XCOM: Enemy Unknown has the potential to change the entire App Store, and that’s because it’s the complete high quality console/PC game at a premium price, and made specifically for iOS. Decade old ports have made their way to iOS leaving quite a bit to be desired, but XCOM launched last October, and it’s not simply filled with virtual joysticks and buttons. 2K and Firaxis Studios have recently launched Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol and Haunted Hollow for iOS, and both offer strategy games made for touch, and XCOM takes that idea up several notches. XCOM: Enemy Unknown revolves around an enemy invasion of Earth, and your goal is to command a global force to battle back intense areas of invasion. The heart of the game is on location missions providing intricate tactical assaults testing your strategic wherewithal against varying alien enemies.
From the opening cut scene to the first mission you can tell that there’s a deluxe experience in store that isn’t just a watered down version like so many previous iOS games. Instead you’re tossed into a deluxe 3D combat environment which is essentially a new age chess board. The game is made up of turn based strategy as you maneuver your squad across the battlefield while always trying to have the advantage on the aliens. There’s so much potential on each turn as you direct your few soldiers into the best cover that you can while trying to maintain an attack position. There’s a constantly moving and evolving opponent that also includes a brilliantly crafted difficulty curve as they progressively get more challenging from mission to mission. The game starts out easy enough, but after you capture your first live alien about four missions in, the game never lets up.
There’s so much involved in every move you make, and yet the game makes sure you’re fully prepared with a finely crafted introduction that paces all of the nuances for any skill level to enjoy all that’s included. On a single soldier’s turn on the battlefield there are so many choices available, and it’s dependent upon the solider type which includes assault, heavy, and sniper, which each have their own special attack. Each solider also includes a unique upgrade path, again offering choices, and it can hurt your entire operation to lose soldiers to start over agin with new rookies. In a mission, each solider has two moves with only a specific range, and you can move a shorter distance to have another option, or dash a longer distance to use up both turns. The entire time you want to be in cover while maintaing a visual on the enemy so that you can attack, and your attack has a percentage chance of success depending on positioning of both units and skill level of your soldier.
You can’t help, but appreciate all of these different factors that you take into consideration on each move. These options continue to evolve thanks to your work back at the XCOM base after each mission. The game does a great job of doing more than just going from mission to mission, so that you have research and engineering options to better equip your alien assault. Your research is based on what you take back from the field, and it provides the scientific backing to actually produce those items in engineering. Slowly, but surely you can unlock alien tech through autopsies, live alien interrogation, and analyzing UFO wreckage. All of it ties into developing the intricate storyline that pits you in the command center in an alien invasion movie. There’s also the global map to take account of, and even new missions giving you a decision on which to take on as you balance the panic level in respective member countries. The research provides intricate pieces of analysis to read as you figure out more about the alien invaders, and their true intentions. There’s also strategic balance in the labs as you pick and choose which areas to commit time to.
Your work at the XCOM base helps better prepare your soldiers for battle as you face new alien types that include aerial units, insectoid melee entities, and heavy frontline soldiers. One of the most interesting aspects of each battle is that you never know what to expect, and as your perform your initial advancement, the aliens can usually appear in positions to catch you off guard. Cover is a vital aspect of the game, and it can change during a mission as positions change, cars explode, and walls are blasted through. There’s also a lot to appreciate in the 3D environments to flesh out the immersive feel as you get in tune to commanding your units. The more you play, the more engrossing the game becomes as there are so many nuances to dabble in as you dive into the big picture of the alien invasion. It seems every mission introduces something new to take into account, and this level of depth just hasn’t been available on iOS yet.
The 3D graphics engine is remarkable as well with such a deluxe offering running effortlessly on the latest iOS devices. Occasionally there’s the tiniest slow downs when spinning the camera, changing attack targets, or moving the camera through buildings, but none of it distracts from the overall experience. All of these aspects are expected if you’re familiar with the game on another platform, but it’s still worth noting how well the game invites in those who aren’t even fans of the turn based strategy genre. The biggest question though, is the touch control scheme, and it’s simply so well suited for the genre. It’s effortless to tap or drag to where you want to move, and then tap on various actions to engage in. Touch is such a great option for tactical combat as you directly command everything on screen with direct manipulation. Firaxis has proven once again how to design a game to be touchable, and other top tier developers should take note. To round out the iOS specific package, the game includes seamless integration of iCloud saving and Game Center connectivity.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown ($19.99, Universal) is a virtually flawless transition to iOS, and that transition is bringing one of the most ornate strategy games to the platform. It’s truly the total package that delivers such an engrossing experience that will deliver so many hours of enjoyment and challenge with fresh additions throughout. There’s just so much to appreciate from a single touch direction to the overarching storyline to the point that it invades your thoughts to keep calling you back to the alien filled world. It’s an experience not to be missed that really puts so many iOS games in their place. While the XCOM price is extreme in the App Store, it’s an amazing deal on any other platform, and again this is the total package specifically made for iOS.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is an absolute must buy that officially has changed the entire iOS platform, and our expectations going forward.