X3: Terran Conflict Review
By Jesse Alley |
Clearly crafted by a design team on a mission and with a vision, X3: Terran Conflict is a pretty and impressively ambitious voyage into the heavens that should satiate the thirst of anyone who pines for life away from earthly confines. It isn't so lightweight that hardcore space jocks will write it off as a piece of fluff, nor is it as convoluted and complex as 3000AD's competing extraterrestrial sim Galactic Command. X3 is hard on the hardware unless you detune it a bit first and it isn't completely free of rough edges, but hey, German developer EgoSoft and publisher Deep Silver don't exactly have the pockets of Electronic Arts.
What you'll first notice when you begin the game is a nifty little pre-launch utility that allows you to look for updates, set up your control device, and adjust the graphic detail. Our advice: Pay very careful attention to the latter. X3 demands a ton from your system and will either slow to an unplayable speed or crash to the desktop if you don't act accordingly. We were ultimately forced to reduce virtually every important parameter -- including antialiasing, texture filtering, texture quality, and shader quality -- just to reach a satisfactory frame rate. A shame really, because as good as the game looks even with diminished detail, it looks positively brilliant when cranked to the max.
If you have serious computing horsepower, your view will look even better than this.A highly open-ended affair, X3 asks not that you merely blow up bad guys, but that you also trade and barter goods, converse with a ton of people, rack up the air miles by traveling virtually everywhere in the solar system, and even build floating mega-factories. Here, you aren't just a pilot -- you are in effect an empire. An empire that in many cases can explore, progress, and move about in any way it wishes.
The game will seem crazily complex at first blush, particularly when you take your initial gander at the massive 112-page online manual and the profusion of data and maps and information found within the sidebar on the left of the gameplay screen. Even the most detail-oriented players may be taken back initially by what they see. And indeed, coming to grips with the game and really learning all that's available within it is a gargantuan task in itself.
Even your choice of characters at the outset influences your goals, your difficulty, and your potential status. Choose to be a "Terran Defender," for example, and prepare for a life of relative ease when compared with other choices such as "Bankrupt Assassin." And that's just one more positive attribute for those who want to play again and again.
The dark recesses of space brighten up considerably when you waste an enemy.But that's just part of the genius of X3. Truth is that despite its almost frightening enormity and the high learning curve it sets out for those who want to play it to its full potential, it isn't as brutal for rookies as it seems. If, for instance, you haven't yet committed to memory the four full manual pages describing equipment and upgrades, the three pages on artifacts, or the twelve (!) pages recounting each of the game's key spacecraft, you needn't fear. You can pretty much just jump in and wing it, so to speak, picking up the knowledge you'll eventually need as you progress.
Indeed, you may not even need to consult said manual nearly as much as you might think. X3 offers up a ton of guidance and advice from within the game, in the form of helpful commanders and peers, liberal voice-over explanations, and of course that icon-based sidebar. Moreover, you can click on virtually any item within radar range for a fully detailed explanation of what it is and what it does. That the aforementioned manual is as accommodating, well-written, and downright enjoyable as it is, especially considering the wealth of information housed inside, is a real feather in the cap of the German design team.