X3: Albion Prelude, a surprise addition to the sprawling X series of space sims, is coming next week.

The X universe, as mentioned in our recent Space Sim Timeline, is a massive, breathtakingly beautiful game series in which players explore, trade and battle in everything from single-seat fighters to huge capital ships across a galaxy riven by tension and strife. It’s an acquired taste with a pretty harsh learning curve but it’s a great ride for folks who enjoy deep, complex space sims, and now a new addition to the franchise is on the way that will bridge the gap between the old X universe and the new one that’s coming.

X3: Albion Prelude sees the long-simmering conflicts of the X universe explode into full-scale war, while corporations vie for power and control over a coming new technology that will allow “highways in space” and lead to unprecedented economic expansion. The game will carry the series from the most recent release, X3: Terran Conflict, to the upcoming X: Rebirth, when the accelerator technology is finally working and the galaxy as we know it is changed forever.

The new X3 title will feature a brand-new plot based around an epic corporate struggle during a time of war [which, if we’re being honest, most of us will just ignore anyway], 30 new ships and stations, a new Stock Exchange feature for “advanced investment strategies,” improved visuals, a better user interface and more. Alas, Albion Prelude will not be compatible with saved games from X3: Terran Conflict.

X3: Albion Prelude, which as far as I know wasn’t on anyone’s radar until today, will be available through Steam on December 15. Gamers who buy or already own the X: Superbox will be able to download it at no charge and it will also be available in a bundle with X3: Terran Conflict. A Mac version is coming soon to the Mac Appstore and Deliver2Mac.

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