X3: Reunion – Game of the Year Edition PC Review

X3 is not a game for the impatient. It’s not a game for the slightly impatient either. Hell, it’s not even a game for people who feel a slight dissatisfaction if their train is delayed by several days. X3 is a game that requires a tremendous amount of input and patience to have any hope of getting anything really worthwhile out of it, which is something a lot of people don’t have the time for. But then, X3 isn’t for most people; it’s for people who take pleasure in beauty, who revel in building something great from something small. For these people, this is paradise.

Let’s not get too forgiving though; games should be judged on more general terms, and in this case it’s not so wide-reaching. If you’ve played its predecessor, you’ll feel you’re in familiar territory with this, right down to the confusing interface, insanely large control scheme and dodgy voice acting. It’s a standard X affair really; you play as Julian Brenner once again, travelling through vast sectors of space linked together with jump gates, each sector being filled with its own array of ships, stations and other random objects of interest, and, to top it off, a bunch of hostile space pirates cavorting around every now and then. As we’ve all come to expect from the series, everything looks stunning.

Granted, space isn’t exactly the most jam-packed and eventful place you can think of, but Egosoft have done a marvellous job of ‘filling up’ each sector with plenty of eye-candy. Nebulae and planets all look beautiful, adding shed-loads of colour to contrast the starkness of the surrounding void, and the huge trading stations and highly varied traversing ships have a metallic sheen to them that provides that ever-more present and blatant sense of futuristic shininess. The sound effects and musical score accompanying such high quality visuals are something of a mixed bag. Calm, relaxing synthesised sounds and melodies are a perfect fit for wandering through the corresponding calmness of space, and the Battlestar Galactica-esque drumming during combat is a welcome change from the many heavier electronic compositions often found in similar circumstances, but there’s a distinct lack of variation which can lead to monotony. Weaponry has a generally satisfying weight behind it, although the starting sets sound a little too paltry for my liking.

The main aim of the game is to build up an empire to get yourself huge wads of cash, so that you can upgrade your ship, buy bigger, more powerful ships, build your own factories, start your own trade routes and maybe even take over the galaxy (admittedly, this may take a while). As I said before though, this isn’t something that can be done in a matter of days; just searching uncharted sectors for the best trade routes takes an age, as you continuously dock with trading stations and factories to see where you can make the largest profits. Things do become faster as you upgrade the size of your cargo hold and make much larger profits, but even getting to this point will see a lot of gamers too bored to carry on.

As a slight concession to people with a little less time on their hands, there are the obligatory plot missions to follow, involving the usual ancient artefact and race for power shenanigans, and to be fair these do provide an enjoyable distraction to the much more free-roaming parts of the game with some nice gameplay variations. However, it soon becomes apparent that the story was never meant to be played through in one sitting, as the missions soon become too hard to cope with when you’ve only got basic equipment and weaponry to aid you. Just as annoying is the fact that people are tediously unclear as to where you’re supposed to go when given new objectives, often just giving you the name of a place you’ve never heard of and leaving it up to you to track it down. Unfortunately, these things, though not necessarily unintentionally, limit the game’s potential audience, as the time-consuming trading and empire building becomes an inherent aspect of the gameplay, even if all you want to do is have some instant action to fill up some free time.

Even so, to the right people with the right frame of mind, this is still a very compelling and well-made venture. Movement is smooth and responsive, whether controlling your ship with a mouse or joystick, and combat is tense and often spectacular to watch as explosions fill the sky and bits of debris fly off in all directions. The sense of scale is truly staggering with each sector taking a good few minutes to fly across at full speed. One highly welcome time-saving feature is the ability to increase the game speed and engage the autopilot when flying to a known, but this does have its annoyances too; even the tiniest flick on the mouse or joystick causes time to revert back to normal, and it requires holding down the ‘j’ button for several seconds each time to speed everything up again. The interface is clean and unobtrusive, with a simple right click on the mouse switching control from your spacecraft’s movement to the menu system, but it’s certainly not perfect; its complexity is rather hypocritical towards its visual simplicity, and it can be too awkward for its own good when trying to find a certain option from the multitude of pathways available. That said, it’s nothing too unusable, and it gets the job done in the end.

The charm of X3 is in neither the lousy voice acting nor the combat sequences, but instead lies in the serene beauty of being elsewhere, of existing in a faraway place with an intense natural beauty all around you. The successful cohesion of trading and combat help to create an involving and graphically stunning vision of the future, unfortunately let down by the massive amount of time and player input required to experience the game as it was meant to be. A galaxy of interest to people with a lot of time and patience, then, but little more than a flared (sorry, flawed) distraction to everyone else.

(X3: Reunion – Game of the Year Edition contains all the latest updates and features up to and including v1.4)

Reviewer’s system: AMD Athlon 64 Dual Core 4200+ (each core is 2.21 GHz) with 1GB RAM, an ATI Radeon X800XT (256-bit) Graphics Card and a 300GB Hard Drive.

Big, bold and beautiful, but requires masses of time and patience.

7.5 out of 10

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