X3 Reunion – As seen by Trolleydude
August 20, 2008 § 3 Comments
When I was a young lad, I would often walk into my older brother’s room and see him playing a shiny new game. I had little understanding of anything more complex than Reader Rabbit at that stage, so when I strolled in one day and saw him clicking away at a screen covered in numbers and percentages, I was rather startled by the lack of game on his screen. Seeing me, he sat me down on his lap and explained that this was a new kind of game. One which gave you ultimate freedom to pursue your own goals and set your own objectives; one which evolved with the player as a setting, not just an opponent; one where you could become either a millionaire mogul or a fearsome war machine, or anything in between. With a degree of reverence, he presented me with the keyboard, and handed over control of his developing universe. I promptly spun the mouse and crashed into a space station, giggling at the pixelated letters spelling GAME OVER. It was quite a while before I was trusted with such a thing again.
Yes, X: Beyond the Frontier was always something of a mystery to me. Watching my brother guiding a spaceship through a series of floating rectangles with nary a rocket-launcher between them held not the slightest attraction to me. However, while he moved on to more free space (see what I did there?), I remembered that game as the first glimpse of something bigger than what I already knew. It was probably this lingering memory that possessed me to buy X3 a while back, which was strange in itself as I usually avoid games that have been abandoned at the bottom of the shelf, gathering dust, feebly protesting via a large “Gold Edition” logo emblazoned across the cover. Since Empire Earth 3 I have learned my lesson.
Still, I was intrigued by the pretty box art, and brought it home with me. For the next eighteen months, I would constantly install, remove, find and reinstall it, each time learning a little more about how the bloody thing worked, until now.
You see, about a month ago I came back to X3, and I think I finally understand it enough to form an opinion.
Despite the fact that the difficulty curve is like holding your hand for five minutes then walking you off the edge of a cliff, the game is enjoyable once you actually know what you’re doing. The lack of a tutorial and the size of the manual means you have to learn most of the mechanics just by playing, and I find that idea quite appealing, mainly because I’m sick of being patronised by tutorials telling me that I have to press my “use” key to open a door in three or four different situations (“Okay, now let’s see if you can open a brown door!”). This also means that when you inevitably give up and start a new game, there is no tutorial level to wade through a hundred times. Unless you’re playing with storyline enabled, of course. But then you deserve it because you’re stupid.
There is an option to play with the storyline turned off, so the game becomes purely sandbox. You should find yourself making great use of that option, mainly because the story, cutscenes, voice acting, lip syncing, campaign missions are all absolutely dire. The characters resemble burn victims whose lips are being manipulated by a tipsy puppeteer with only one string. The voices have clearly been acted by Sue from down the hall and Dave from accounting, and the main character is such a fucking moron that you are tempted to just fly him into an asteroid and be done with it.
So yeah, you’ve decided just to play sandbox. Well done to you. Unfortunately it’ll be at least a month until you’re in a position to make a difference in your universe, and another month before you won’t fail miserably every time you try. After that, though, the game shows you hidden depths. It really does change depending on how you play it, and if you play it aggressively, it becomes a deep and intense space combat simulator. If you play it defensively, it becomes SimCity. If you play defensively and then become agressive, it’s just Star Wars. You lead massive fleets into pitched battles between space stations, watching your bomber wings strafing giant capital ships with explosive results, until eventually you give up and crash your destroyer into their shipyard, fleeing just ahead of the ridiculously huge explosion, pissing yourself laughing at the entire situation.
The concept is incredibly ambitious, and what’s more is it’s been executed perfectly. I can’t believe it’s not as famous as Halo, because, in my opinion, it’s the biggest, most extensive game ever created by anyone – which is why it’s on PC. I have yet to meet the console gamer who could make head nor tail of X3: Reunion. This is because, while it’s enjoyable, it cannot be described as fun. You can have fun playing it, but anyone who has will tell you that you will spend most of your time working for it.
It is for this reason that I wouldn’t recommend this game to anyone. Hell, I wish I’d never found it. If anyone asks me if they should get X3, I’m telling them no. Stick to Ninja Gaiden and Team Fortress 2, because you will hate me if I get you into this. Overall, I won’t tell you to play it, and I can’t tell you that it’s fun.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s not absolutely fucking awesome.