Terror from the Deep is a very similar game to its predecessor, UFO: Enemy Unknown (aka X-Com in the US). Once again, you’re leading a small, elite but beleaguered military organisation against a greatly superior alien foe. The game is based around the same mix of global strategy, and squad-level turn based combat. Managing your bases and resources works exactly the same way, and most of your weapons and equipment are direct copies of something from UFO with a new name and sprite.

There are basically two significant changes. Firstly, the game has been effectively re-skinned with a deep-sea theme. The aliens are coming from the depths of the oceans, and UFOS are swapped for submarines. Battles take place on sea beds and in underwater bases. The alien plasma guns are now called Sonic Cannons.

To give Microprose some credit, the aesthetics of the game amount to more than just UFO with torpedoes and squids. UFO already felt ominous, like you were never quite sure when the aliens would finally overwhelm you, but TFTD adds a layer of lovecraftian dread. There’s a strong theme of something ancient and pitiless, rising from the depths to enslave humanity.

The other alteration is that TFTD is bastard hard. If you don’t play with some skill (or save-scum like mad) it will crush you. You may think you’re doing everything right, regularly thwarting alien attacks, and fool yourself into feeling in control of the war. Then it will pull something unfair or frustrating just to trip you up. As I understand it the game was made in a hurry (while the original UFO guys took their time on X-Com 3). So I imagine that tweaking the difficulty settings, effectively making an expert-mode game for veterans of the original, was seen as the most efficient use of limited time.

This uptick in difficulty manifests in numerous ways. The research tree is more complex. Weapons copied and reskinned from UFO have new limitations added. Aliens are tougher, particularly the ridiculously heavily armoured lobstermen. Then there’s the matter of some particularly gruelling missions.

UFO introduced us to Terror attacks, where aliens would basically just rock up to a town somewhere and roam around causing chaos. You would fight through houses and gas stations while hapless civilians ran in circles, and it was your job to keep them alive. Dealing with the terror attacks was vital, otherwise the countries that fund X-Com became deeply upset.

For TFTD, Micropose keeps the regular terror attacks but adds a new type, where aliens attack cruise ships. Here you face two problems. Firstly within the cramped confines of the ship, lines of sight are restricted and there are lots of hiding places for enemies to lurk in. Your soldier may be within four steps of an alien, and you’ll never know until he or she suddenly gets shot in the face.

Image taken from mobygames, I do not have the time or patience to be playing this right now…

Secondly, these missions are extraordinarily lengthy. They’re split across two maps, each of which is huge and divided up into masses of separate rooms. There are cabins, kitchens, engine rooms, cargo holds and more. Each one must be searched individually.

So you must prepare yourself for a lengthy grind, kicking down cabin doors one at a time, as your troops methodically work through every deck. It’s tempting to charge through as fast as possible, but if a soldier uses up all their action points (spent on moving, shooting etc) in a turn, they can’t actually react to anything they encounter until the next turn. Frustrating as it may be, wise tactics involve a slower pace and having one trooper stand mostly still to cover the advance of another.

After the tenth cabin you may declare, f*** this and start setting off some large explosives. With a boom you can tear through several rooms at once, right? Unfortunately, there’s a danger that hapless civilians will be caught in the blast. You’re meant to be saving these people, you psycho.

Invariably you’ll hit a point where it’s all gone quiet, you’ve searched most of the ship but the mission will not end because one or two bad guys are still skulking around somewhere. At this point you can scan the map for any black spots, meaning uncovered map tiles. That’s a good place to start. Otherwise, looks like you have to just search through all those cabins again, which is a thoroughly depressing prospect.

Technically don’t have to kill or disable every last alien; you can just move everyone to the exit zone and hit “end” but then you don’t gain any loot, when all those sonic cannon ammo clips would be extremely useful. Also any guys of yours unconscious from wounds are left to die. Also, while I realise this may be some obsessive aspect of my personality at work, it just plain feels unsatisfying when I don’t properly complete a mission.

So sometimes TFTD is a nail-biting affair, your guys carefully creeping forward under cover as hidden aliens blast away at them. You despair as the alien forces seem unstoppable, their subs crossing the oceans with impunity and their secret lairs appearing the world. Sometimes, on the other hand, you have moments of triumph as. Your soldiers rise from hapless newbies to seasoned veterans, and new weapons allow you to to fight back more effectively.

Sometimes though, it’s a game of spending several hours plodding your way around an entre ship because of one goddamn Aquatoid hiding in a toilet.