Welcome back, Commander.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown was first released on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 back in October of 2012. Since then, it has received GOTY (Game of the Year) awards from various outlets, such as Giant Bomb and IGN. The expansion, Enemy Within, only continued this growing legacy. The game has been on nearly every current-gen platform that will have it, except the Playstation Vita. That is, until now. Recently, 2K snuck a port of the game onto the Playstation Network for the Vita and I could not have been more excited. I remember playing it (a lot) on my Xbox 360 during the early years of my seminary courses. (That probably explains why my homework didn’t get turned in on time.) I’ve played through the game multiple times, each new playthrough with its own set of challenges. Now that it’s portable on the Vita, I could not wait to play it. We here at TRG want to thank 2K Games for sending us a review copy and allowing us to review the game. With that being said, let’s dive in.
For sci-fi fans, there’s a lot to love in XCOM’s story. The Vita port, titled XCOM: Enemy Unknown Plus, contains both the base game of XCOM: EU and the expansion, XCOM: Enemy Within. 2K Games did a fantastic job of interweaving the expansion’s content into the base games story without skipping a beat.
The story starts off with an unknown alien invasion attacking Earth. Scrambling to rally ourselves, the XCOM project arose to train up soldiers to both defend Earth but also research the alien species. You assume the role of Commander Higgenbotham (that’s not really your name, it just sounds better than just “Commander” as the game calls you) as you build up your XCOM force, build out your base, and research various projects to improve your team.
The story is then flipped on its head with the inclusion of EXALT, a rival faction dedicated to bringing XCOM down and taking the aliens for themselves. These HYDRA-wannabe’s weren’t around when I played the game on Xbox 360, so it came as a nice surprise that there was a new enemy I had to keep track of. Their intrusion certainly adds more to watch out for, but it also raises the stakes even more.
While the story may not blow your mind over some philosophical centerpiece (though it raises the questions of what is ethical during times of war and if we’re really alone in the universe), it’s more tense and action-packed than I remember. I often find myself saying, “just one more mission” to see what happens next.
The sound in XCOM: Enemy Unknown Plus is just as good as I remember. Everything from the sci-fi beeps of the turn transitions to the hissing and growling of the aliens, combined with the eerie calm yet subtle tones at the beginning of each mission, completely immerses you in the game. The subtle tones at the beginning of each mission give you a tense feeling that you’re about to be ambushed any minute. Once you come upon alien forces, or EXALT mercenaries, the music kicks into an energetic synth that matches the action. Though the sound of the weapons leave a bit to be desired, it does not take away from the game at all.
The same great gameplay that I knew and loved is still here … sort of. For those new to XCOM, the game plays like a strategy RPG (think Disgaea and Final Fantasy Tactics) but with a little more room to roam the map. Both forces take turns moving their fighters across the map, picking up ammo, saving civilians, and recovering artifacts along the way. When the two forces collide, this is when the game can get a little hectic. What seemed like just two scouts, at first, can quickly become a small squadron coming down on you to destroy you. It can be overwhelming and, thankfully, there is a Difficulty Selection feature for those that are new. That being said, just because it says “Easy” difficulty doesn’t mean you should take the game lightly.
You’ll recruit, and train, soldiers along the way. Soldiers can obtain one of four classes: Assault, Sniper, Support, Scout. With the addition of the Enemy Within expansion, you are also able to mod soldiers with bio-enhancements that allow you to see more of the map, move more around the map, have better reflexes when shooting and reacting, leap up buildings, and more. Or if mechs are more your style, you can transform your soldiers in cybernetic organisms, with living tissue over a metal endoskeleton. Once you’ve created your Terminator, you can craft a mech-suit for them to take out onto the field. There are plenty of ways to flesh out your team and build them the way you see fit.
After each mission, you’re transported back to your base for recovery. There’s an interesting recovery mechanic that requires that when your soldiers get injured during missions, they’ll need a few days, or a week, to recover, depending on how badly they’re damaged. This incentive to play the game with caution can really pay off. Trust me, you do not want your best sniper and assault class soldiers down when you really need them. While the soldiers are resting, you can visit the different branches of your base to initiate research of a new prototype weapon or armor, build more generators so you can power different areas and projects, craft satellite uplinks and airships to help protect other countries, and more. There is simply no shortage of things to accomplish at the base.
As you play the game, you’ll receive warnings of abduction sites, crashed alien UFOs, EXALT attacks, and countries that are in a state of panic. The game will constantly throw situations at you where three countries are being attacked and you can only pick one to help. These kind of decisions can have a big impact on your end-game; neglect a country for too long and they’ll pull out from the XCOM project, taking their valuable resources with them. Failing to protect countries, defend Earth, or rescue civilians, and losing resources to EXALT all impact your End of Month Review, which can then in turn impact your funding and resource allocation. It’s a complex, and difficult, check-and-balance system that is definitely harsh but pushes you do as much as you can. You’re protecting Earth, afterall. It’s a heavy burden to bear.
So, are there any problems with the game? Well, a few. The frame-rate is rough and inconsistent. At times, the game runs smoothly and at other times the frame-rate drops, at random, giving you a choppy gameplay experience. You’d assume that with the visuals receiving a downgrade for the mobile port there wouldn’t be an issue in that regard; but you’d be wrong. Also, the menus are unresponsive at times. While navigating menus at the base, I’d often find myself pressing the Confirm button multiple times before the game would register the command. This is especially frustrating in combat, as you will sometimes choose the wrong option because you’re never really sure if the game registered the command or not. And while the load-times aren’t atrocious, they are a tad too long for a game on a mobile platform.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is up there with some of my favorite games of all time. I have some fond memories of the game back on my Xbox 360 and I’m thankful 2K ported the game to the PS Vita. That same great game is there on the PS Vita, but it has its issues. I’m sure these will fade out as 2K patches the game but as of right now, XCOM: Enemy Unknown Plus is a little disappointing while still being fun.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown Plus, for Playstation Vita, gets a 3/5.