There are various things I hate about videogames. I can’t stand bad cutscenes, I detest dated or haggard graphics, I loathe trite storylines, I abhor head-crabs, and I despise awkward controls and handling. X2 hits that final bugbear seemingly squarely on the head. When you try to manoeuvre your ship in a dogfight for the first time, warning klaxons clang loudly in the pleasure neurones of your brain. Then when required to delve into the bottomless tangle of massed commands and orders from the impossibly deep menu system, prospects of enjoyment look even more remote.
Why do I start this review on a negative note? Quite simply because this is the negative note that you will start the game on. The first few hours of playing X2 are frankly a chore to undergo as you try to get your mind round the baroque menu system, and battle with the woefully inaccurate and cumbersome controls. Then, suddenly, wham!! With startling abruptness you finally get to grips with these complex systems, and like a flower in Spring, the game opens up beautifully before your eyes. Rather than a convoluted shambles of meaningless stats and options, things start to make perfect sense, and you will begin to fully appreciate the astounding capabilities of this vast game.
Lets make this clear from the outset; X2 is not an action game. Those looking for a fast-paced space shooter will not find their fill in this rich diet. X2 is space simulation of epic proportions, and has a lot more on its agenda than simple destruction tactics. You exist as an initially insignificant pawn in a living, breathing universe that operates its own evolving dynamic economy. None of the universe relies upon you to exist or continue existence; life continues all through the universe regardless of your presence or absence. This impressions upon you your own insignificance wonderfully in such a vast and independent cosmos.
Are you the peaceful sort? Then X2 will take you quietly under its turbo-thrusters and allow you to incrementally construct your own space colony as you increase in wealth and influence by peacefully harvesting crops, minding your own business. You can not only build your own space stations, but also assemble your own garrisons of spacecraft that you can use in either offensive or defensive tactics.
Maybe a life of adventure is more your scene. In that case you can become a bounty hunter, tracking down the scum of the universe in return for rewards and prestige. Alternatively, become a space pirate yourself and assault existing space colonies to expand your evil empire. Or you could just wander round trading stations, enjoying the views, and selling your wares at extortionate prices. Quite simply, X2 will cater for whatever life you want to lead. This is a thriving virtual universe, and you can literally pursue whatever course of action you so choose. As a footloose entrepreneur, the copious array of options open to you is quite staggering.
Traipsing the virtual universe will reveal how truly beauteous X2 is. The swirling, gaseous nebulae add patches of radiant colour amidst the luminescent stars that coruscate with limitless energy. Meteorite storms rage ceaselessly as they tread lonesome, swirling paths throughout the desolate wastes of nowhere. Planets abound, some are vibrant with life and colour, some are bleak and deserted wastelands. Amidst all this are littered the inhabitants of space, living in huge station complexes, transporter fleets, or occasionally just the odd solitary spaceship, winging its secluded route throughout the vast, all-encompassing universe.
Such is the genuine feeling of being just a tiny fragment of something so huge, that the solitude really affects you as you explore the outer reaches of the known universe. No living soul for thousand of miles, and I felt so lonesome that I almost wept at one point. Thankfully a passing comet expressed its welcome, and I played with it gratefully for a couple of hours before making my slow and lonesome way back to civilisation.
X2 is not a game to be taken lightly. To appreciate its countless virtues requires generous amounts of devotion and time. Gaming doses are to be taken in the form of hours, and not minutes. But such an investment is well worthwhile to those who enjoy this kind of game, and rewards you bountifully with an unforgettable journey into the heart of space.
I could talk for hours about the great features that X2 has, the wonderful array of choices, the variety of locations, and the technically accomplished way in which it is presented, but I won’t expound, because to do so is superfluous. What you need to know is that this is the finest space simulation game money can buy. To sate your dogfighting skills you should look elsewhere in the form of X-Wing Alliance or the superb Freelancer. But for the unmissable experience of becoming your own space entrepreneur in a dynamically evolving universe, X2 is an exquisite offering that will fill the gap in your soul.