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This isn't a game, it's a quantum singularity

Usually, I can just play a game for a few hours and eventually I get a little bored of it, put the damn thing down, and get my work done. UFO: Afterlight will have none of that. Friday and Saturday were consumed utterly by this beast and Sunday did not escape unscathed. Life is too short to spend playing this game. Literally. It feels like I'm likely to die of old age before I could put this game down and get my homework done and that's factoring in I'm only 30. Seriously, what was the target audience for this game? Immortals?

The initial trouble with UFO: Afterlight is that there's no small scale activity. Instead, it's just an interlocking fusion of things to do, primed to generate a compelling desire to find out what happens next. However, the killer combination is just the time flow of the game, which might be stopped, moving in slow motion, or (thanks to reloading a saved game) going backwards.

I begin playing UFO: Afterlight on the "strategic view" which is a view of the face of the planet with several panels granting access to the various screens. This section has dozens of potential tweaks I can do: assign people to training, set up my research cues, set up my production cues, customize my squad composition, remove injured or training people from my squad and replace them with primed and ready fighters, and more. Fortunately, there's only so much tweaking I can do before it's time to start the timer and set Mars a'spinning, allowing time to flow so everything can start happening. However, that trouble with allowing the game to progress is that I'm going to be dragged into the squad-based combat component, the activity that makes up the other half of the game.

The inclusion of a save game feature in the squad-based tactical combat is something I both rue and find inseparable. This game is balanced in such a way that I can't lose squad members - they're not the randomly generated grunts they were in X-Com. Unfortunately, those damnable Beastmen find a way to quickly kill my irreplaceable squad members despite my best attempts to develop tactics to keep my squaddies out of harms way. Often, it happens from outside of my visual range with what turns out to be a quick aimed shot fired one-handed from a organically-grown cannon with such accuracy that makes my finest snipers look like blind paraplegics in comparison. Only the cheapest of tactics seem to guarantee the survival of my squad and these are discovered about the third or fourth time I've reloaded the battle. Thus the save feature is problematic because I find myself spending hours reloading the same half-hour battle in order see it to completion without casualties.

Perhaps another reason why time seems to pass so inefficiently in UFO: Afterlight is because time does not play normally. Not only am I often going back in time via the reload feature when something goes wrong, but when I'm going forward in time I'm going forward slowly. Melee aliens tend to dance around the ranks of my squad members causing my previous firing orders to end up hitting my fellow squaddies more than the foe. Even in ranged combat, it's not uncommon for a foe to suddenly be detected in front of my designated targets, causing a massive drop in accuracy as my squaddies try to shoot around this new obstruction. Most of the time is spent paused as I reissue orders for the nth time. I wish I had a replay feature so I could watch battles playing out in normal speed because it looks great, like a sci-fi action movie that includes real life squad-based combat elements, but unfortunately it's just not compatible with game play.

Yet, despite having a flow of time suited to the immortality I sorely lack, I can not say I dislike UFO: Afterlight. I look forward to my next vacation in order to complete this game. I'm probably about 50-75% through it, with most technology researched and only a tough southern hemisphere of Mars left to conquer. Unfortunately, I can't begin to estimate how many dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of hours completing the game would involve. So for now it's back to Odin Sphere, a game that simply tells its story and finishes. I never realized how valuable a finite game could be.

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