Over the last few days I've been playing the preview code for Cenega's UFO: Aftershock. After a 3GB download from Cenega's FTP server, it was stark staringly obvious that this wasn't a simple preview demo. It was, in fact, a fairly early Alpha build (version 0.2) of the full game, which pleased me greatly.
The code obviously has a lot of rough edges still, with a menagerie of bugs still to be killed and the game crashed more often than Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, but the overall impression it left on me was a good one. I don't want to preempt the preview I've written for Pro-G too much (as it should be up in a couple of days), but it looks like Aftershock is a considerable improvement upon its prequel, UFO: Aftermath.
Firstly, the 3D engine is a whole lot prettier and much more flexible. You can now rotate the camera in every direction, making sure your view is never obscured by the scenery during tactical missions. The interface is also much improved, particularly at the Geosphere strategic map. Economic and Base management from genre progenitor UFO: Enemy Unknown also make a welcome return, returning the game to its historical roots. The Faction diplomacy from UFO: Apocalypse also features, albeit with a hugely slimmed down list of Factions. This is especially important, as you must curry favour with the Factions on Earth before they will allow you to build bases on the Earth's surface (initially, all your operations are carried out from an orbiting "Laputa" space station). Additionally, the higher your standing with a particular faction, the better the people they will offer you as potential troops. Troops can now be properly renamed (à là Enemy Unknown) which inevitably helps you form bonds with your troops, rather than just chucking them into battle like expendible cannon fodder.
The simultaneous turn-based combat from the prequel remains and whilst it takes a bit of getting used to, it's very enjoyable and allows you very effective micro-management of your squad; Which is just as well, given the absolute ruthlessness of the alien AI at the highest difficulty levels.
If ALTAR Interactive manage to kill all the bugs prior to release, then this could be a big hit, because the potential is there for Aftershock to be a true successor to the mantle occupied by UFO: Enemy Unknown for the last 11 years. Keep your eyes on this one.