X3: Terran Conflict PC Review

Before I start off this review I just want to say that I have never played an X3 game in my life. Let me restate that. I have never played an X game in my life. I thought I’d get this across so you know where I am coming from.

If you are like me then you won’t know much about the X franchise. X is a series of games developed by Egosoft. A simple description of X is that the game is a space simulator. They usually feature a living colony where you can trade, do missions and build an empire.

X3: Terran Conflict is the latest edition to the X series. It’s a standalone expansion to 2005’s X3: Reunion and it is based in the same universe. The story in X3 is hard to summarise, as the game is part of a huge universe that other games in the series have supplied story towards. They follow a timeline and this is supposed to be the grand finale of the X series. It’s the year 2983 and Earth has been rediscovered by Julian Brennan, the main character from the last game. A new faction has come into play, the Terrans. The manual has a nice little brief history for you to get indulged in if you’ve never played the games before.

For a newbie who had never played any of the series I was in for a big surprise when I cracked open the game. It’s so overwhelming when you first get into it and that isn’t just the game as well. The manual that comes with it is 118 pages and it’s all in English. It is a space simulator after all, but I wasn’t expecting this amount of detail. The manual will probably take a few reads for all the information to set in as it details pretty much all you need about the races, ships and other information. It’s good to have it on hand just in case.

The reason why X3: Terran Conflict is so overwhelming is because there is so much that is accessible to you from the start. When you click to start your new game you can either choose one of the characters that tell you parts of the plot or start your own adventure in a custom game. Choosing the characters is advised at first because you are given set tasks and missions to follow. They don’t really have a personality; they are just starting points for you to begin with. Having a fresh adventure starts you out as a dude in a weak little ship and you have to build your reputation from the ground up.

Starting as a character was one of the first things I did. They are four to select from at first, each with their own missions and difficulty. As you beat the game more starter characters become unlocked for you to play as. Depending who you selected determines where you start. The first thing the game offers to you is a training mode with one of the pilots that are flying around near you at the start. The thing is that little tips flash in the top right corner of the screen, but that still doesn’t help. The training requires you to know a little bit about the controls, so you need to figure them out by looking in the manual or in the options menu. It tells you some of them, but a few you will have to look up. I found out that I could speed time up if I pressed J, something the game doesn’t alert you to in the training. The training really could have done with a section on the main menu instead where you could select topics that you would like to have training in.

It would also help players who have never played it before, like me. Because you only get a handle on the combat, all the other things that you can do, and that’s a lot, aren’t explained. I didn’t know how to buy something from a trade station until I read the manual. I was clicking everywhere, looking for buy buttons and doing other stuff like pulling my hair out. After reading the manual it seems you have to press left and right to move objects onto your ship. A little bar at the bottom moves to show you are doing this. God if only I’d read that part before I got to buy stuff. It’s frustrating, but it shouldn’t be because it could be avoided.

There’s plenty of assigned buttons that do all sorts of things.  It’s a steep learning curve and can feel daunting at first, luckily after playing it a while it starts to make sense and the buttons all became second nature. I started feeling more comfortable using key shortcuts at this point. You can also click on the tool bar at the side to do commands as well but it takes a lot longer doing it that way then just clicking the button. I remember a helicopter game along the same lines. That came with a cardboard slip to put on top of your keyboard so you knew what the buttons did. X3 could do with something like that to help users.

Just like learning the buttons though, once you become accustomed to how X3 plays you can really see the potential to be had. The game is simply massive. Also the story isn’t forced upon you, so most of the time you can do what you want to do in your own time. Sometimes you’ll probably forget to do the story for a while and will end up doing some side missions or pursue something out of your own interest, like trading.

I guess this is where X3’s tagline comes in. On the box it says at the top “Trade, Fight, Build, Think” and yeah you can do all that, it’s basically a sandbox game in space. This means you can travel to where you want, blow up anyone, talk to who you want, trade with anyone who wants to and of course build your own little empire. That little pilot who you start off as doesn’t seem to be as weak as you first thought once you are on your way.

It can be incredibly frustrating at times though. At some points I found myself swarmed in enemy fire and getting blown up into tiny little space particles. This leads to game over, which isn’t a nice word in X3 as this means referring back to your last save. This wouldn’t be bad if you could save whenever you wanted to, but I’m afraid you can’t. To save you need to dock at a nearby space station and then save your game. It can be really annoying if you forget to save after a long trip to a mission point, which then leads to you getting your arse handed to you by some difficult opponents. I’ve been in that situation plenty of times and man it does your head in after the fourth or fifth time.

From reading you can probably tell that there are certainly things wrong with X3 that could have been done better, but despite this the game is still decent enough to play. It might sound I’m been a bit harsh but I’m getting the complaints out first, there’s a solid game to be found under all that difficulty. Fans of the genre will most likely enjoy it after the steep learning curve has passed. Fans of the series will be used to it and won’t have much trouble adapting to the newest edition. For people who are slightly interested then this is a stern warning that if you don’t stick with it, or don’t have the patience for something like this, you simply will not enjoy this game and will no doubt turn it off. This is not to be taken lightly.

Space has probably never looked so nice in a game. X3 models are beautifully rendered with plenty of details shining from structures and spaceships. Lighting really helps give space an artistic and colourful gaze. To get this look you will need to own a beast PC machine. The recommend specs ask for 3GB ram, a Core 2 Duo and a pixel shader 3.0 enabled card. Even if you meet them you might still run into some problems with all the special effects and particles been thrown about to hamper your frame rate. There’s times when you want to just slip on auto pilot and take a look at the space around you. It’s fair to say you would expect space to be black and boring, but not according to Egosoft. X3 has debris, asteroids, stations, planets and far off stars all adding an atmospheric space system that is never empty or even totally black.

Autopilot is something that I should mention quickly, it’s a bit of a mix bag. There are times in the game where you have to travel long distances to get to your destination. The autopilot function should really be a godsend, but in reality it works only like 50% of the time. One point I enabled it and it took me the totally wrong direction and flew off somewhere else. Another one was it flew me maximum speed into a space station, not good at all. You need to keep an eye out with autopilot just in case it decides to do what it wants to. A simple patch should fix this and there are plenty of patches. While I was playing X3 over the course for this review, two patches had been released to fix problems gamers had with it. The determination of the staff at Egosoft is certainly there and a quick look at the X3 official forums also shows how dedicated the fans are.

You can’t hear sound in space, well you aren’t supposed to anyway. X3 has a decent enough soundtrack that is dynamic; it changes to suit what you are doing. Initiate a landing and you get this epic yet calm sounding tune for you to dock to. Engage in battle and the tempo increases along with your blood rate. Sound effects are a bit weak, you never really get that sense of epic explosions from them, and the voice acting is all over the place. The characters you speak to throughout the game can sometimes sound a bit monotonous or forced. The team at Egosoft have tried to go for some communication sounding interference for the chatter but it ends up making the people sound strange. The only real communication that gets away with this problem is the robotic voice that tells you all the information about places, ships and so on. You can click on anything and it will most likely speak to you telling you a description about it. It shows the detail Egosoft tried to go into when making this game.

It’s hard to judge X3 Terran Conflict as it has really has set itself in stone to all but a select few people. About 95% of those that touch the game will just give up within the hour. The other 5% that do take the time though will see that despite some inconveniences it can turn into an experience capable of taking down your social life. The sheer amount of things to do is a key factor that prevents it falling into the trap of the same old routines other space games have fallen into. X3 is deep, complex, insanely huge, annoyingly but yet rewarding. If you’ve enjoyed the series before give yourself a 1 on top of the score, if not then it’s staying at a 7 because for most people it won’t click because of the unnecessary complexity. If Egosoft bring back X again they should make it a bit more forgiving to give a player that welcome with open hands feeling.

7 out of 10
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