XCOM Enemy Unknown for iOS Review: Best. Release. Ever.
Let’s cut to the chase: if you consider yourself an “iOS gamer,” you need to buy XCOM: Enemy Unknown right now. Yes, it’s $20; I don’t care. Go buy it. Go! There’s a link right above this paragraph.
You need to be convinced? Fine …
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the iOS port of a console title that released just over eight months ago. A game that was designed for XBox 360 and PlayStation 3. A game that has made it to your iPhone or iPad virtually uncut and unedited from its console version.A game that earned Game of the Year awards from seven media outlets, including GameSpy, Kotaku, and PC Gamer. Does that not sound like a game you should own?
In XCOM:EU, you take the role of Commander of XCOM (Extraterrestrial Combat Unit), a secret global military defense initiative whose sole task is to repel an alien invasion. From your high-tech underground lair you must build up your resources and monitor the world for enemy activity. And when you detect it, you must send out and command a squad of soldiers to deal with the problem.
You spend your in-game time in two different areas. The XCOM base is where you task scientists and engineers with the research and development of the technology necessary to defeat the aliens. You also train and equip soldiers, maintain UFO intercept craft, and monitor the world for alien incursions. It’s also where the game’s plot plays out. There’s a lot going on in this part of the game, and decisions here can help or hurt you in the other major game mode.
That second mode is a grid-based, turn-based combat mode where you lead a squad of soldiers against the enemy forces. Presented in a rotatable 3/4 view, this part of the game is all tactical action. Moving ahead, finding cover, watching the flanks, taking fire, returning fire — it’s a tense time! Putting the wrong soldier in the wrong spot can get them killed quickly, while sending the right soldier in at the right time can lead to a well-earned win. Different soldiers develop different skill sets, so having a good mix — and knowing what to do with them — is vital to victory.
The game is excellent. There’s deep and subtle strategy in both modes; and while it’s easy to make bad choices or strategic mistakes, there’s always a way to recover your footing. It’s engrossing and challenging game play.
The iOS port is incredible. Running on the Unreal Engine, this game looks about as good as any game ever released in the App Store. Load times can be long, but rarely did the game itself lag on my iPhone 4S. The touch controls are mostly intuitive, though sometimes buttons or grid squares can be a little fiddley to select. Zooming and moving around the map is easy, while navigating XCOM base is achievable either from a menu or simply by tapping the place you want to visit.
Oh, and did I mention there’s no IAP? Yeah, it’s $20, but for that price you’re buying a full game with no exhaustible gold or limited edition vanity skins or super weapons that make winning easier. Glorious!
If I had to make one complaint, it’s that this is really a game made for the iPad. On the iPhone, the text is super-small; sometimes I simply could not read the details of mission briefs or other text. I’m glad that it’s a universal app, and I think the game is still plenty playable on the smaller screen; but this game shines on the larger iPad screen.
Convinced yet? That the devs would undertake to so complete a port of a 2012 console game to iOS, and that they would succeed so spectacularly, isn’t just a good thing. It’s a great thing, both for iOS gamers and for iOS itself. This is the kind of rich gameplay and big studio quality that we iOS gamers have been craving. You should buy XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
Our score:out of 5.