Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, the game for which this expansion is designed, is an incredibly complicated strategy title with an extremely steep learning curve that requires mastering a dictionary's worth of world-class techno-babble. As such, approaching the expansion, Sid Meier's Alien Crossfire, is enough to give one pause since quite naturally more of the same could logically be expected. Once you muster the courage to try it, though, you'll be pleasantly surprised. Given the disappointment that attended the expansion of another Sid Meier game, Civilization II, this is definitely a turn for the better.
Like most expansion packs, Sid Meier's Alien Crossfire shares the strengths and weaknesses of the game it extends and, in this case, this means a lot of complexity. However, the gameplay options in the expansion are different enough to renew interest in the game and keep it peaked for quite a while.
The most obvious improvement is the provision of seven new factions to play, including two offshoots of the ultra-powerful Progenitor alien race who are locked in an ideological blood feud. Playing the aliens can be fun, mainly for anti-social types. They can't ever settle their vendettas against each other and can't even talk to humans until they discover the Social Psych technological advance or a human faction learns about their own mentality in similar fashion. Gameplay mechanics for the aliens are also slightly different in that they have better control over research strategy, do not have to deal with commerce and have unique victory conditions.
Unfortunately, in order to keep the game balanced, the designers saddled them with some very awkward limitations. Even though the Progenitors are so advanced they actually "built" Planet and their warring ships possess faster-than-light technology, the remnants that survive planet fall must rediscover every scientific advance as if Planet's atmosphere has mysteriously erased their brains and computer memory banks. The game's plot is also rather contrived. If the fate of Planet is so crucial to the ideological future of the Progenitors, why would they wait years for one of their factions to build a huge communication network before sending any other ships to check up on their progress?
While the presence of the Caretakers and Usurpers adds flavor to the game, the new human factions are actually the most interesting to play. The Pirates, for example, are the first-ever nation in any game of the Civilization family designed to live at sea, while handling the Free Drones represents a first-hand experiment in left-wing politics, the likes of which haven't been seen very often in computer strategy games.
With all the positive possibilities presented by the new factions, though, the game still suffers from an excess of dubious technical jargon. While the research tree in any science-fiction game is bound to contain words and expressions with meanings that are not immediately obvious, there is no excuse for names like Cloudbase Academy, Pulse Armor or Dissociative Wave. These types of terms make any evaluation of the relative values of units and improvements practically impossible until dozens of frustrating hours have been invested in playing the game.
Overall, the expansion is an interesting twist on the now classic Civilization II gameplay mechanics but with a daunting learning curve that requires a lot of patience.
Graphics: Representation of the units is often imprecise and color schemes are weird. Unlike StarCraft or Star Trek: The Next Generation -- Birth of the Federation, the game provides no unique user interfaces for the aliens, which detracts a little from the overall experience.
Sound: The ambient music is strange and quickly becomes annoying. Sound effects and voiceovers are average at best.
Enjoyment: The game contains nothing revolutionary to bring new fans to the genre but it has good value as a way to extend the original game.
Replay Value: The seven new factions insure a lot of depth in replay value.
People who downloaded Sid Meier's Alien Crossfire have also downloaded:
Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Sid Meier's Antietam!, Sid Meier's Civilization 3, Sid Meier's Pirates!, Sid Meier's Civilization IV, Sid Meier's Gettysburg!, Sid Meier's Railroads!, Master of Orion 3
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