X: Beyond the Frontier

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X: Beyond the Frontier
Release date: December 31, 1999
Developer: Egosoft
Publisher: THQ
Series: X Series
Platforms: Windows
Technology: X Engine
Media: CD-ROM

Summary

X: Beyond the Frontier (1999) is a video game created by Egosoft for Windows. The first of the X series, it is a space trading and combat simulator game, mostly set in the fictional X Universe. Upon release, it was frequently compared to the older Elite.

An expansion, X-Tension, was released in 2000. Two full sequels have since followed: X²: The Threat in 2003 and X³: Reunion in 2005.

Background

Set in the year 2912, the player takes the role of Kyle Brennan, an Earth test pilot for the X-Shuttle, better known as the X-Perimental Shuttle, which has the ability to jump from one part of space to another via a wormhole without the use of a jumpgate.

During the test jump, something goes wrong and Brennan ends up in an unknown part of space. He soon encounters an alien race, the Teladi, a highly capitalist, profit-focused culture. Finding Kyle helpless in their space, they repair his ship and loan him some money. They may also give hints on trading in the X Universe, the Argon, as well as information about the various other alien races in the X-Universe. The X Universe is a network of sectors linked by jumpgates. With his jumpdrive destroyed, and no idea how to get back to Earth, Brennan finds himself stranded within this gate network, alone, and indebted to an alien race.

The player is free to choose how to continue the game from here, and if/when to pursue the main plot.

Plot

Through trade and exploration, Brennan eventually meets the Argon, a race who appear human. However, it quickly becomes clear that mainstream Argon have no knowledge of Earth, and most dismiss Brennan as a crank when he claims to be from Earth. Brennan is subsequently led to a religious order known as the Goner (pronounced: go-na), an organization dedicated to preserving information about Earth. He works with them to uncover the hidden history of the Argon - that they are descended from humans who were separated from Earth centuries ago in a war with rogue machines known as the Terraformers. After convincing the Argon that Earth is genuine, Brennan works with them - specifically, with Ban Danna, Head of the Argon Secret service - to prevent the Terraformers, now known as the Xenon, from developing a super-weapon.

Depending on his status with the various X-Universe races, Brennan finally forms an alliance, with which to attack the Xenon forces and destroy their super-weapon, thus completing the main plot.

Gameplay

There are fifty-four different star systems in the X Universe, and within each one there are a number of installations. There is at least one space station in each system, along with various factories, shipyards and Solar Power Plants. Trading with them can earn the player profit, as well as allowing the player to upgrade the X-Shuttle with things such as weapons, shields and cargo space.

It is possible to trade within a single system, cruising between the various installations, but greater profits can be found by exploring further systems by means of jump gates. Eventually the player can actually buy factories for even greater profit potential.

Although each system has at least one planet, it is not possible to land on them, with the factories, space stations, etc, situated far from the planets and stars themselves.

X: BTF was praised for its open-ended gameplay and the large amount of systems to explore. The economy in the X Universe is dynamic, with the price of goods varying with supply and demand. For example, selling a large amount of one particular product to a single place will result in the price they are willing to pay for further consignments dropping in proportion to their demand. The atmospheric musical score of the game was also praised,[citation needed] as was the varied dialogue it is possible to have with many different aliens. Conversely, several reviews complain that the voice acting, while atmospheric, is unclear and can make it difficult to follow the plot. X: BTF was also praised highly for its "spectacular background graphics", such as "gorgeous colored lighting effects and the highly detailed rotating planets".

However, X: BTF received some criticism for giving the player very little equipment to start off with. The X Craft has no weapons, for example. These can be purchased, but only after the player has acquired credits to buy them. In the meantime, the player is helpless if attacked. The ship is also slow, and flying between installations takes a long time. A time-accelerator device can reduce transit time, but this also needs to be found and purchased, resulting in X having a potentially frustrating "snail's pace [for] the first 10-20 minutes". However, "[a]fter as little as an hour of gameplay, with some shrewd trading... you should be able to outfit your X ship with a pair of lasers ... and the time-accelerating 'singularity time distortion engine.'" The combat system was lightly criticised as "being more of a goal to be overcome than a challenge to be relished", especially given the "suicidal as hell", "kamikaze" nature of enemy pilots, that appear to constantly wish to ram the player. Another complaint was X: BTF's "skimpy manual", which left the player to work out most things for themselves. However, others felt that "the documentation was extremely well done" and that "the game actually uses your complete ignorance of what's going on around you to add a sense of adventure and mystery to the tale."

Links

Official Website


X
X: Beyond the Frontier, X-Tension, X2: The Threat, X3: Reunion, X3: Terran Conflict