A little history lesson before we get started. How many of you know who the Gollop brothers are?
Ooook um… hands up who here has played any of the first three X-Com games…
Cool, everyone who didn’t put their hand up should sod off and play X-Com (UFO: Enemy Unknown for you yanks) then come back so you know what i’m talking about. The rest of you can sit comfortably and listen because you are about to be educated.
Y’see, many many MANY years ago (nearly 20 in fact) a lad by the name of Julian Gollop created a simple strategy game for the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC by the name of Rebelstar Raiders. It was a fun little turn based game which spawned a whole new genre – the arcade strategy game.
Then a few years later came the more sophisticated update entitled simply Rebelstar. This was a squad level turn based strategy game that involved breaking into a highly defended base and destroying it’s central computer (which was named ISAAC if you are at all interested). Play took place across several levels each with different objectives and obstacles and it was all pretty new and stunning for the time. After that came Rebelstar 2 (which we will talk about in just a minute) then Laser Squad. Laser Squad, released on 16-bit systems as well as 8-bit, used the same formula as Rebelstar but with many improvements such as joystick control and a greater variety of weapons (which could be equipped before each mission).
In 1991 Julian gollop (along with his brother Nick) showed a prototype of Laser Squad 2 to a representative of Microprose. The idea was to keep the same basic formula as the previous game but to update it with isometric graphics (similar to games like Populous). Microprose liked what they saw but wanted something “bigger” and this time set on Earth so that people could relate to it more. The brothers Gollop went away and came up with the idea of adding a grand strategic element to the game. With this X-Com was born, a game where you managed an international organisation that defended the Earth against UFO incursions. It had the same basic turn based combat model as Rebelstar but with updated graphics (and an isometric viewpoint), research and development and a financial model. The game was released in 1994 and remains a cult classic to this day (personaly it is one of my all time favourite games).
After X-Com came the sequel : Terror from the Deep. All the elements from the original remained in place, all that changed was that the setting was transposed from Air and Ground combat to undersea. It was this unoriginality which meant that, although it was by no means a bad game, it never gained the same status as the original.
In late 1997 the third game in the series, X-Com Apocalypse was released. The game improved on almost every aspect of the game, this time being set in a gigantic city under threat from inter-dimensional aliens. What truly set it apart from the first two games was that it gave you the chance to play in real time (the turn based system was still there of course). Along with this the game included advanced artificial inteligence, a realistic diplomacy and financial model (this played a big part in the game) as well as a living, breathing city to play in.
The games that followed were something of a let-down, probably due to the fact that the Gollop Brothers had little say in the direction that they took. X-Com interceptor was a disapointing mix of space combat and strategy, Email X-Com was as the name suggests a play by email strategy game. X-Com enforcer was a dire thrid-person shootemup and the less said about it the better. There WAS hope in the form of X-Com Alliance which was a first person squad based strategy game and an unamed remake of the first X-Com using modern technology. Unfortunately as yet neither have seen the light of day.
The only recent addition to the series has been Laser Squad : Nemesis, Thankfully developed by Codos (ie, the Gollops and Steven Moorhouse, who worked on Apocalypse) it is a massive single/multiplayer game with three distinct races and huge emphasis on strategy. It is allready getting rave reviews so thankfully it looks liek there is still a little life in the series :).
So to recap :
Rebelstar Raiders > Rebelstar > Rebelstar 2 > Laser Squad > X-com Series
There now, don’t we feel educated?
I’m now going to totally throw you off track by going back nearly 15 years and talking about Rebelstar 2 – don’t yer just love it? 😛
Rebelstar 2 held much more appeal for me than the first game, probably because the idea of fighting wave upon wave of gieger-esque aliens appeals to me more than destroying tin-can robots. The game centers around the increasing threat of an alien race on a distant planet, and your squad of space marines have been sent to deal with them. The game is simplicity itself right from the start, equip each of your agents with a weapon (anything from a lightsaber to huge photon guns) and use your remaining TUs (point which dictate what each unit can do each turn) to either move across the map or attack your enemies. The aliens themselves are diverse and interesting – from hulking warriors to tentacled water dwellers, the map are well designed and quite large considering when the game ws released (I particularly like cutting through those alien vines on the first level :)).
For those who have played later Gollop games it will all be very familiar and no doubt highly enjoyable. I have also included the 2 player version of the game, meaning if you want you and a friend can take eachother on – you can even do it by email if you save the snapshot after eachothers turn and send it back and forth.
Simply a superb game that was way ahead of its time. Bags of gameplay and enjoyment to be had from it (pulling off a driect hit from one side of the map to the other with the photon just feels great =)) and the game is very replayable.
I highly recommend this one, two thumbs up n stuff!
Rebelstar 2: Alien Encounter
- Designed by: Target Games
- Published by: Silverbird Software
Size: 256kb (1 mins on 56k dial-up)