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PlayStation Game and Hardware Reviews

Developer: Simis OPTIONS: S.SHOT
No.1   No.2   No.3
Distributor: Grolier Interactive 1 Player
Game Type: Strategy/Shooter Memory Card
Review Date: June 1998 Analog Compatible

Setting the Scene

Xenocracy.  Hmmm... I am always very suspicious of anything, especially 
games, beginning with the letter X.  It's as if the word would disappear 
into obscurity should the first letter ever be dropped.  It tries to grab 
your attention and scream "Hey you, look at me!  I've got a big 'X' up front.  
Check me out!"

How many people can be found roaming hospital corridors with little notes in 
their trembling hands reminding them of which particular department they 
require.  It could be the Renal Dialysis Unit or the Musculo Skeletal 
department, but who would need any reminding of the X-RAY department?  
It's the 'X' that does it.

When wandering through a video store does the title 'Sally Anne's Adventurous 
Schooldays' grab you by the collar and put you in a trance?  No!  But put 
a 'XXX' in front and I bet it would.

And what about those crumby little musical instruments with wooden or metal 
bars graduated in length and struck with a small wooden hammer.  Would 
anyone have ever remembered xylophones had they not been the only practical 
word to put in every single kiddies dictionary that offers an example of 
the letter 'X'?

The word Xenocracy doesn't really mean anything but the Greek word Xeno- means 
strange or foreign.  
Work it out.

The year is 10,600, a time when Mankind has colonized space.  This has only 
been made possible by the joint discovery of a liquid energy mineral called 
lycosite by the four great planetary superpowers - Earth Dominion, Mars 
Combine, Venus Alliance and the Mercury League.  Distant moons have been 
colonized and subsequently terraformed to mine and refine this indispensable 
precious power source.

Of course cooperation between the four superpowers was never to last and so 
each begin to wage a covert war for solar domination. Only you, Commander 
of the United Planet Nations elite peacekeeping squadron, can keep the 
hostilities from escalating into an all out thermostellar conflict!

It was doomsday like any other.


Xenocracy is a space flight combat game. Set within an accurately 
represented Solar System, you will pit sophisticated space fighters and 
bombers against human fleets, pirates and swarms of ravenous aliens. As the 
planetary superpowers skirmish amongst themselves, you must fight to maintain 
the peace and battle an implacable menace that threatens to destroy mankind!

The player takes the part of Commander WingToucher of Rei Squadron, a pilot 
for the UPN, a kind of United Nations of the future.  It’s peace keeping time 
but there is an awful lot of peace to keep since the planetary superpowers 
insist on bickering and squabbling like naughty children.  Huh, politicians! 

Your mission is to defend colonies against aggression, to limit the 
skirmishing to acceptable levels, perform tasks on behalf of the planetary 
representatives and ensure that the powers preserve peace.


Xenocracy opens up with a short CG movie which, considering the quality 
of the rest of the game, can be considered a little lame.  However you must 
not let first impressions affect your judgement of this title because we have 
seen so many stunning FMV intros lead into poor and substandard in-game 
visuals.  With Xenocracy it seems to have the opposite affect - the calm 
before the storm.

Before launching into each mission the player is offered a Full Motion Video 
briefing sequence in which eight professional actors were employed to provide 
the voices and footage for the twelve leading political figures in the game.  
These preambles by the characters help the player choose their mission 
selections wisely.   

The standard of in-game graphics probably lies somewhere between the recent 
Colony Wars and last years Wing Commander 4.  Apparently the Simis 3D engine, 
known as Icarus, was selected for the project.  Obviously most of the action 
takes place in deepest, darkest space but the attention to detail is quite 
remarkable.  As your craft accelerates towards the battle field the horizon 
is clustered with tiny twinkling stars which zoom towards you and offer the 
effect that you are travelling at hyperspeed.  If you care to glance around 
multi-colored gas nebula and asteroid belts are clearly visible while several 
recognizable planets can be seen glowing in the distance with the Sun 
providing a nice touch of lens flare which eases across the screen.  

Depending on your mission some of the planets atmospheres may be entered and 
after flying through an area of yellow haze you can swoop down towards the 
surface and move right in for a closer inspection at ground level.  Most of 
these planets are barren featureless worlds broken only by the occasional 
mining facility or patrolling ground units.    

Throughout each mission a user-definable HUD system is operational which 
allows the player to customize their readout displays for each mission.  
Xenocracy also boasts a special "Solar System Guide" feature. Created with 
the help of leading science media constancy, Hencoup (Heather Couper and 
Nigel Henbest of Pioneer TV Productions), as well as NASA, 4:2:2 Graphics, 
Infynity Animation, to name but a few.

Sounds and Effects

While browsing through the options and set up menus you are treated to 
the sound of beautiful haunting background music that occasionally sends 
you into a trance.

The acting during the mission briefings is a little over the top but what I 
really want to know is why does everybody with a Scottish accent have to 
shout their instructions.  Perhaps Scotty from Star Trek has an awful lot 
to answer for.

Throughout the missions an assortment of electronic 'gadget' sound FX add 
further to the atmosphere.  You are also kept company by the constant backchat 
from your spaceship's Weapon System Operators who offers warning of strikes 
using terms such as a warning of a "Bandit at six" and the victorious 
"He shoots!  He scores!".

In the heat of a raging battle it begins to sound like the Blitz with gunfire 
blasting and explosions going off all around and a rather strange wooo-ing 
noise that sounds like a faulty air raid siren.  


Following the opening FMV you must enter your game name in the box provided 
and then select the mode you wish to play.  At this point Xenocracy heads 
off in two completely different directions - Arcade or Simulation.

Arcade mode allows you to charge head first into the action with a fully 
equipped ship, ready to fight to the end, in a series of ten varying combat 
missions based around the increasing pirate threat.  I would heartily 
recommend you try out this mode first to allow you to gently get to grips 
with the control of your fighting craft.  It acts more like a Quick Start 
option where the player does not have to waste time selecting individual 
weapons or alternative transport.  After a short mission briefing you are 
thrust right into the heart of an escalating conflict of which you must 
quickly gain control.  Having studied your briefing carefully you should be 
well aware of your mission objectives as well as the strengths of both enemy 
and friendly fighting forces.  Depending on your personal tactics you may 
either head directly towards the oncoming enemies and give them a short, 
sharp, shock or try the patient approach by hanging out with the friendly 
forces and fighting as a team.

Most of the missions involve the destruction of enemy forces but tactically 
you cannot always take the battle out into safe territory, especially if 
your mission involves you guarding a friendly convoy.  The enemy will try 
to force you to take this course of action by grouping together in deep 
space but as soon as you stray from the convoy, one or two enemy craft will 
keep you occupied while the remaining ships splinter and sneak in through 
the back door.

One of the most satisfying aspects of Xenocracy is the simplistic control 
system.  Having been bamboozled by the complexities of Wing Commander 4 
and fumbled with the joypad during heated battle in Colony Wars, I was 
pleasantly surprised how easy it was to control the craft within this game.  
The four face buttons are used to target and lock-on the enemy, cycle 
through weapons and fire.  The directional pad, or the left Analog stick, 
smoothly directs your craft.  The two right shoulder buttons increase or 
decrease your speed and when combined, offer an engine turbo boost.  One 
of the left shoulder buttons starts your craft into a roll while the other 
is an ingenious device that allows you to match the speed of a locked-on 
enemy target.  Using this option guarantees that the enemy you are trying 
to target will nearly always remain within range - it's now only a matter 
of getting behind him.  Once your objective has been completed successfully 
you will be instructed to 'Gate out'.  To do this simply press all four 
shoulder buttons and a Tannhauser Gate will form in front of your craft and 
exit you from the mission for a full de-briefing. 

Simulation Mode offers far more control over the proceedings.  You must 
choose the missions to fly by gathering together information from the 
mission selection screen, solar guides, intelligence reports and squadron 
management.  You are provided with vital reports on the current political 
and economic state of each of the planetary nations.  Success or failure 
will profoundly affect the balance of power in the solar system.

Now this may be beginning to sound a little complicated but in fact if you 
take half an hour out to browse through the on screen information with the 
game manual by your side it will quickly make sense.  You don't need to study 
every type of enemy craft to be successful, but the info is all there should 
you require it.  Neither do you need to understand every minute detail of a 
particular weapon to put one straight between the eyes of an enemy, but should 
your missile regularly fail to hit the target then the reason why may be 
discovered in the relevant directory.

I will attempt to describe Simulation mode in simple terms.  You must first 
check out the Situations Report and decide which of several distress calls 
you will answer.  You cannot answer all of them therefore someone, somewhere 
is always going to get upset.  

To help you decide, drop into the Inner Planets screen and check out the 
current status of each superpower.  Should Mercury's stability value and 
economic rating be high, while Mars' is slipping low, then choose a mission 
that will in some way damage Mercury's assets.  If at the same time your 
action could benefit Mars, then all the better.  The mission could involve 
you joining forces with Mars fighters to attack a Mercury mine.  If successful 
your actions would reduce Mercury's economic rating but raise Mars', thus 
balancing the powers.  

After a brief description you must return to the main menu and select one from 
five ships, each with their own different shields, agility, stealth, speed and 
sensor.  It's a little like choosing a car in any arcade racer.  You may 
decide to take the weapons that come with each craft or select your own from 
those presently available.  Should you require advance firepower later in the 
game (and you will) then pop into the Research area and set your staff to work.  
This section is similar to a management sim where you distribute an allocated 
length of time or credits over several different skills.  Select a Hud and a 
Wingman (if you wish).  Then - hi ho, hi ho, it's off to war you go.

Fail in your mission and you will die.  Succeed and you will probably get a 
begrudged thank-you, followed quickly by a severe ticking off from those 
leaders whose mission you choose to ignore.  You see, the object is to balance 
your time in combat between all four planetary superpowers and keep them as 
level as possible.  Should you concentrate on pounding one of the nations into 
the ground, the remaining sneaky bastards will get up to all kinds of mischief 
behind your back and you will probably lose your job.

Following each mission you must check out the latest video news to see how the 
superpowers react to your latest escapade.  You must also check out the status 
of each of the four nations before accepting a new mission.  You must complete 
thirty of the hundred plus missions to win the game.

Overall it's a thankless mission in a hopeless situation, but a very enjoyable 
one at that. 

Value for Money

Obviously Xenocracy will not be to everyone's liking.  It should 
appeal to both strategy and shoot-em-up gamers, especially those who enjoyed 
Wing Commander 4 and Colony Wars.  I also have a feeling that this may appeal 
to those who enjoy management sims, as long as they don't mind getting stuck 
into the action now and then.
GRAPHICS: 18/20 At first glance Xenocracy left me feeling stone cold. Having limited time to review a game the last thing I wanted was to 'waste time' wading through the wealth of information on offer but eventually I realized the situation was hopeless so I sat down and read through the game manual.

Suddenly it all began to make sense - balance the powers, not blast everyone in sight. Before I knew it I was hooked.

To play Xenocracy for long periods you will need to have thick skin because no matter which course of action you take the remaining three superpowers will bitch and bicker about your decisions. The satisfying part is not in rescuing the poverty stricken nations but pounding down on those wealthy planets that were twisting a knife in your back several minutes earlier.

Check it out, but allow it a little extra time.
SOUND: 8/10
VALUE: 18/20


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