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X3: Reunion 2.0 - PC - Review

*After installation, and throughout playing the game, search for patches/updates to X3 Reunion 2.0

What do you get when you cross the limitless depths of outer space and creative, edge-of-reality science fiction? Fans of the "X Universe" will tell you it is known as X3: Reunion. Now, it has returned in the form of a DVD-based monster of a release that encompasses all of the previous material, upgrades- and then some. Enlight has delivered X3: Reunion 2.0 to sate your need to have it all on one disk, and expand the already limitless title with the new Bala Gi Missions. If that isn't enough, add the fully enhanced and tweaked-to-the-max X3 engine update.

Essentially, this is a compilation (X2 & X3) and official "bug-fix" version. X3 Reunion was plagued with issues that required frequent updates. Such can be expected for ambitiously large projects. The Universe is without an end, so making a game with that lack of limitation is bound to be complex. The "X Universe" is now somewhat legendary in video-gaming circles. The open-ended factor with vast ship options and endless ways to play lends itself to having problems. So, rather than being a completely new game, this is the old ones - with vital fixes in place - combined onto one DVD for convenience.

If you are new to the X3 experience, you'll need to immediately find the manual within the DVD (there is no printed version). Although there is a friendly tutorial for a mission, it is almost "too" basic and will not prepare you well for long-term play. Make no mistake - this is an investment in time and playing. There isn't an end to the game, only to missions. The game is like a sim, but comparing it to any sim I can think of is a disservice. There aren't the usual short-term goals like keeping customer happy with low prices and clean rides. It is survival and thriving in outer space. Not Earth-bound, either. In fact, the minor plot is that you are away from Earth - having been dropped off in another galaxy where you must create your own existence. You are not a "Tycoon" like games of that genre, but rather a space traveler that can jump in a fighting M class ship (maybe a M3 Fighter, or the quicker M4 Interceptor?), and/or build a series of stations and factories to be the Trump of the Universe. Instead of dollars and Euros, you're collecting credits to grow your Jabba-esque empire.

X3: Reunion 2.0 Screenshot

To add spice and an antagonist to keep you on your toes, you are under constant threat from the Khaak. The best way to describe them would be to compare them, in behavior, to the BORG - except less assimilation and more like BUGS. The roaches of space - with fighter ships! Almost all of the action is within a ship of some sort. Whether it be a fighter or freighter, that's where you're going to see most of the Universe. Using ships to transport hardware purchased with the credits you earn or barter, you can produce factories in which your fleet (or other goals) can be expanded upon. It's a realistic, piece by piece way of playing in outer space. If you play missions, you had better opt for a time when nothing will distract you from your task. You are given your assignment, but not a specific location to help you on your way. In the vast reaches of space, and even the X Universe, this is a huge undertaking.

The new addition, aside from the stellar visual upgrade, is the Bala Gi Mission expansion. This mission requires experience and money-- just to get it rolling. Once that has been obtained, you can start the massive quest which will reward you with amazing new ships and something known as the " Player Headquarters". Think of it as a quest for the Death Star, though not as glamorous. That's fitting, as the whole time playing the game I visualize myself as a (less cool) Han Solo, who was a peddler, fighter, transporter and all around man of many skills. The mission is expansive and will require a lot of interaction with others-- including a space pirate or two (did I mention the Han Solo vibe?).

X3: Reunion 2.0 Screenshot

The audio from the beginning is thunderous and unique. The tremors from ships and the whizzing sound of a scout ship in action come across a surround system with subwoofer in spectacular fashion. I adjusted things to my liking, which was about the only easy thing to learn. Once things were setup, I did not find myself reaching for the down-volume knob as I often do in games. I liked the environmental sounds, and in combat, the audio is more than a feature - it's a necessity. The voice chat is kind of tired, typical and lackluster, but the mellow tunes and ship sounds make up for those distractions.

Visually, the enhancement to 2.0 makes it leap beyond anything like this that I have played on the PC. It's lush, smooth and full of depth. Whether you are staring into the open cosmos watching asteroids cascade across the screen or seeing the light shine on a new planet, everything is amazing in detail and richness. It's a first-person perspective that surpasses anything I have played in a long time. I often found myself just drifting along admiring the scenery. Light, shadow and depth work great and set the mood for whatever scenario you may be experiencing.

The only thing close to a manual inside the packaging is a card that has the controls on it. That's an invaluable tool to keep handy. The learning curve is enormous, but the rewards are equally stellar. Learning how to barter and find the best deals is a skill in itself, and not something common in a simulation. Most sim games have set rules and prices, but throw that out the window when the are pirates and other such rogue elements in the mix. If you want the feel of just cruising through space as a intergalactic tour vessel, that's your option (though boring and limited) to do as well. There are no ends to this game. No matter what course you plot, you're in it for the long haul. Yes, you can lose yourself easily through a portal jump into a strange, new galaxy within the X Universe. Play it for weeks one way, then start from scratch and be an evil, ruthless pirate and raid the stars. Even though it is mostly repackaged, though more detailed, material - it's still a deep experience for those that have not tried it - or want to play it with the previous bugs long gone.

Review Scoring Details for X3: Reunion 2.0

Gameplay: 8.5
The time to learn and get familiar with controls and overall gameplay is enormous. The tutorial is relatively easy compared the "real" missions that come later on during actual play. The missions are rough and a challenge. You learn how to get information, materials/goods and other tools to get the job done quicker - though that is a relative term. Playing it is going to be different since there are so many ways in which to engage yourself. Fighter or factory mogul, it's going to vary a lot.   

Graphics: 10.0 
The graphics were better than any sim I have played, though it's an insult to the game to refer to it as simply a "sim." Reunion 2.0 has a tweaked and strong engine that shows off the game in grand fashion. The textures, objects and lighting are inspiring and exactly what I'd expect space to look like. Having seen images from NASA, I think they did an awesome job letting the gamer see the universe as envisioned by Egosoft.  

Sound: 8.5
The music is low intensity new age that's easily forgotten. Also, the obligatory chatting with others is not so great. However, what counts is the roar of solid-fuel (or other means of propellant) engines thrusting you through space. That will make your desktop rumble and fighting just makes it even more engaging. There's a nice variety of sounds, which also keeps things fresh and amped up.  

Difficulty: Hard
Like any great epic, this is deep and fully involving. The controls alone are more than many people will want to mess with. The 5x7 card enclosed in the case will give you the hot keys - and the combinations are tremendous. You can involve a joystick, as was done in the original X3 review. Once past the keyboard challenge, there is a lot to learn about trading, credits, raids, scouting, building and multitudes of other complex tasks. There are some things easier than others, but none seemed to easy. 

Concept: 6.0 
The game X3: Reunion 2.0 itself is not very new. It's a compilation of the previous games - with fixes for old issues. The new part is the mission pack and visuals. Otherwise, it's the old game(s) brought back in a single disk that you can load up and not need the DVD to run the game. The improvements are nice, and the game is still the same good fun, but it is not new.     

Overall: 8.5
When you get a open playing experience like this, you have to try it out. There isn't a specific target - but many or none. You can run missions or build your credit-fueled empire in the stars. No matter how you make it happen, it will be rewarding. The fun for me is in the exploration and working deals for goods. The art of earning credits and bartering with shady folks - while avoiding being raided yourself. There are the Khaak the worry about, and like any other sim, creating wealth that you can spend in other galaxies. To fully enjoy this game, make sure your system leans more towards the higher-end of the required specs, as it will tax what you have - and then some. It will take a long time, and a lot of playing, to get comfortable with X3, but the payoff is a great experience. If you have experience with the X Universe already, then the learning curve will be short, and you can jump right in to enjoy the visual enhancements and enjoy the newer things. I found a great deal of help using the online forums, as I was new to the X3 Universe and the historical information was helpful to me. That's also a great way to stay up on the bugs, fixes and tips for getting unstuck. The price for this game will mislead a lot of people. That will be their loss, as the game is richly rewarding and will provide an unending experience that's beyond the stars.

Great

Gw
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