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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Egosoft

 Huge gameworld, good graphics, can play until sometime next year

Downs: What do I do? Poor enemy AI, Game progress might be too slow for some gamers

System Reqs: P200, 32Mb RAM, 3D card, 8X CD, 275Mb HD

The cryptically named X-Beyond the Frontier is a German- made romp through an alternate universe that can best be described as a good stab at space opera, replete with action, adventure, intrigue, and trading, yes, lots and lots of trading. The front of the box says it’s a “space combat action game,” but the back of the box is a little more accurate in describing “sixty-plus product lines to trade.” There is plenty of stuff to shoot up, but in order to get anywhere you’ve got to trade. Fortunately, X is not as boring as I may make is seem; it's loaded with great graphics and lots of first-class exploration. The story, though undistinguished, is certainly adequate to base this quite large and ambitious game upon.

At the beginning of the game, and after the game’s lengthy explanation of why, you are dumped off at one of fifty-four fairly large sectors shared by six distinct races, from the begrudgingly helpful Teladi to the downright hostile Xenons. Your goal is to reach Argon space, where you are to receive help in getting home; sound kind of familiar? Each sector is made up of a cluster of space stations, trading posts, resource collectors, manufacturing plants and defensive fleets. You will also come upon pirate ships in some sectors, whom you are to dispose of with extreme predjudice. The races of each sector each have their own architectural aesthetic, specialities, and way of going about things. The races also host a wide variety of goods that can, for the most part, be traded among other races as well. The stations also serve as armories where you can upgrade weapons and shields and strike up trading and military alliances.

The cargos you can choose to transport and sell for profit are quite varied as well, from foodstuffs, to energy, technology and other miscellanea. I was mildly intrigued when I first received the game and the rating of teen (13+) was deemed necessary for the game’s “use of drugs.” Sure enough, one of the most lucrative investments that you can make in the game is in the transport and distribution of “Spaceweed.” I’m sorry, I’m cracking up here. So, now we can all fulfill our dreams of becoming interplanetary Han Solo-style hustlers and get hassled by the Man. Which is exactly what happens; I eventually had to give up my drug-dealing ways because I kept getting caught and having my stuff confiscated, and you’ll be lucky to get rid of the interplanetary DEA once they suspect something is on the down low.

Having fun and shooting stuff up will also get you nowhere in a hurry; there are a lot of feelings that can be hurt here. It’s best to play by the rules and shoot stuff up only once in a while, like when you see those rascally and nearly indestructible pirates.  If you're lucky you might get a hand from allied ships in the area, which is what it takes to bring down some of the poorly programmed ships that once attacked fly in circles or fatally ram you.

Save games are handled through what they call Salvage Insurance, you can get this at most of the structures you visit for a small price. At first I didn’t like the idea, thinking that it would slow the progress of the game if I got killed far from where I last got Insurance. But after a while I got used to the idea and bought insurance immediately after I entered each new sector. This allows you to go back to a safe haven and reformulate your plans, or avoid hostile sectors after your first unhealthy encounter. However, in order to gain a positive reputation with some races you have to engage pirates and other hostiles with a bounty hunter mentality. You can also get paid to do so by buying police licensces from friendly races.

There are other methods of making a living in the X universe other than getting shot up as a bounty hunter, or through trading between sectors, which I’ve already discussed a little. If you manage to gain enough capital with the aforementioned methods you can go on and invest in your own factories. This is very time consuming and is only recommended for those who would like to be playing this game steadily into some time next year. If you choose to do so, you must  find a transport to move your goods and construct your factories. Overall, the slow progress of the game, because of the steep curve at which you gain competence, makes it rather frustrating at times--and the size to the universe doesn’t help either.

X’s graphics are simple but still very nice, specifically the backgrounds of space that change with each sector, and planets and space debris abound. And while--as mentioned before--each race has its own architectural aesthetic, at times these structures, though rendered nicely, seem uninspired in form. Some are just slightly different collections of the same basic shapes and textures. Spaceships suffer the most, and can be difficult to tell apart.

My biggest problem with X is the utterly stupefying lack of guidance that you receive at the beginning of the game. I had no idea where to start, who to shoot-who not to shoot, why I should do so, and even a basic direction as to where I should go next. The problem persists to even the key mapping. Some of the controls are given in the manual, but a great many others have to be found through trial and error. The trading system, though relatively simple in nature, is not explained anywhere, in the game or manual. This led to a great deal of consternation on my part when I kept wasting hard earned cash on stuff I really didn’t need, or dumping it off in space on accident, or even finding someone to buy my cargo. The manual is utterly worthless in solving any of these problems. I suspect the translation budget wasn’t very big and the original German manual is a little more helpful.

If you are going to buy a game to last you a couple months X might be a good shot, but if you want a direct, very linear game, where everything is a little more obvious, X is a miss. Be prepared for a good deal of wandering the back forty of space, with gunfights thrown in only now and then. In return you will get as close to being a space cowboy as any game has yet offered. X is fun, but it's an investment.

--Thomas Hoff