Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was, depending on what kind of personality you have, utterly mind-blowing or mind-blowingly boring. A strange start to a review, granted, but we'd dare say that the category that you fall into will determine what you make of X3: Reunion. It's a game with immense depth and beauty, but you'll need the patience of a Jedi master, the spare time of the unemployed and the social life of a leper to get the most out of it.
In the game's story mode, you assume the role of a former space pirate who allegedly saved the day back in X2. Although there's a plot in here somewhere, X3 takes a bold step by removing all forms of help and direction to the player. What this means is that when you're sent on a mission specific to the core story, the structure of the game is so open-ended that weeks of gameplay could pass before you complete the task. Yes, you heard me right - weeks.
So what on earth are you doing in all of that time? Well, depending upon the type of player that you are, you could be undertaking side quests, earning a wage as a law enforcer, being a space pirate, trading goods from sector to sector, establishing a vast economic empire - you know, the usual. Either by flaw or design, X3's gameplay is more about existing within a game world; something that's radically different from just about every other game you've ever played.
While the wider majority of players will undoubtedly give up on it within the first 10 minutes, from a professional standpoint, X3's game design is positively intriguing. Forget about eye-candy interfaces, cute tutorials, or even straight-forward instructions - these concepts are simply not a part of this game. Instead, the game drops you straight into the deep-end and demands that you work it all out for yourself.
Considering the sheer degree of X3's complexity and brutally slow pace, this effectively puts the game well out of reach of all but the most hardcore of strategy gamers.
Alas, had more money and time been invested in X3, it could easily have scored a huge underground following. A lot of love and creativity has been put into this game, but it obviously didn't have the financial backing to see it through. While the core elements of the game are there and continue to astound, just about everything else is in tatters. As it stands, X3 is on the verge of greatness, but only a sensational amount of patching will ever see it get there.
Click here to view a screenshot.
Verdict: Jaw-dropping detail and grand galactic environments mix with generic sound effects and voice acting in a challenging game for space-sim purists. But perhaps it's inaccessible for the mass market.
Score: 4 out of 5
Publisher: QV Software