I was unfortunate enough not to have delved too deeply into the world of X when it was first released, however one of the guys in the office raved about it for weeks on end and it was practically impossible to pull him away from the game. With this in mind I was eager to check out the next game in the series, X2: The Threat from Egosoft and publisher Deep Silver.

The game kicks off with some backstory and you quickly discover via the intro cutscenes that you play Julian Gordna who has been caught red handed by the law while trying to steal a ship. Carted off to prison for your crimes, you then get an early reprieve and end up working for the mighty TerraCorp. It’s not quite clear why you have been released at the start of the game and like all good stories you have to let things unfold as you progress. We’ll not ruin the game by giving anything away here but the story unfolds the more missions you begin to undertake for TerraCorp.

So what is X2? Imagine a mix of Freelancer and Elite only on a larger scale and with a h** of a lot more options at your disposal. The game can best be described as a space sim with a bit of trading and empire building thrown in for good measure. X2 is not quite as simple as that though, the game world is pretty immense and the trading part of the game is only one aspect of the open-ended gameplay which is glued together with the plot to give the game some cohesion.

X2: is ambitious and it shows right from the start. You know it’s going to be a biggie when the game’s paces starts slow, even when you’re being eased into the gameplay during the early missions. The first few missions are standard fare of delivering this, that and the next thing from point A to point B. Even though these early missions are simple, EgoSoft encourage you to explore and make a few credits while you’re on your travels. It’s with this in mind you’re being weaned into squeezing the most from the game’s vast universe by exploring every nook and cranny.

We didn’t have a full manual for the game with the review version but luckily enough Deep Silver provided us with a keyboard guide which proved invaluable in understanding the game’s control system coupled with the basic training missions. With so much on offer it was inevitable the game was going to have a complex system of menus and controls but fortunately early missions are standard so there’s not too much hopping around whacking keys at random. Navigation is actually reasonably simple once you realise how the gate systems are laid out in each sector on their compass point positions and you get the hang of the navigation menu and radar display in the bottom right of the ship HUD. As with just about every space sim that’s ever been released, these gates will allow you to jump from system to system faster than a speeding bullet, which is just as well, traveling through sectors in a slow transport ship can take some time. Ship control is handled by the keyboard, mouse or joystick and as far as the keyboard an mouse are concerned, don’t even go there, it’s essential to have a decent joystick for this game. The ship handling is decent enough with a good stick, although they do lack ‘feel’ when controlling them.

As you move about the systems, you can dock at carious stations to carry out deliveries and take part in trading or simply do a bit of shopping to enhance your ship. Docking is simple enough with the onboard computer and once inside you’re presented with numerous interfaces that allow you to trade commodities and communicate with NPC characters onboard. Again the menus are not the easiest to use and they do take some getting used to, and you need to understand them well as much of the game will be played out darting between interface options. To bring locations such as space stations to life, there are cutscenes highlighting mission goals but the quality of these are not great. The character models look rough and the animation could have been better so keep in mind that if you’re wanting to get stuck into an involving space sim you need to stick with it and look beyond the eyecandy.

So what makes this game that little bit special? The games depth. Not only can you take part in the standard space sim functions of missions and trading but you can create your own empire of ships that you control, buy ships, acquire resources, place stations in the universe for your wealth gathering operations and buy and sell your way around the game world . Creating your own path and standing in the game world with the numerous factions is another aspect that will pull you in to the X universe giving an extra element of freedom in the game world. Again time is a factor, upgrading and acquiring enough cash can take a while, you are made to work for that better ship or upgrade. To help things along, you can speed things up by installing a SETA on your ship reducing time traveling between locations, an essential upgrade to keep the game moving. You have to be prepared to lose more than a few hours on X2, you need dedication for this game.

Graphically X2 is not too shoddy, space is vibrant, the textures on the ships is fairly decent and it’s an improvement over the first game. Bump mapping, shadows and antialiasing are all options available but the game does need decent horsepower which was a little surprising as it’s not quite as visually impressive as say Freelancer in our opinion. If you have a high-end graphics card then you’ll be fine, it ran reasonably well on RADEON 9800 Pro with everything cranked to the max. While the graphics generally do the game justice, the sound unfortunately doesn’t, the music is pretty bland as you move about the systems and the voice acting comes from the school of bad soaps. Fortunately you can turn that off an opt for text only.

After hours of playing the game, I’m still playing X2, it has drawn me in to the darkest corners of space. This game is one of the most involving space sims released for a while and it’s only let down by a complex and rough interface design and the dodgy voice acting. Fans of the first game will love all the new features and space sim fanatics looking for a game they can get lost in for hours, days, even weeks on end, should really check this out. This game deserves attention.

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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