For those fans of X-Com who are raging about how the newest game in the series has nothing to do with the epic hardcore fall of mankind to alien invaders might take heart in the newest alien-featuring browser-based game coming from Gamingo: UFO Online. This free-to-play turn-based, tactical browser-based game presents squad combat on small maps, MMO features of multiple players in PvE and PvP and a multitude of alien invaders to gun through.

On first blush, it seems that UFO Online is a Flash-based browser game, but it requires the (small) download and install of the Unity web player to play the game proper—the rest runs in Flash and HTML.

Players are asked to choose between three factions representing major world powers (East, West, and Central effectively) and get to mount a squad of up to eight warriors—although the initial barracks only fits four—chosen from five class options. The turn-based combat moves the warriors around on the map and the enemy moves theirs as well. With PvE against aliens and PvP against other players.

Player-versus-Player seems to also have a secondary meta-game where players are asked to conquer and control territories (marked on a Risk-like world map). PvP missions gain faction points in that region that decide who controls it. Players can play PvE missions in controlled regions and this is what fuels the PvP portion of the game.

I recently got into the beta and here’s what I saw.

Gameplay: Aliens! …and guns, lots of guns, you’ll need them.

The game starts with recruiting some members—the maximum at the beginning you can get are two—so as I chose a sniper as my primary, I went with a tank and a scout as my plus two.

From here you’re introduced to all the tabs in the lobby: Storage, Hospital, Barracks, Lab, and Strategy HQ.

Storage does exactly what it says on the tin. Keep unused weapons, armor, ammo, mods, and the like for use on characters later. There’s also a segment for crafting items that you can use to upgrade and create new items. The Hospital is where troops are placed to heal their hurts—after getting injured hospital will slowly heal them over time until they’re patched up. The Barracks is where the troops get their talents upgraded and modified (as they level up they get talent points) after earning a point a talent takes time to learn, starting at around 15mins and quickly getting up into 45 mins or more. The Lab is good for fixing equipment which degrades during missions and also costs time to fix up again.

The Strategy HQ is a Risk map of the world showing what’s been conquered and what access is available to.

Here, I could scan through different regions and choose PvP or PvE missions. Each mission type had different difficulties and some settings. Slots existed for inviting other players along and picking squad members to go into the mission.

It’s pretty X-Com here. (Although with less screaming and dying.)

Battles can last up to 15 minutes or more of clicking, panning, and scanning. Most of the game is based around how many action points your characters have to move, aim, and fire their weapons. In fact, for those gunbunnies who are also statistic sticklers will discover there’s a great deal of theorycrafting to be done by carefully positioning troops for the best firing range and position. Although in the beginning it won’t matter as much if you’re one square or two squares away, upping the offensive output can help a lot for survivability.

Aliens hit hard, but fortunately there’s a great deal of armor to be had from the shop.

Each mission brings not just extra energy (radiation-symbol currency) but also technology points for skills and to expand the barracks. Equipment and people is life, so I was sure to run a lot of low threat missions in my home territory to bulk up before wading into even a medium-low threat mission. They scale fast—dangerously fast—and if you’re not used to tactical games, you might be in for a nasty surprise.

For hardcore players of these sort of games this will not be a turn off, but a sign that the developers know the community they’re selling to. Of course, if you’re a tenacious player you can just continue to bulk up on lower level missions in order to better survive the waves of baddies who will b coming later on.

Gear up and roll out!

Graphics and Sound: Turn-based tactical and browser-based game, low graphics get the job done

The browser-based portions of the game that provide the lobby are almost all Flash and HTML and thus mouse-click based.

The sound in these sections is almost entirely the background music which is subdued and on a very short loop. It’s techno based and there’s a smooth transition from one loop end to the beginning so the seamless nature means that it’s easy to ignore—also, it’s possible to turn the music volume down specifically in the options in case it’s too loud.

Artwork for characters is fairly reasonable. The player’s primary troop character has a limited amount of customization with only three options for face, eyes, camouflage, and hair—although hair color has a virtual rainbow at its disposal. You end up looking at your mug a lot when you’re making the strategy decisions before moving into the tactical-based portion of the game so choose well.

In the turn-based combat, however, things go actual 3D. The maps are tiled and the camera, while fixed at a steep 60 degree angle from the troops, can be spun around and the map can be slid. It just takes a little bit to get used to how to handle the camera to get a good look at what’s going on. Models are pretty simple, but they’re more-or-less miniatures on a game map at this point.

The alien models are pretty creepy, mostly plastic-gorgons with gargoyle faces, sometimes wings, and often lots of sharp bits waiting to rip unsuspecting marines to shreds.

Sounds come into play when the enemy is discovered (“Enemy spotted!”) and when attacks take place. There’s some gunfire, alien screaming, knifes slicing, and explosions. I’m sure that the alien weaponry probably also has some high-tech sounds later on but I haven’t encountered them in my play through.

Freemium: Still in beta, but there’s the obvious skeleton of an item shop based for-cash currency

It’s hard to tell right now exactly how Gamingo intends to run the freemium aspect of the game but it’s obvious that there’s a virtual item shop. The microtransaction currency is called Platinum and in the item shop it can sometimes buy interesting and more-powerful weapons, armor, ammo, and modifications.

I’ve seen both weapons and armor for Platinum (often they’re alter-colored such as purple or golden, which I suspect means they’re unique and epics) and some of the mods. Needless to say, the Platinum based weapons and armor are almost always slightly better than those that are bought for energy (the in-game currency.)

I switched back in forth between equipping my troops with Platinum-bought equipment and Energy bought as I pushed them to the limit to test the game.

Platinum can also be used to shave the time-edge off certain actions such as waiting for equipment to repair or troops to heal in the hospital after they’ve been injured in combat.

Conclusion: Tactical, squad-based turn-based conflict with aliens and players good to go

Alright men and women, it’s time to suit up and take out some xenomorphs! These alien guttersnipes have been sticking their three-fingered willies into the ear of Humanity for too long and it’s time that we brought the assault to them. I expect you all to be on your toes, bring your own gun, and check your ammo. We’re not coming out of this without a few scrapes and scratches but in the end we will be victorious.

UFO Online suits all the needs of a tactical turn-based squad game reminiscent of the X-Com genre and that’s what matters to me. Although it’s certainly not as rough and hardcore as the properly defining game, it gives players enough to bite down on.

This game holds up a lot of the tactical, turn-based squad combat into the acumen of browser-based games. The inclusion of a Risk-style PvP between factions each of which seem equally matched, but unique enough to give pause to choose, makes it interesting enough to check out. Although it’s in beta, there’s people already chatting in global chat, and battling on the world scene for faction points to conquer regions.

If you like turn-based tactics games, and perhaps have been looking for something to tide you over waiting for the next real X-Com game to rise from the depths of space-time, you could do worse than UFO Online.