XCOM: Enemy Unknown Plus is one of the most frustrating games I have ever played on the Vita. I was expecting as much, with its name synonymous tragic deaths, unlucky breaks and the occasional broken controller. I fell in love with XCOM: Enemy Unknown when it first released on the Xbox 360, and after fifty or more attempts to beat the game and one success, I was looking forward the picking it up again for the mobile console.
Unfortunately, the frustration that emanates from this alien invasion is not from the trademarked intense and stressful combat but the tedious delivery. Never before have loading screens been so offensive as in Enemy Unknown Plus. While there are hundred games that take a little time to warm up, this example has whole minutes before cutscenes and gameplay devoted to loading. Even during levels you’ll be delayed by constant auto-saving that could have easily taken place in the background rather than wrenching control away from the player.
And what makes this so unforgivable is that there is an amazing game hidden behind this all. As Enemy Unknown Plus was downloading onto my Vita I imagined all the fun I could have on dull bus journeys where I could go from commuter to fearless Earth saviour. But instead my voyage is made all the slower but loading bar that crawls across the screen. I thought about how the Vita could be a great little home for Turn-Based-Strategies, with its multiple interfaces, but with Enemy Unknown Plus as the forerunner, I think any genre resurgence might be stuck in a loading screen with it.
Enemy Unknown Plus is, for some reason more of a port of the expansion game Enemy Within, then the base title it was named after. Perhaps it was this discrepancy that made the game so painfully slow, but we will get all the extra advantages like human foes, augments and everything else for your teams.
For those who haven’t played the Enemy Unknown games, you take turns meticulously controlling a team of up six as they clear zones of alien insurgents, as well upgrading their gear and base before skirmishes. Each squad member has a class from sniper to support, and a range of unlockable abilities that go with them. There is a great satisfaction when you combine team members who compliment each other, scoring amazing ambushes and overcoming incredible odds. Equally, there is a sense of overwhelming sadness when your favourite solider falls in the line the duty, especially if you play on the series iconic Iron Man Mode. This forces you to play through without ever reloading a save, living with whatever consequences come from your actions.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a game that grabbed your attention when it initially released in 2012. Renaming squads after friends and family meant that entire social circles would be swept up the stories and adventures of their alien slaying counterparts. Using a percentage system means you know your odds when you put an extra-terrestrial into your sights, and you’ll have to take advantage of a deep cover and flanking system to have any hope of surviving long-term. Unfortunately, even with this deep sense of tension as to whether a bullet will find its mark, Enemy Unknown Plus feels doomed to disappear from the social consciousness very quickly. Not only has it inexpectatedly released after the full-blooded PC sequel of the game, which is sure to hurt sales, it feels like a poor imitation than the masterpiece it is named for.
Perhaps it’s the rose-tinted glasses of memory, but Enemy Unknown Plus seems a lot more blocky the original console release. This seems unlikely caused by the hardware as the Vita has demonstrated just how good-looking it can make games, but is possibly due to the compressed screen. Either way, this is one more notch that makes the game feel too rough around the edges. Sometimes button prompts have to be pressed multiple times before the game will recognise it is irritating, but would be more so if the game required immediate action. Combined with the slow loading time it is hard to feel the benefit of playing this on your Vita than any other console.
With the sequel changing up the whole pace of the game and forcing you to move with more authority against the looming army of alien oppressors this game does feel a hundred turns behind. However much fun can be hard with the XCOM series, its tragic to say it can’t be had here. For fans of the series looking to pick up this modern-day classic on the go, perhaps looking into the mobile ports would be more worth your time. Enemy Unknown Plus feels like a game behind schedule, rushed to the finish line after the success of the sequel to take and garner the positivity coming from it. It is a poor excuse for an XCOM game, pulling down the pedigree while hiding its best features.
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