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Overview

Incubation: TIRO Logo

A part of Blue Byte Software's decade-long strategy franchise, Battle Isle, Incubation: Time Is Running Out (alternately known as Incubation: Battle Isle Phase Four) is a turn-based computer game with a focus on squad-level tactics. It was released in 1997, and, along with Bungie Studios' Myth: The Fallen Lords, which came out the same year, it was one of the first PC strategy games to take advantage of hardware-accelerated 3D graphics. The game follows the actions of a squad of space marines under the direct command of one Corporal Alexander Bratt, and specifically deals with events that transpire after they are sent to assist with a sudden outburst of violence from the Scay'Ger, the native inhabitants of the planet Scay'Ra. Gameplay involves a series of objective-based missions with a linear progression (though players are on a few occasions allowed to choose between two missions) that take place as Bratt's team makes its way through the beleaguered city of Scay'Hallwa. In between missions it is often possible to purchase upgrades for any soldiers who survived by way of equipment points and skill points gained through combat and completing objectives. Outside of the game's main campaign, independent Instant Action scenarios are available for play, with both single-player and multiplayer options for each map.

Incubation received one official followup, The Wilderness Missions, which was a 1998 expansion pack featuring new enemies, weapons, and a new campaign of a length similar to that of the original game. The Wilderness Missions also added additional multiplayer options as well as a map editor for Incubation. A UK-specific rerelease of Time Is Running Out, entitled Incubation: Hidden Worlds, also made its way to store shelves around this time, with the main draw of this package being ten additional Instant Action maps.

Gameplay

Scay'Ger have run amok, and Corporal Bratt must get to the bottom of it.

Incubation consists of roughly thirty interconnected combat scenarios, with brief intermissions between them in which the player can outfit their squad. As a turn-based game, each unit, both player- and A.I.-controlled, has a certain number of action points (or AP) that can be expended in each turn. The number of AP a unit has represents its ability to act, as all movement, attack, or interactive functions requires some manner of AP in order to be performed. A turn ends either when all units on a given side have expended all AP, or when a player has decided to end their turn without using their entire allotment. Play then shifts to the opposing player, who proceeds in the same manner; after the second player has acted, the original player may act again, and the scenario proceeds in this manner, with unit AP being renewed at the beginning of each turn, until either a victory or loss condition has been met.

The human player is always the first to move, and before commencement of the scenario proper, the player is allowed to choose the starting position of each squad member from a number of predetermined points on the map. Though it is usually advantageous to do so, killing all enemies is not required in every scenario, as mission parameters may only require a set condition be met, such as reaching a specified point on the map or surviving a certain number of rounds. Furthermore, missions will usually end in immediate failure if certain story-critical characters, such as Corporal Bratt himself, are killed in action.

Interface

The Incubation Interface: game options (left), view options (right), and unit-specific options (bottom).

The main player interface of Incubation is mouse-driven. Soldiers can be selected by left-clicking them, and may be ordered to move or attack by simply selecting the desired area or enemy. Holding the mouse button when giving a movement order will display a radial menu which allows the player to specify what direction the unit should face upon reaching their destination. Changing one's facing is one of the only actions in the game which does not require AP, and it is critically important throughout the game to keep one's troops properly oriented, as what direction a unit is facing in relation to an enemy directly impacts whether or not it can attack its foe and also how much damage the unit itself will take if it is attacked. Units set to attack anything that approaches, for example, will not be able to attack a Scay'Ger that approaches from outside its field of view.

In addition to mouse commands, several additional options are accessible through the game's HUD. The game contains a fairly large number of viewing options, from a top-down bird's-eye view, to an isometric perspective, and even a first-person view; the player can switch to any of these views at any time through a bar on the right side of the screen. Information regarding the currently-selected unit and additional actions available to it appear at the bottom of the screen. Unit hit points, rounds of ammunition remaining, and the soldier's mental state can be seen form here, among other things. In addition, any special actions that the unit has enough AP to perform, such as resting or going into defensive mode, can be activated via a six-button panel to the right of the unit information screen.

Skill Progression

Though it is usually only mandatory that Corporal Bratt survive a given mission, Incubation implements a gradual character progression system that greatly rewards players that are able to keep their squad mates alive over the course of multiple scenarios. Units gain experience through killing Scay'Ger, and when they have gained enough they are granted a skill point, which can in turn be used to improve a unit's proficiency with certain types of weapons and equipment. Accumulation of experience also has other tangible benefits as well, such as an increase in a character's maximum hit points and action points. Over time, this system allows players to build a number of highly specialized troops each with their own unique strengths. In addition to skill points, players will be rewarded with commendations upon completing certain missions. Commendations function in much the same way that manual experience bonuses do, with the main exception in this case being that commendations can be applied to a soldier of the player's choosing, rather than being strictly tied to the unit that gained the experience.

Skill Groups

  • Battle Fitness: Represents a unit's overall fitness, affecting its ability to carry heavier gear or use harsh stimulants.
  • Light Weapon Proficiency: Bolsters one's aptitude in the use of smaller, more traditional firearms.
  • Heavy Weapon Proficiency: Increases unit proficiency in the use of larger and more exotic weapons.
  • Technical Skill: Gives a marine the ability to successfully utilize more complicated pieces of military hardware.
  • Medical Skill: Determines a soldier's ability to effectively use med kits and battle stimulants.
  • Leadership Skill: Allows for the use of items which benefit the entire squad.

Enemies

See: Scay'Ger

Weapons

Aside from the weapons that each marine starts with, all new armaments in Incubation must by purchased with equipment points. These equipment points can be gained through missions in much the same way that skill points can, though in the case of equipment points they are awarded for completing a mission rather than through kills (though they also can be obtained by opening certain chests). In addition to the cost of the weapon itself, all arms save the lowly Light Combat Gun have requisite skills, so even in a situation where the player may have equipment points adequate enough to exchange for a certain weapon, the particular marine that wishes to equip it must either have the required skills in order to use it, or enough unassigned skill points in order to learn them.

Light Combat Gun

Light Combat Gun

  • Prerequisites: None
  • Cost: 10
  • Ammo Capacity: 7
  • Damage: 2
  • Range: 1-10
An extremely basic, requisite-free armament, the Light Combat Gun overheats quickly, is quite unreliable outside of close-to-medium distances, and runs out of ammunition much faster than most weapons. It is a weapon to be replaced at the nearest opportunity, as, outside of its cheapness (many units start with it), there is very little to recommend it.
Advanced Combat Gun

Advanced Combat Gun

  • Prerequisites: +1 Light Weapon Proficiency
  • Cost: 20
  • Ammo Capacity: 8
  • Damage: 3
  • Range: 1-10
The Advanced Combat Gun has a few advancements over the initial model, most notably higher base damage, fewer problems with overheating, and the inclusion of a bayonet in order to conserve ammo when handling targets at close range. That being said, it is still somewhat middling, and should be seen as a stepping stone to better weapons.
Standard Assault Rifle

Standard Assault Rifle

  • Prerequisites: +3 Light Weapon Proficiency
  • Cost: 30
  • Ammo Capacity: 10
  • Damage: 4
  • Range: 1-20
The Standard Assault Rifle slightly increases damage and ammunition capacity while also greatly increasing the range over the previous two guns. It is perhaps the pinnacle of the more traditional ballistic armaments in Incubation, with no truly glaring weaknesses, though later weapons will outclass the Assault Rifle in terms of damage.
Sniper Rifle

Sniper Rifle

  • Prerequisites: +3 Light Weapon Proficiency, +1 Technical Skill
  • Cost: 40
  • Ammo Capacity: 15
  • Damage: 4
  • Range: 1-30
The preferred weapon for long range engagements, the Sniper Rifle may not pack the same punch as later automatic weapons, but it is undoubtedly better suited for striking foes from a distance. Needless to say, it may not be worth investing in if one doesn't plan on exploiting its range advantage, as there are better weapons up close.
Double Fire

Double Fire

  • Prerequisites: +4 Light Weapon Proficiency, +1 Technical Skill
  • Cost: 50
  • Ammo Capacity: 15
  • Damage: 6
  • Range: 1-20
The Double Fire is essentially a Standard Assault Rifle with an additional barrel attached to it, which lends it a fairly significant damage boost over its single barreled relative. Just like the Standard Assault Rifle, the Double Fire is a reliable medium range weapon which can be particularly devastating when used in defensive mode.
Heavy Machine Gun

Heavy Machine Gun

  • Prerequisites: +1 Battle Fitness, +1 Light Weapon Proficiency, +2 Heavy Weapon Proficiency
  • Cost: 50
  • Ammo Capacity: 15
  • Damage: 5
  • Range: 1-20
One of the earliest heavy weapons to become available in Incubation, the Heavy Machine Gun is a true "spray and pray" firearm, unleashing a torrent of bullets that has the ability to hit multiple targets in front of its user. The downside is that friendly soldiers in the vicinity also have a significant chance of being hit, requiring special care before use.
Rapid Fire Machine Gun

Rapid Fire Machine Gun

  • Prerequisites: +2 Light Weapon Proficiency, +3 Heavy Weapon Proficiency
  • Cost: 50
  • Ammo Capacity: 20
  • Damage: 6
  • Range: 1-20
Being an upgraded version of the Heavy Machine Gun armament, the Rapid Fire Machine Gun can unleash a burst of gunfire in a similarly wide spread, albeit with somewhat higher damage potential. In addition, it can also be switched to a secondary, more concentrated firing mode which is more suitable for taking down single targets.
Flame Thrower

Flame Thrower

  • Prerequisites: +3 Heavy Weapon Proficiency
  • Cost: 40
  • Ammo Capacity: 5
  • Damage: 10
  • Range: 1-4
With the shortest effective range of any weapon in the game, the Flame Thrower is a weapon that players must often coax enemies into. The effort can be worth it, however, as it causes a large amount of damage to any target it hits. Users can also utilize it to lay down a three-by-three wall of flame that discourages attack from a particular direction.
Mine Thrower

Mine Thrower

  • Prerequisites: +2 Battle Fitness, +4 Heavy Weapon Proficiency, +1 Technical Skill
  • Cost: 60
  • Ammo Capacity: 5
  • Damage: 10
  • Range: 2-20
The Mine Thrower is a powerful explosive weapon with two distinct firing modes. In the primary mode, an active grenade is propelled toward a target in order to detonate when in its proximity. Its secondary firing mode places a mine upon the ground which will detonate when it comes into contact with an enemy unit.
Plasma Gun

Plasma Gun

  • Prerequisites: +1 Battle Fitness, +4 Heavy Weapon Proficiency, +3 Technical Skill
  • Cost: 80
  • Ammo Capacity: 10
  • Damage: 10
  • Range: 1-10
A unparalleled combination of offensive and defensive technology, the Plasma Gun can not only clear out large areas of hostile Scay'Ger, but also can create an energy shield which envelops an entire squad in protective energy. While being shielded, units may not move, but incur no restrictions when it comes to using their weapons.
High Energy Laser

High Energy Laser

  • Prerequisites: +1 Battle Fitness, +5 Heavy Weapon Proficiency, +3 Technical Skill
  • Cost: 70
  • Ammo Capacity: Unlimited
  • Damage: 10
  • Range: 1-40
The only weapon to exceed the Sniper Rifle's range and accuracy, the High Energy Laser is extremely reliable and very damaging over extreme distances, and even comes equipped with a secondary mode which stuns opponents. It is prone to overheating, unfortunately, but its ammunition source cannot be depleted, which essentially gives it infinite rounds.
Multi-Target Destroyer

Multi-Target Destroyer

  • Prerequisites: +4 Battle Fitness, +5 Heavy Weapon Proficiency
  • Cost: 90
  • Ammo Capacity: 4
  • Damage: 15
  • Range: 2-45
The Multi-Target Destroyer is basically a soldier-mounted missile launching platform, complete with the ability to lock on to multiple targets simultaneously. This targeting system gives it a great deal of range, while its secondary mode, which detonates all missiles over a single target, gives it the ability to focus its payload when necessary.

Equipment

Acquisition of new equipment within Incubation is governed by the same system of equipment point and skill point requirements that dictates the use of weapons, the difference being that equipment upgrades typically provide either a constant passive benefit or a special ability that can be used once per scenario. In the case of items such as Stimulants and Medic Kits, which have a finite number of uses per mission, the item will be reset after the current map is completed, so even with items that are specifically consumable, it is only necessary to purchase them once.

Crowbar

Crowbar

  • Prerequisites: None
  • Cost: None
The Crowbar is the only piece of equipment with no prerequisites or sale price. This is due to the fact that it can only be obtained from within a mission. As one might expect from a free hardware upgrade, the effect of the Crowbar is not exactly spectacular. It merely allows its bearer to open doors which would be otherwise jammed or inoperable.
Scan Module

Scan Module

  • Prerequisites: +2 Technical Skill
  • Cost: 50
The Scan Module allows those who possess it to ascertain the number of opponents in their direct vicinity. The amount of information displayed and its effective range is somewhat small when compared to the Long Range Scan, but it is enough to give an impression of what lurks within adjacent areas, which helps when devising a plan of attack.
Long Range Scan

Long Range Scan

  • Prerequisites: +4 Technical Skill, +1 Leadership Skill
  • Cost: 100
A significant upgrade to the Scan Module, the Long Range Scan both boosts the range of effect and the amount of information given in regards to its targets. In addition to displaying the number of enemy units within its effective radius, it also details what types of units are present, thus giving players a better tactical basis on which to proceed.
Light Stimulants

Light Stimulants

  • Prerequisites: +1 Battle Fitness, +1 Medical Skill
  • Cost: 30
Light Stimulants offer a one-time-use augmentation to a soldier's performance. Upon consumption, the unit in question will gain an additional AP to be used in that round and that round only. Once activated, Light Stimulants may not be used again until the next mission, being renewed automatically after the current mission's completion.
Heavy Stimulants

Heavy Stimulants

  • Prerequisites: +1 Battle Fitness, +2 Medical Skill
  • Cost: 50
Heavy Stimulants are extremely potent drugs which restore a unit to optimal condition and grant an additional two AP for the duration of the round in which they are used. Much like Light Stimulants, they may only be used once per scenario, though a soldier's supply will automatically be replenished after their mission.
Target System

Target System

  • Prerequisites: +5 Technical Skill
  • Cost: 60
The Target System is essentially a scope that can be purchased and attached to any weapon, doubling its accuracy. Since most weapons are fairly reliable at close-to-medium range, this is primarily useful for players who prefer to attack foes from maximum distance, where shots are more likely to miss their mark than they would otherwise.
Ammo Pack

Ammo Pack

  • Prerequisites: +2 Battle Fitness, +1 Technical Skill
  • Cost: 70
An upgrade which is almost universally useful, the Ammo Pack doubles the maximum amount of ammunition a soldier can carry for their weapon. This is most useful for units carrying weapons with limited payloads, such as the Flame or Mine Thrower, though there is no unit that would not benefit somewhat from having the option to carry more rounds.
Jet Pack

Jet Pack

  • Prerequisites: +4 Battle Fitness, +3 Technical Skill
  • Cost: 190
The Jet Pack allows a unit to fly over a wall or other obstruction at the expense of its entire AP allotment for that turn. It is actually two pieces of equipment in one, as any unit that purchases a Jet Pack will also receive a Long Range Scan. This is primarily intended to reduce the potential risk of jumping by providing a means of scouting potential destinations.
Banner

Banner

  • Prerequisites: +1 Battle Fitness, +5 Leadership Skill
  • Cost: 100
Possession of a Banner transforms a unit into a squad leader. From that point on, any unit within three spaces of the squad leader receives significant combat bonuses. This includes improvement of their physical condition, additional AP, and the ability to defend from any direction when using defensive mode.
Explosion Pack

Explosion Pack

  • Prerequisites: +2 Battle Fitness, +1 Light Weapon Proficiency, +1 Heavy Weapon Proficiency, +3 Technical Skill
  • Cost: 10
The Explosion Pack is a specialty item used to disable the entry tubes used by Scay'Ger. It has no utility whatsoever outside of this purpose, though it is cheap enough that there really isn't much reason not to buy it if one already has the skills necessary to use it, as it may become useful at a later time.
Light Armor

Light Armor

  • Prerequisite: +1 Battle Fitness
  • Cost: 10
The cheapest and least protective of Incubation's armor types, Light Armor offers three points of frontal protection and two points of rear protection. Regardless of armor type, frontal protection is always greater than rear protection, making it important for units to always be facing the direction from which they are most likely to be attacked.
Standard Armor

Standard Armor

  • Prerequisites: +2 Battle Fitness
  • Cost: 20
The Standard Armor set is a well-rounded and fairly affordable protective measure, giving its wearer four points of frontal protection and two points of rear protection. Getting all squad members into a set of Standard Armor as quickly as possible is not a bad upgrade goal in the game's early goings, as it significantly improves a unit's durability.
Attack Armor

Attack Armor

  • Prerequisites: +3 Battle Fitness
  • Cost: 30
Investing in Attack Armor is an all-or-nothing proposition. At five points, Attack Armor offers greater frontal protection than either Light or Standard Armor. The catch is that the unit's backside is left entirely vulnerable. Units equipped with this type of armor must be capable of watching their backs at all times, lest they suffer the most dire of consequences.
Heavy Armor

Heavy Armor

  • Prerequisites: +4 Battle Fitness
  • Cost: 50
With six points of frontal protection and four points of rear protection, Heavy Armor is easily the space marine's best line of defense against the Scay'Ger hordes. Unfortunately, it is also cumbersome enough to lower a unit's maximum AP by one, meaning that lesser armor types that do not restrict movement might be preferable in many cases.
Servo System

Servo System

  • Prerequisites: +2 Battle Fitness, +2 Technical Skill, +1 Medical Skill
  • Cost: 30
For those with the appropriate skills, the Servo System grants an immediate and permanent boost to combat capability. Any soldier equipped with a Servo System receives one additional AP every combat round, giving a significant and long-lasting boost to the unit's ability to move, attack, or perform any other action.
Small Medic Kit

Small Medic Kit

  • Prerequisites: +1 Medical Skill
  • Cost: 80
Units equipped with a Small Medic Kit can heal squad mates (including themselves). As is the case with all other actions, AP is required in order to heal a unit, which restores HP at a one-to-one ratio. In addition, a unit possessing a Medic Kit must be adjacent to and directly facing the unit they wish to heal in order to properly use it.
Large Medic Kit

Large Medic Kit

  • Prerequisites: +5 Medical Skill
  • Cost: 160
The Large Medic Kit is naturally far more effective than the Small Medic Kit, though its use remains the same. The potential medic must be adjacent to and facing the soldier they wish to heal before the option is allowed. Large Medic Kits heal at a three-for-one AP ratio rather than the one-to-one ratio used by the standard Kit.

Reception

Th critical reaction to Incubation was fairly positive, with publications such as PC Gamer and PC Zone and websites such as Game Revolution all giving the game very high marks. The game's presentation was one of the more common points of praise included in reviews, with many noting that it was extremely attractive and atmospheric when compared to other strategy games of its day. Its turn-based gameplay and squad combat were similarly lauded, and were even compared favorably in several reviews to the much-revered X-COM series. PC Gamer further honored Incubation during its annual "Game of the Year" proceedings, giving it the official title of "Best Turn-Based Strategy Game of 1997."

Not all reviewers were taken by the game, however. Greg Kasavin of GameSpot, despite being impressed by the game's audiovisual presentation, ultimately came to the conclusion that the gameplay was underdeveloped, citing as evidence predictable enemy behavior and mission design which forced players to behave in certain ways rather than allowing them to properly strategize. Kasavin was quite receptive to the changes made in The Wilderness Missions, and his overall assessment of the expansion was much more positive, stating that the various changes made therein pushed Incubation "closer to the excellent, long-lasting strategy game it should have been in the first place."

System Requirements

  • IBM PC or 100% compatible
  • 90 MHz Pentium®
  • Windows® 95 or higher
  • 2 MB Direct X compatible graphics card
  • 16 MB RAM
  • 70 MB hard drive space
  • Double speed CD-ROM drive
  • Mouse

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