The X-series is long-running space simulator (with heavy emphasis on simulator) that allows you to trade and battle other ships, but what really sets them apart in the genre is the sheer scale. It doesn’t just let you pilot a variety of ships, it lets you remotely command an entire fleet. Add to that the ability to build space stations (and entire complexes of stations), train and deploy marines to capture capital ships and traverse a huge universe, and you can see why it has so many fans.
The game can be astonishingly confusing at first. You’re dropped straight into the deep end with little idea what to do first (and little currency to do it). For this reason, you should take a look at Dave’s excellent series to familiarise yourself with the various options available to you (in addition to reading the manual). It’s daunting at first, but stick with it, as it’s one of the most satisfying single-player space simulators available, for the sheer depth if nothing else. It’s also one of the few space sims where you can choose to avoid combat entirely, either delegating to other ships in your fleet, or your own auto-pilot. On the other hand, if you want to get straight into combat, you’ll find a massive degree of weapons loadout and customisation awaits you.
Albion Prelude, the third chapter of the X3 series (and the fifth X game) debuted at the end of 2011, with a Mac version coming a week later. As well as a new storyline, it adds new ships to fly, places to go, and things to do (specifically, you can make a fortune on the new stock exchanges).
Performance & quality
The performance is very variable. Most of the time it will run ok on our Mac Pro, but there are moments where the framerate drops dramatically, even at the default settings. We’ve also noticed that there’s consistently a lot of tearing, regardless of the graphical settings (sadly there’s no v-sync option to be found). The loading times can be quite long, but loading is quite an infrequent occurrence, so it’s not too much of a big deal. There have been a couple of reports of hangs on launch. We’ve experienced a similar, intermittent issue (the screen goes blank and nothing happens) but resolved it by pressing CMD-Q and trying again.
We also tried it on a 13-inch 2010 MacBook Air, and there’s an awful lot of frame drop, even at the lowest settings.
It will recognise an Xbox 360 controller, although truth be told you’ll get so proficient at the game that the keyboard becomes the most effective control method. There’s also a mouse flight mode which is on par with Freelancer or Galaxy on Fire 2 Full HD. The mouse sensitivity seems to be a bit off, but we’ll need to do more testing to be certain.
Mods are fully supported. To install mods for this game, copy the files to ~/Library/Application Support/com.vpltd.X3AP-MAS/DataChanges/addon/scripts/ and ~/Library/Application Support/com.vpltd.X3AP-MAS/DataChanges/addon/p/ as instructed by the mod.
There are plenty of mods available on the Egosoft forums, but we recommend at least installing the official bonus pack, which you can get [link coming soon]. To install it, copy the zip file to ~/Library/Application Support/com.vpltd.X3AP-MAS and double-click it.
Update: The Virtual Programming Limited version of X3: Albion Prelude is no longer available. A new native version has been created by Egosoft themselves. See this post for more information.