X-COM UFO Defense Review

X-COM UFO Defense, also known as UFO: Enemy Unknown, is a phenomenal turn based strategy game where you are in command of the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit (X-COM) whos sole purpose is to eliminate the alien invasion threat that plaques the Earth.

It is an ancient game so how can this be listed here?

I will certainly explain why, even in today’s standards, X-Com UFO Defense puts many modern titles to shame. It truly gave birth to the blueprint of what a turn-based strategy game should be like.

Its complexity, level of detail (not visual detail but in-depth game play) and ability to capture human emotion is amazing especially when considering this game only takes up 10MB of your hard drive space and 28MB when using OpenXcom! Commanding soldiers with each having their own unique personality and the game picking at emotions like fear and panic largely contributed to the game’s success in my opinion.

More modern titles of this game: X-COM Enemy Unknown and X-Com 2 as examples, bring improvements such as breakable objects, multiplayer, better graphics and cinematics and these will certainly have their place here but with X-Com UFO Defense set as the benchmark in my opinion.

GenreTurn based
Release Date1994
Publisher2K GamesMicroProse 
Hasbro Interactive 
Take-Two Interactive 
Sold Out Sales & Marketing Ltd. 
MediaQuest direct
Mythos Games
Game ModesSingle Player
LAN PlayNo
Single Player CampaignYes
Online PlayNo
Android, Linux
X-COM UFO Defense Original Disc
X-COM UFO Defense Original Disc

X-COM UFO Defense – System Requirements

CPU: 80386CPU: 80486
OS: MS-Dos 5.0OS: MS-Dos 5.0 or higher
3D: No3D: No



Almost Flawless

Fun Factor



Overall Game Score


Must Play

X-COM UFO Defense – Is It All Hype?

If you do not know me by now, I am not one for playing single player games unless there is a good reason for it. I rather test my skill against another human player and have fun playing with friends. But sometimes a game like X-COM UFO Defense comes along that changes my perspective.

With the right partner this also makes for an excellent couch co-op game: Sharing decision-making and soldiers to command.

X-COM UFO Defense has a lot of meat around the bones and it is not just about blowing up UFO’s and aliens. You need to manage and secure your funds while researching alien technologies, build facilities, equip your crafts and soldiers as best you can to deal with the alien invasion.

In essence this is a complete management of a military operation with bases scattered across the world and can be overwhelming for most players today, but it is something I miss in modern games: The freedom of playing a game the way you want without bars and have a challenge doing so.

DOS games to me are notoriously difficult to beat and X-COM UFO Defense is no exception. You will mostly be at a disadvantage and your whole squad can be wiped out in an instant if you are not paying attention.

Just give me a few minutes and I will tell you why this game got a lot of my attention in my X-Com UFO Defense review that will follow shortly.

But first: Can you still play X-COM UFO Defense on Windows 10?

Can I Play X-COM UFO Defense on Windows 10?

The short answer is: Yes

So here is your chance to play the game yourself and find out if this 10MB game really is as good as I claim it to be. Before you just jump in and try it, please read my review to give you a bit more insight and help you along. Dos games did not come with tool tips and it will be truly sad if your experience is stained by an interface you do not understand.

That is of course if you play the original DOS game. OpenXcom does add tool tips and brings lots of extra features which makes it perhaps the best choice should you want to try this game.

Trust me. The interface is quite simple to master really. On top of that, I have included the manual for download at the end of my review.

Getting back to playing the game on Windows 10…

There are three ways you can go about this of which the second option truly is the best way to go.

  1. You can play the game through DOSBox Or
  2. Install the open source clone of the original X-COM called OpenXCOM
  3. Download the gog.com version (see below)

Playing through DOSBox and OpenXcom, you will need to have the original files for X-COM.

Download DOSBox

Download OpenXcom

X-COM UFO Defense – Get The Original Files Here

Digital Versions Activated On Steam






Standalone Versions


Physical Versions


X-COM DosBox Setup 

X-COM UFO Defense Review DOS Install
  1. Place The original disk in your CD or DVD drive
  2. Startup DOSBox
  3. Assuming your CD-Rom or DVD drive id drive D: add the following line to map it as your virtual drive D
  4. mount d D:\ -t cdrom and hit ‘Enter’ or if it the data sits on a thumb drive or your PC type the following:
  5. mount d ‘drive letter’:\’directory’ -t cdrom and hit ‘Enter’ Example: mount d C:\XCOM -t cdrom
  6. Now mount a directory situated on your PC where you want to install the game by typing:
  7. mount ‘virtual drive letter’ ‘PC Drive Letter’:\’Folder Name’ and hit ‘Enter’ Example: mount g G:\Games
  8. Switch to the CD-Rom drive by typing: D: and hit ‘Enter’ on your keyboard
  9. Type in hdinst.bat and hit ‘Enter’ on the keyboard
  10. With your mouse, click on ‘Install Game’
  11. Choose the directory mounted instep 7 and hit ‘Enter’ Example: G:\UFO
  12. Now click on ‘OK’
  13. The progress bar will show and once done, it is time to set up your sound card
  14. Choose SoundBlaster Pro with Base Port: 220, IRQ: 7 or 5 and DMA: 1 and Sound Channel: 8
  15. Now choose your music card. I chose ADLIB\SoundBlaster FM
  16. Now click on ‘Exit Program’ and a block will come showing you what to type to start the game
  17. So click on ‘Exit to DOS’ and for me I type: cd xcomufo and hit ‘Enter’
  18. Then I type UFO and hit ‘Enter’ and the game will start!
X-COM UFO Defense Review DOS Sound
X-COM UFO Defense Review DOS Sound


The scrolling will be way to fast in DOSBox and for that we lower the CPU cycles (by hitting Ctrl + F11) repeatedly. Taking it down to 15% works just fine for me.

X-COM OpenXcom Setup

  1. Download and install OpenXcom from here: OpenXcom
  2. Navigate to the install directory of OpenXcom and then open the ‘UFO’ directory.
  3. From the original files of XCOM UFO Defense, copy the following folder into OpenXcom UFO directory:
  5. Start the game from the shortcut on your Desktop or double-click openxcom.exe in the root folder.
  6. That’s it!
OpenXcom Video Settings


To take advantage of choosing better resolutions, click on ‘Options’ and then ‘Video’ and change the ‘Display Filter’ to ‘OpenXcom’

For more details on all the options and settings for OpenXcom, watch this video:

X-COM Android Setup

This will be the best game you will own on your Android mobile!

OpenXcom Android
  1. Download and install the latest APK file from here: OpenXcom Android (5.3 was the latest from the time of writing)
  2. Look for the folder OpenXcom on your phone (Mine was under the Internal Storage)
  3. Tip: Hooking your phone up to your PC with a USB cable make things much easier.
  4. Open the folder ‘UFO’ under the OpenXcom folder
  5. Copy the following original X-COM UFO Defense files in that directory and simply overwrite exiting files:
  7. Run the application and it is all systems go!

X-COM UFO Defense Review

Welcome to my X-COM UFO Defense review!

In this review, I will discuss the story, features and game play of X-COM UFO Defense for you to make an educated decision if this is worth your time or not.

As always: The fun factor of the game to me is the most important of all; since it is no use wasting time on if the game is not fun to play.

The Story

The year is 1998 and alien activity on Earth is growing more frequent. The Japanese then assembled a seemingly capable team to combat these invasions but they had no success and the threat simply grew out of control.

That is when the world leaders came together in Geneva and decided on funding the assembly of a task force that can rid Earth of these alien invasions. The Extraterrestrial Combat Unit was thus born in 1999 and you are placed in command of this task force and the last hope of saving mankind.

Starting The Game

When you start a new game, you can choose the difficulty level ranging from Beginner to Superhuman. If you are not familiar with the game, it will be a wise choice to choose Beginner level. This also allows you to follow the tutorial of the game which is given in a step-by-step format in the manual. (download the manual at the end of this tutorial)

The difficulty level will affect a few things:

  • It becomes exponentially harder to shoot down UFO’s
  • There will be more aliens to deal with the harder the level
  • It gets harder to retain your funding from countries
  • Alien Firing Accuracy gets better
  • Alien Time Units increases
  • Alien Reaction level increases
  • Alien Energy, Strength, Psi Strength and Psi Skill increases

Difficulty Bug

The original idea was to dynamically change the difficulty level based on the player’s performance. This feature was never implemented but resulted in a difficulty bug contained in the original DOS game.

What happens is that, no matter the difficulty level you choose, after the first combat the bug causes the difficulty level to revert back to Beginner.

This bug can be fixed with the XcomUtil.


X-Com UFO Defense Geoscape

The Earth is suspended in space on your screen which gives you an overview of the Earth. You have the ability to rotate the Earth on its X – and Y axis using the controls on the right.

Not only can you rotate the globe, but you can also zoom in to the point where city names become visible! This allows you to build a military base anywhere on the world map. This in itself is pretty impressive to me considering the time period of the game and the computer resource restraints for the time.

The game starts you on 1 January 1999 with time passing by from 5 seconds – to 1 day intervals depending on your selection. The default is 5 seconds, though.

Even more detail is added by a visible day and night cycle sliding across the Geoscape Earth.

Time can be paused by selecting any menu option in the top-right of the screen.

Creating A Base

Simply click on any land mass anywhere in the world to build your first military base and give your base a name. The best part is that you are not limited to just one base as is the case with X-COM: Enemy Unknown. You can build up to 8 bases.


Build your base in the center of big land masses like, Africa, USA and Asia to maximize your chances of protecting the area that falls within your radar range.

To build another base, click on ‘Build New Base‘ in the menu to the right when on the ‘Bases’ screen.

Your first base will have 3 hangars. One is equipped with a Skyranger and the other two with Interceptors. This does not mean that you have to have hangars in every base you build. Start small and, if you want, dedicate different bases for different purposes. Perhaps manufacturing is done in China while your main research facility is in the US.

Lots of micro management comes into play, but I enjoy the freedom.

Bases are build underground and hidden from alien view. The only access to the base is through the access shaft. Later in the game, aliens will search for your bases, possibly find some and attack them. Knowing this, you may want to build your base facilities a bit differently than the way the first base is set up for you.

If you are in Geoscape, click on ‘Bases’ in the right menu that will take you to your base.

You can also transfer equipment and personnel to other bases by clicking on the Transfer button on the ‘Bases’ view.

Building Facilities

X-COM UFO Defense Base Facilities

At the top-right part of the screen, you can see a quick layout of all your bases and above that how many funds you have available to you. To the left will be the aerial view of your selected base and to the right the menu options.

Clicking on the ‘Base Information‘ button, will present you with a quick graphical view of space used and available, the defense strength of the base and how many personnel there is.

To build more facilities, click on Build Facilities. There are 36 blocks to build on in a base of which a hanger takes up 4 blocks. The access lift will be the mandatory first structure and each facility added can only be build adjacent a completed structure that is linked directly or indirectly to the access lift.

Adding facilities to your base carry a maintenance cost and the same goes for extra personnel. Unwanted structures can be dismantled as long as it is not in use or breaks the link to the access lift.

Some facilities are only available later in the game through research.

Below is a list of facilities that you can build.

Initial Base Facilities:

  • Access Lift – All facilities links to this and this is the only entrance to the base when under attack.
  • Living Quarters – This determines the amount of personnel you can have. Each living quarters block houses 50 people.
  • Workshop – Where weapons, armor and equipment are manufactured. It supplies 50 units of space per workshop.
  • General Stores – Each general stores facility provides 50 units of storage space for your equipment, weapons, etc.
  • Small Radar System – Cheap, basic radar for UFO detection
  • Large Radar System – Both long – and short range detection and better chance to spot an UFO
  • Alien Containment – You will need this to keep captured aliens alive for research.
  • Missile Defense – Basic defense against alien battleships
  • Hangar – Stores your flying crafts for intercepting UFO’s and transporting troops.

Researchable Base Facilities:

  • Laser Defenses – A little better defense against alien battleships than Missile Defense.
  • Plasma Defenses – A better defense system than laser defenses
  • Hyper-wave Decoder – The ultimate radar facility
  • Mind Shield – It assists in preventing aliens from finding your base
  • Grav Shield – Doubles your defenses
  • Fusionball Defenses – The most powerful defense system against alien battleships
  • Psionic Laboratory – Where soldiers gets trained to use their ‘power of the mind’ in combat

Managing Soldiers

X-Com UFO Defense Manage Soldiers

You start the game with 8 soldiers.

The different menu’s for accessing different aspects of your soldiers is perhaps the most confusing part of the user interface for me. Even though it does make sense in a way and I can kind off understand the reasons behind it, I still find myself fiddling about to find where to see the soldiers combat performance or where to go to change their equipment.

When viewing your bases, you can click on ‘Soldiers’ in the menu. A list of your soldiers will appear and this will show to which craft each soldier is assigned to or if assigned at all. Clicking on the soldier name, you are able to view his/her stats, change the name of the soldier, sack the soldier, click on Diary to see all the missions he/she fought in and to view the soldier’s performance or combat statistics.

Nice, but I do not know the gender of the soldier when I want to make a name change and I am not able to allocate equipment to those assigned to a craft from that menu option.

Instead: Going to the ‘Equip Craft’ menu option and then selecting the troop carrying craft (like the Skyranger as example), clicking then on ‘Equipment’ and then on ‘Inventory’ will allow you to kit out your soldiers and it is easier to make out the soldier’s gender.

For assigning soldiers to a craft this can be found under the ‘Crew’ menu after selecting the troop carrier craft in the ‘Equip Craft’ menu option. Phew!

Soldier Stats

X-COM UFO Defense Soldier Stats

The many different soldier statistics is what gives them their own unique personality.

Soldiers have the following basic statistics:

  • Time Units – ‘action’ units
  • Stamina or Energy – how tired the soldier is
  • Health – overall well-being
  • Bravery – how quickly Morale points are lost
  • Reactions – the soldier’s initiative. In my own words: Ability to counter attack in offensive and defensive situations
  • Firing Accuracy
  • Throwing Accuracy – You can throw pretty much anything in your hand.
  • Melee Accuracy – You can hit an alien with your weapon if close enough
  • Strength – The weight that can be carried before being encumbered
  • Morale – Loosing enough points here and your soldier will panic.
  • Front, Back, Left and Right Armor rating

This will give you a good indication of the soldier’s strengths and weaknesses, equipment you would assign to him/her and the possible role you will assign to the soldier. (Sniper, Scout, Tank, etc.)

From all the statistics, Energy used to be a mystery to me but here is how it works:

For any action you take (walking, picking up equipment, sitting, reloading, facing another direction, etc.) all requires Time Units to complete. If your Time Units bar is depleted, your character can do nothing more.

Energy is used depending on how strenuous the action is. Walking through tall grass will use energy as an example. If either your Energy bar or Time Units bar is depleted, your character is out of any actions and can do no more.

Soldiers Alive!

Soldiers have many life-like attributes which adds to the excitement of this game.

They can get out of breath when performing strenuous tasks.

Soldiers can faint from smoke inhalation and this can be seen on your health bar where a white bar will appear on top of it. When the white bar extends to the end of the soldiers health bar, the soldier faints.

Soldiers can get wounded and the location of the wound will affect different statistics. When you are wounded in any of your arms or head, it will affect accuracy or if you are injured in one or both legs, it will lower your Time Units. Being wounded in the torso affects your energy regeneration.

Your character can also bleed out when wounded but the wound can be healed by using a medi-kit.

Soldiers feel loss when their fellow teammates dies and even more so when it was a ranking officer. Depending on the character’s bravery, Morale will take a plunge.

Now when Morale is low enough, panic sets in and when that happens your character will behave in different ways:

  1. The soldier will simply freeze in place, loosing all their Time Units and they will be unable to perform any actions.
  2. They will drop their weapon and run in search of a hiding spot.
  3. The soldier will go berserk and shoot in random directions.

A soldier can also be mind controlled by a psionic alien.

When performing well, soldiers can be promoted in rank if there is an available space for a ranking officer.

Equipping Your Crafts

X-COM UFO Defense Equip Craft

Assigning soldiers to a craft is part of equipping the Skyranger that you start off with but you will also need to load the craft with all the equipment you will need. This includes ammunition for the various weapons, the weapons itself, perhaps a tank, grenades, flares, medi-kits, stun rods and more. The craft have limited space so choose wisely.

You will also start the game with two Interceptors. These craft is used for shooting down UFO’s. The Interceptor has two weapon slots and starts with a short range missile and a cannon. A long range missile (the Avalanche) can be bought for the Interceptor and you can choose to replace the cannon or the short range (Stingray) missile with it.

As you come by new technology through research, new armament becomes available for your Interceptors.

Interceptors need to be re-armed after battling a UFO to replenish its ammunition. It is pretty embarrassing and dangerous chasing after an UFO with nothing to shoot it down with.

Your crafts also need to refuel and be repaired if it gets damaged. This, thankfully, happens automatically when the craft returns to base but it will take time before it is ready for action again.

Research And Manufacturing

X-Com UFO Defense Research

It is important to always be busy researching something. New technology becomes available through research and will ensure that your soldiers are better equipped to deal with the aliens. You will also need better defenses for your base when the aliens start knocking.

Some alien technology will only become available when capturing some aliens alive. A Stun Rod is useful for this purpose in the beginning.

Once your research can be implemented in some useful way (like armor or weapons) it is time to manufacture the item for your soldiers to use.

You will need engineers to manufacture equipment and enough work space for the units you produce.


Concentrate on researching alien technology to greatly improve your chances.

Purchase / Recruit

X-COM UFO Defense Purchase

In case you wondered: Where do I recruit more soldiers, scientists and engineers? This will be the menu item to use. This is the menu when clicking on ‘Bases’ from Geoscape and where you can view the layout of your base/s.

This is also where you can buy a tank equipped with a rocket launcher or a cannon attached. These are great for scouting the battlefield and much easier to replace than a veteran soldier.

Sell / Sack

Personnel pulls a salary and air crafts have maintenance cost (as do facilities). Here you can fire personnel as well as sack your air crafts.

It does not cost anything to fire a soldier but when dismissing an Interceptor, Firestorm or Lightning you will lose the ammunition and attached weapons as well. It may be a good idea to switch to a cheaper weapon first and sell off the more expensive gear.

Getting rid of a troop carrier such as the Skyranger, the troops will get off first and the equipment will be unloaded. So there is no need to do that first.

If you sack a scientist or engineer before the end of the month, you do not have to pay their salary for that month. Scientist can be quite expensive. You look at about $6 million in salaries for 100 scientists.

Shoot Down That UFO!

X-COM UFO Defense Avenger

So you have built your base, put your scientists to work, purchased and sold some equipment, equipped your soldiers and crafts and build some extra facilities. Now what?

Go back to Geoscape and accelerate the time so you can locate your first UFO!

Once spotted, you can center your view on the UFO and set the time to 5s with a push of a button. Now you need to scramble your Interceptor to take down the UFO. To do that you can click on your base, select the Interceptor and click on the UFO to target it.

Tip: Later in the game it will make more sense to click on the ‘Intercept’ menu rather than your actual base because it will list all your air crafts across all bases and you can then select the closest one. You can have up to 4 Interceptors hunt down one UFO.

UFO’s need to be shot down over land. You will not be able to visit a UFO crash site that landed in the sea.

If the Interceptor is in range of the UFO, the Air-To-Air combat window will pop-up and the Geoscape will automatically increase in magnification.


To make sure the UFO is over land, click the minimize button in the top-left corner of the Interceptor’s air-to-air combat window and it will show the full Geoscape and an aircraft icon in the top-left corner of the screen.

You can then choose from only following the UFO to aggressively attacking the UFO using various control buttons.

The air-to-air combat window has got a wealth of information ranging from the distance to the UFO to showing your weapon range on the radar screen.

Finally, the UFO is shot down and crashes on land.

It is now time to send in the troops!


Save the game before going on missions!

The Battlescape

X-Com UFO Defense Battlescape

Starting the mission at the UFO crash site, only a small part of the map is visible. As you move your units out from the troop carrier craft, more tiles becomes visible in the direction the unit is facing.

Enemy units are only revealed if they are in line of sight of your soldier. Right click in the direction you want your unit to face without him/her moving.

The Battlescape is presented in an isometric view with the multilevel view selected by default. In multilevel view, you can see the current level you are on and downwards. Clicking on the up – or down arrow icons next to a picture of a ladder, will move the selected level up or down.

You can switch to full view which shows every level regardless of the selected level by clicking on the icon looking like two isometric squares on top of one another and with a number 1 in the top-right corner.

There is one more view that I often use and is really useful. This is the map view. The map view shows a top-down view of the selected level. You can also move the selected level up or down by pressing the up/down arrows to the left of the map screen.

It is easier to spot or guess the location from this view and it also gives you useful information in the form of colored icons:

  • Flashing yellow dots – your soldiers
  • Flashing blue dots – Aliens
  • Red dots – Civilians
  • White crosses – dead aliens or humans

For your mission to be successful, you need to eliminate or capture all the aliens.

You can abort a mission but you need to be careful:

There needs to be at least one soldier in the troop carrier craft (like the Skyranger) to fly it back. Any soldier left outside of the troop carrier will be lost and if no-one is inside the craft, you will lose the craft and its equipment and no alien artifacts or corpses will be collected.

If your mission is successful, you will automatically collect corpses and alien artifacts.

Overall Gameplay

There is so much more I can say about X-COM UFO Defense but now that you have the outline; the rest is for you to discover.

I love the complexity and detail of this game. It adds to the atmosphere. There are hours of fun to be had in this title and the replay ability is just awesome.

One thing that every good game title of that era had was loads of information in-game. If I want more information on a weapon, an aircraft, an alien or anything I have already researched; then I simply consult the UFOpedia in-game.

X-COM UFO Defense creates this awesome feeling of you being in command of a real secret military organization with the funding reports, database of information, building of bases and doing research that all adds to the atmosphere. It is easy to fall in love with a character especially if he/she does well and gets promoted. This adds to the fear of losing a unit in battle especially if you forgot to save.

There were moments I jumped a bit when turning a corner or perhaps I just stepped through a door and upon looking around I am face-to-face with an alien with no time units left!!

The game is challenging, fun and I can recommend playing this together with a good friend.

If you love strategy games and never played X-COM UFO Defense, I recommend you give it a try. This will leave a sad gap in your strategy game experience if you haven’t played the grand daddy of turn-based strategy games: X-COM UFO Defense.

Thank you for reading my X-COM UFO Defense review!

Download X-COM UFO Defense Manual

Download the X-Com UFO Defense Manual below:

X-COM UFO Defense Manual

Please feel free to share your experience of X-COM UFO Defense or ask any question you may have below and I will respond to you within 48 hours.

Leave a Comment