Review: XCOM: Enemy Unknown Plus (Sony PlayStation Vita)

xcompluscoverXCOM: Enemy Unknown Plus
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis Games
Genre: Strategy
Release Date: 03/22/2016

Rumors of a port of XCOM for the Vita have been circling around for quite some time, though there was never an official announcement of its impending release. It was a bit of a shock then, a couple of weeks ago, when the game suddenly dropped on the PlayStation Store. This begged a few questions. Was the port any good? What does the “plus” mean? Why was the game being released without even the faintest whiff of fanfare?

Let’s get down to answering those questions.

2016-03-28-174741Firstly, the “plus” refers to the fact that this game includes the Enemy Within content. That means you get meld, mechs, gene mods, and EXALT missions. However, some of the content is missing. You won’t find Zheng’s missions, Annette’s missions, and there are fewer customization items for your units. As it turns out, there’s another version of this game out there with the same features: the iOS version. It seems that this game is a port of said iOS version. That makes a degree of sense really, but it also means this is not the full experience that you get on consoles and on PC. It’s important to know that in order to keep your expectations tempered. This means, if you cared, that the multiplayer mode has not been included. That’s not all that surprising, but it could affect some people.

Where the game takes the biggest hit is the performance. Firstly, the game’s graphics have been drastically cut. Characters are fuzzy, textures look cheap, and not a damn thing will look impressive. On top of that, the frame rate dies constantly as the game struggles to load animations and run figures in the background. Then there’s the audio, which comes out tinny and like it was from a DS rather than a Vita. If that weren’t enough, the loading times are absolutely atrocious. The time between accepting a mission and actually starting a mission can go well over a minute in some circumstances. Even after you’re forced to sit through a loading screen to get the mission, you get another one when the map loads. Response time between making menu selections and performing the appropriate actions is also quite slow. Managing your base becomes a tiresome chore as you spend so much time waiting for game to figure out where you want to go. To say this game was poorly optimized for the Vita would be to put it lightly.

2016-03-28-174901The only other change worth mentioning is the control scheme. Since this is a port of the iOS version, some of the touch screen controls have been left intact. Most of this is zooming in and out, but there’s more. Oddly enough, switching weapons also requires using the screen. Still, having the buttons and analog stick be used for movement and menu selection is quite helpful. Having to confirm your actions means fewer miss-clicks. This is a game where one wrong move can snowball into your entire team dying, so miss-clicks are the devil.

What we have here is a poorly optimized port that is missing some of the content you might want. However, at the end of the day, it’s still XCOM on the Vita. If you’re a fan of the game, and want to play it on your Vita, it will do in a pinch. Just make sure this isn’t the first time you play through the game, because it’s not the best representation.

Now, the above paragraphs will satisfy the curiosity of XCOM veterans wondering if this port is for them. Perhaps, though, you haven’t ever played XCOM and want to see what all the fuss is about? Well then read on!

In Enemy Unknown, you play as a commander in charge of an international agency dedicated to fighting off an alien invasion. You’ll create a squad of soldiers, send them out on missions, and manage your home base. The goal here is to advance your technology and train up your troops so you can complete various story objectives and win the war. That is far easier said than done.

During missions, you have an objective to complete. Usually, this objective is simply “kill all of the aliens”, but it can get trickier. For example, you might need to defuse a bomb before it explodes, or you may need to rescue civilians from massacre. You command a unit of up to six troops, each one of four classes. The game takes place in rounds. You get to move all of your units, and then the aliens get a turn. On any turn, a unit can move, shoot, or use an item/ability. When missions start, the aliens are concealed. In fact, they’re on patrols across the map. This means you have to move your troops out in order to find them. Staying in cover is key, and making sure you don’t find an enemy squad with your last acting unit is even more key. When you do try to shoot at them, you’ll get a detailed readout of your chance to hit, your chance to crit, and your damage range. It’s incredibly useful, as long as you’re a bit prepared to occasionally miss a ninety-eight percent chance to hit.

2016-03-28-175538In between missions, you’ll be manning your base. You’ll have to carefully allocate your resources in order to research new gear, build facilities, train up new recruits, launch satellites, etc. In order to do this, you require funds. Each month, various countries chip in cash. However, aliens will raise panic in these countries. If the panic gets too high, the country will abandon you and take their cash with them. It’s not as easy as keeping panic down either. The most basic mission type has you choose among three different abduction sites. You can only do one, and the countries of the ones you didn’t take will start to panic. You will almost certainly lose more than one country even if you play a perfect game. That’s just the way it is.

Much of the game is about escalation. You’re trying to get better gear, upgrade your troops, and move on with the story. However, the aliens will keep sending newer and better enemies at you as time passes. While you’ll certainly be able to mow down Sectoids with ease, the elite Mutons that eventually come your way will be much tougher to crack. They’ll also send bigger ships your way. These are harder to shoot down, and having them land means a massive panic boost. If that weren’t enough, there’s a rogue group of humans out to sabotage your work as well. You’ll need to sort out where their base is and take them out before they permanently affect your ability to combat the alien threat.

I’m not going to lie. The game is hard. Aliens will gleefully fire at your units if they are out of cover, and they can land critical shots just as well as you. Death is permanent in this game, so losing a soldier is a major blow. It is entirely possible to get to the point where you simply can’t run missions anymore. At that point, the panic will rise and eventually you’ll get shut down. Thankfully, the game has four different difficulty options. Easy is still challenging for newcomers and Impossible represents the ultimate challenge for veterans.

2016-04-09-181306Where the game really shines is it’s replay value. Missions are generated as you go, meaning two different games will have completely different mission layouts. You can also build your team differently. For those that really want to get into it, there are “second wave” options you can play with. These can drastically change things. For example, one option completely randomizes the skills soldiers will learn, so each will be a unique custom class essentially. Another affects accuracy ratings of shots based on the angle of your approach. This will affect basic combat to the point where you might as well be playing a different game. If you really want to challenge yourself, you can go for the trophy that makes you use a team of four for the whole game. There is a lot to do here.

As I mentioned before, this is not the ideal version of the game to play. You’re much better off with the PC or console versions. However, if you must play the game on the Vita, then it will certainly be playable. You’ll just have to deal with various technical issues. Still, XCOM is a game that we called the best game of the year a while back, and it holds up quite well. It’s worth a shot.

Short Attention Span Summary
diehardjack1-150x150XCOM on the Vita is a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s frigging XCOM on the Vita. On the other, the port is poorly done. You’ll suffer a number of presentation and performance issues that can make the game frustrating at times. It’s also missing some content, being a port of the iOS release instead of the PC/console versions. However, if you can get past that, this is one of the best strategy games you can possibly get on the go. It’s certainly worth consideration. It’s certainly worth consideration.



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