XCOM: Enemy Unknown Plus review for PS Vita

Platform: PS Vita
Publisher: 2K
Developer: Firaxis
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

One of my favorite things about handheld gaming in general (and my Vita specifically) is how it gives me a chance to get into genres I otherwise probably wouldn’t have gotten into. First person shooters? Normally I find them disorientating and have to give up on them well before they’re done, but I had no problem with Killzone: Mercenary or Resistance Burning Skies. JRPGs? Indifferent to them on consoles, but in love with playing the Atelier series on the Vita. Visual novels? Never thought I’d have given them the time of day, but Code: Realize and the Danganronpa series have shown me the light.

And so it is with tactical RPGs and XCOM: Enemy Unknown Plus. I tried playing Enemy Unknown in its original incarnation on PS3, but gave up on it fairly quickly due to a combination of boredom and not quite being able to wrap my head around the gameplay. But add a “Plus” to the name and put it on my Vita, and suddenly I get what all the fuss is about.

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It helps tremendously that the game is perfectly suited to the Vita. The story is straightforward and easy to drop in and out of. The levels are relatively short, and can be squeezed in during commutes or between classes — but at the same time have more than enough depth that you could spend hours chaining them together, should time and battery life allow. The controls that are easy to pick up — and, more importantly, translate to the Vita without any issues — but incredibly hard to master. Basically, Take-Two were able to take most of what made the original click for so many people and shrink it down without losing much in the process, which is a recipe for porting success.

Admittedly, some sacrifices were made. While the original version wasn’t exactly a visual powerhouse, it still looked significantly better than Enemy Unknown Plus does here. I mean, I don’t want to give the impression that this is the ugliest game on the Vita or anything, but between the PS2-level faces and the jerky way the onscreen characters move, no one is going to point to this as an example of what Sony’s handheld can do in the graphics department.

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Beyond that, though, XCOM: Enemy Unknown Plus does exactly as advertised: it brings the XCOM experience to the Vita. The gameplay is every bit as addictive as it was on the console version, and it carries with it that overarching sense of tension that made it click for so many people on consoles (not me, of course, but I recognize I’m in the minority on this point). It’s one of those games that just makes sense on a handheld, and it’s a must-have for any Vita owners, whether they’re tactical RPG buffs or not.

Grade: A