Like X-COM, but better!
For a while, it seemed that the old, turn-based strategy games were a dying breed. Warcraft II and the Command & Conquer series had started a craze for real-time strategy games, and it seemed that the pensive, turned-based games were a thing of the past. Despair no more! Through a combination of engaging gameplay and high quality, 3-D graphics, Incubationbrings turn-based strategy back with a vengeance.
Incubation, from Blue Byte software places you as the young Commander Bratt (that's Bratt, not brat), assigned to protect the colony Scray-Halwa. It seems that the colony's defenses have been breached and the planet's indigenous, mutated, and dangerous inhabitants have begun to wreak havoc in the colony. It is your mission to assemble a squad of tough-as-nails space marines, and rid Scray-Halwa of the menace of the monsters. The gameplay of Incubation is a turn-based, tactical combat simulation. The game plays out a lot like the combat section of X-COM. Your troops have a certain number of movement points, which are used by moving, shooting, activating, etc. Once your turn is up, the enemy has their chance to move and try to destroy your squad.
The game's monsters, the Scray'Ger, come in an interesting assortment. There are the obligatory weak, puny, and plentiful creatures which serve as cannon fodder in the early stages, but later on you will come upon a creative collection of monsters. Some creatures are slow and powerful and protected with impenetrable frontal armor, yet are soft and vulnerable from behind. Other creatures are vulnerable only when attacking, and must be killed by using the 'defend mode' command. Still other monsters are nearly invisible and regenerate each turn. For all their variation, the monsters seem to all share one brain. The fact that this is a turn based game makes the actions of the monsters all the more predictable.
The graphics in Incubation raise the bar for turn-based games. X-COM displayed the world in an isometric perspective, using sprites to show every object. This was OK, but it made it feel more like a board game than a combat simulation. Incubation displays the entire world in glorious, texture-mapped, 3-D polygons. Rather than a fixed camera angle, Incubation gives you enormous freedom in positioning your viewpoint. The most visceral of the viewpoints is the 'unit view', in which you can see the action from the perspective of the unit in your squad. Seeing monsters explode "Quake"-style into chunky salsa is much better than the 'puff-of-smoke' common to other turn based games. Having a fully rendered, 3-D environment greatly adds to both the realism and fun, making the slow pace of a turn based game seem much more immediate and engaging.
I was a little disappointed by the small selection of equipment available to your squad. One of the things I liked about X-COM was the tremendous variety of equipment available to your troops. It also would have been nice if the designers had included at least some research into the game. As it stands, you acquire better weaponry only by completing missions, which leaves very little gameplay outside of the tactical combat sim. Although the selection of weapons and equipment was somewhat limited, most weapons have more than one function, with my favorite being the gory but effective bayonet.
One thing I found fairly annoying is that it seemed like there is very little reason to want to save the colony Scray-Halwa. The colony itself is very ugly, looking much like a dirty, run-down factory. Frankly, I don't see why any colonist would actually want to stay in that hideous hell-hole, especially with the Scray'Ger frequently disemboweling them. The game tries to inspire the player via sex appeal in the form of the amply polygonal Commander Rutherford. The main reason I found myself coming back was the well designed levels. There is a good variety of interesting levels, but what I like best about them is that they are like puzzles. Often, I found I carefully have to allocate every shot and every step in order to clear a level and avoid getting ripped to shreds. In some levels, you must find the proper sequence to do things to lure the Scray'Ger into your carefully set traps.
As a whole, I found Incubation to be a lot of fun. The 3-D graphics make it unusually exciting for a turn based game, and the levels and Intricate strategy kept me coming back for more. On the downside, Incubation does have a fairly limited equipment selection, and, as a little peeve of mine, refused to run unless I did the maximum installation, which gobbled upwards of 110 megabytes. If you're looking for the most engaging turn-based strategy game to come along in a long time, Incubation is it.