|Playstation > Whats New > PlayStation Reviews > Staff Review|
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|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. Its 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.
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.