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UFO: Afterlight is a 2007 strategy computer game and the third in Altar's UFO series. Like its predecessors UFO: Aftermath and UFO: Aftershock, it combines squad-level tactical combat with overlying strategic elements in a manner that's deliberately very much like the major 1994 classic X-COM: UFO Defense.
In Aftermath, the few human survivors of an alien attack were forced into a devil's deal to preserve their race and abandoned the Earth's surface to the invaders. In return, some of humanity was moved off-planet to orbital colonies and to a small Mars colony. Aftershock features the subsequent events on Earth a half-century later while Afterlight focuses on the hitherto ignored inhabitants of Mars concurrently with Aftershock.
Time has passed largely uneventfully in the high-tech yet rudimentary Mars base. Over 10,000 colonists remain in cryonic suspension, waiting for a time when the desert planet can support them. Among the fewer than thirty people awake, two new generations have risen and only the oldest now remember Earth. Contact with the increasingly authoritarian Council of Earth has become strained and recently cut altogether. Automation is very advanced and researchers are nearing the point where they can start terraforming Mars. Then an archaeological dig disturbs something that should have been left alone..
In Afterlight, you play the game in two parts. The first part is the strategy game consisting of claiming territory, building structures on the planet, managing research and production, managing personnel training, base management, and diplomacy where you can trade items and resources with other parties. The second part of Afterlight is the tactical game where, much like the previous UFO titles, you equip and direct up to seven soldiers to accomplish a goal in missions. Some mission goals are to capture or kill a specific enemy, destroy or retrieve a particular item, and the ubiquitous kill everything that moves.
The game starts with a set number of characters, and a few new characters become available as the game progresses; you can't simply hire new people when you need them as with previous UFO games. Drones can be found in some missions who gain experience just like characters do, and can be repaired and upgraded with parts you can build. Characters can have a single class such as Soldier, Technician, or Scientist. Some characters have more than one class, such as Soldier/Scientist, Soldier/Technician, or Scientist/Technician.
In the strategic game, territories are claimed by building a particular structure called a geosonde; some territories must be cleared of opposing forces before you can claim them. Once claimed, additional structures can be built in the territory including terraforming stations, excavation sites, resource mines, and radars. Each type of structure will require either a Technician or Scientist to build. You have a single Scientific Craft and a single Technical Truck for sending the respective characters to build structures on the planet, but you can fit quite a few characters in either vehicle thus speeding up the construction process. While they are out building structures, the Scientists and Technicians are not available for missions or any other purpose.
Territories can have resources available to mine including metal, fuel, crystals, chemicals, noble metals, and others. To tap into the resource, simply build a mine and that resource gains +1 level cumulative with other mines of the same type. You can also trade resource levels with other factions on the planet, which will give you a –1 to whatever you offer and a +1 to whatever was offered to you (be warned that these deals cannot be undone!), otherwise there is no actual resource management. Some resources are capped at low levels unless you build certain buildings to exceed the cap. Many actions in the strategic game, such as research, production, and upgrading your base, have one or more prerequisites such as a specific technology, a particular base structure, a minimum resource level, or some combination of these requirements.
In the tactical game, you equip squads of Soldiers and send them on missions; they travel to and from missions in UFO, a gift from your Reticulan friends. Technicians and Scientists with Soldier levels can be included in missions and gain Soldier experience as usual, but some missions will also give Technician or Science experience to the respective classes. It’s a good idea to use the mixed class characters in missions often enough to keep their Soldier levels up for those missions that require use of a Scientist or Technician.
The Mars landscape is a hostile place for humans and aliens alike. In the strategic view you will see an Environment Hostility factor that fluctuates slightly every few days. Missions will have an Environment Hostility rating based on the overall rating, and will vary by day and night. Terraforming stations will also lower the Environment Hostility for missions in that region. Thus, suits must be worn to protect against the environment. If a Soldier is wearing a suit that is not rated high enough for the mission’s Environment Hostility, the suit can become damaged while in the mission; the greater the discrepancy between the suit’s rating and the Environment Hostility, the more likely the suit is to be damaged and the character be hurt. Having a Technician with a suit repairer device to repair suits when you can’t meet the minimum is highly recommended.
All characters gain experience in their respective classes. For Soldiers, combat missions are the sole method to gain experience and Soldier levels. Technicians gain experience by working on production queues, building structures at the base, building structures on the planet, or participating in missions requiring a Technician. Scientists gain experience by performing research in labs, building structures on the planet, or participating in missions requiring a Scientist.
As a character gains levels, training points accumulate which are used to train the character in various skills, as well as increasing a characters abilities (strength, dexterity, etc.). There are separate skill sets for Soldiers, Scientists, and Technicians, however some of the Science and Technician trainings are useful during combat missions in addition to their respective role in the strategic game. For example Suit Handling training allows Technicians to build suits faster, as well as repairing damaged suits while in a mission. Scientists can train Medicine, which allows them to research Medicine technologies faster and use healing devices in missions.
Base management includes building and upgrading existing base structures that give you the ability to build new weapons and equipment, expand resources, add room to perform more research or production, and train and heal characters among other things.
Research has many avenues such as Medicine, Earth Technology, Martian Technology, and Planetology among many others. Just as in other UFO titles, research is necessary to upgrade equipment, gain the use of alien technology, expand your base and thus overall capabilities. You can build additional Laboratories if you have the prerequisites, allowing you to research multiple technologies at once.
Production allows new items to be created. Each time you add something to the production queue you set a quantity you want built. Before any actual quantity of the item is produced, however, a production line takes time to setup. Once the production line is built, the items start being produced and will continue until the quantity defined is reached or you remove it from the queue. You can change the quantity to be built and freely move items around in the queue without affecting the production line setup time. You can build additional Workshops if you have the prerequisites, allowing you to have multiple production queues and build multiple items at once.