dating human beings.
While not available in US stores, it is quite easy to find on Steam.
Oct 29, 2008