I could have saved myself a lot of time by reading through the game's manual, but after so many years playing videogames I'd like to think I'd have a bit of intuition on the bare basics of the medium. I won't decry a game for complexity, but in X3's case, the controls alone are a huge stumbling block for anyone unfamiliar with the series.
In that same vein, the user interface in X3 is also almost entirely inscrutable. You do eventually learn what all of the hundreds of glowing words and abbreviations mean, but for the first few hours of gameplay, you'll most likely be baffled by why your monitor is spitting out images akin to a NYSE stock ticker on acid.
I am docking a point for this bit of complexity as it's simply not necessary. Most of the information imparted by the UI could have been hidden inside menus, if only to keep the screen less cluttered, and it really feels like the developers left it all out there just to make things seem more "futuristic."
Now, if you're one of the hardcore space simulation fans who can overlook such complexities, this latest version of X3 offers a ton of new content not found in the original release of the game. Key to the new content are the Aldrin Missions. There's no good way to describe the missions themselves without dropping tons of plot spoilers, but I will say that they comprise enough fresh content to justify an entirely new release. Fans who already know what they're getting into will definitely appreciate the additional missions, space stations and ships.
Still, I can't rightly recommend this game to everyone. If you've loved X games in the past, or the idea of a minimum two hour learning curve doesn't turn you off, X3: The Terran Conflict Version 2.0 offers a gorgeous, fleshed-out virtual universe for you to spend months of your life in. If, however, anything more complex than StarCraft makes your brain hurt, this is most definitely not the game for you.
Bottom Line: X3: The Terran Conflict 2.0 is a lot like reading Nietzsche. There's some excellent content there, but it's all covered in a thick layer of needless complexity and pretension.
Recommendation: Only the most hardcore space simulation fans and masochistic gamers will survive the learning curve in this one. For everyone else there are less taxing pastimes, like simplifying the U.S. tax code or inventing cold fusion.
Earnest Cavalli traded in his intergalactic freighter for a two-bedroom condo in Seattle and an HDTV.