Like a Squadsighted Sniper on high ground blasting enemies on the other side of the map, XCOM: Enemy Unknown Plus hit the Vita on March 21st surprising everyone with its existence.

I’ve always listed strategy RPGs as a favorite genre of mine but before Fire Emblem Awakening on the 3DS the only ones I’ve ever beaten were the Fire Emblem games on the GameBoy Advance. Advanced Wars, Final Fantasy Tactics, Shining Force all proved too difficult for me. And yet as soon as I saw previews for XCOM: Enemy Unknown it called to me. The creepy Rosewell-y look of the Sectoids, the lifelike environments, the logical approach to strategy, “if you don’t take cover behind that steel wall you’ll probably be shot.” Getting into the Vita release, the game surpassed my expectations and I am really hooked on it. There’s a more direct logic involved in making decisions over the Weapon Triangle of Fire Emblem, but still requires deep thought. You can’t just win by running and gunning. You’ll also have to manage resources, build facilities to upgrade weapons and items and keep the people’s of the world calm by giving them jet planes with canons to defend themselves You have to play with the long game in mind and prioritize all these things.The game has depth and fun, but…it’s not a perfect port.

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As I took this screen cap off my Vita I noticed the text was fine on a normal laptop screen. Just take my word for it. On the Vita it looked terrible.

Right off the bat you’ll notice the limitations of the Vita. All in-game models look somewhere on the level of GTA3 on the PS2. I mean that’s cool, you spend most of the time in battle zoomed out, looking for clear paths to cover and loot to pic up. But it’s especially noticeable when you’re in the base going through the menus and talking to scientists. The game takes a high sci-fi approach when it comes to dishing out info. Everything is displayed on a holographic page that pops out of the background for you to read. However, due to the Vita’s small screen size as the page pops up the text phases back and forth between “illegible microtext” and “If I squint forever I can read this.”

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Why use the fire effect if it’ll look like a PSX texture? Just throw some red lights in there and we’ll still believe this plane can fly.

The controls still take some getting used to. The front screen can only be used to move the  camera around the map, while you have to go to the Dpad to change the camera direction and elevation. You can’t tap on a unit to choose them to move, only shuffle in order with L/R shoulder buttons. Once you select an ability you can’t turn the camera anymore (because the Dpad is now only being used to cycle through your ability list) so if you want a better angle you need to cancel out of the attack, change directions and go back. I only just found out how to check a selected squad mate’s abilities/perks – by double tapping the very small ! icon in the bottom left when that person is selected. It’s very necessary information, knowing who has what passive buffs when in the thick of action. It’s all a bit clunky but you can get used to it

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My #1 soldier, Nightmare the Sniper, got stuck on a table after clipping through a wall. Had to reset.

Then there’s the performance issues and All of The Lag. The game randomly and often sputters when you swap between squad mates to choose your move; there’s lag before the animation to change weapons, there’s input lag after changing weapons so you have to wait a beat before you can target an enemy or move. Small animations don’t load from time to time, like the trail showing the arc of a grenade you want to toss. Audio from XCOM NPCs randomly doesn’t play at all. Most annoyingly sometimes the life bar of your team or enemies will disappear for a round, making deciding who to shoot a problem. There are just a batch of small hiccups that slow the gameplay down but rarely does it impact my enjoyment.

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The Ipad port

I originally thought this Vita port was a port of the Ipad game port that came out years ago. All touch screen controls -> Some touch screen controls seemed like a logical jump to me. Nope.The Ipad version looks and runs way better. So XCOM Enemy Unknown+ seems to have been built specifically for the Vita, and even in the face of the issues, the gameplay is just as addictive challenging and rewarding as any console or PC version.

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