Full-fledged turn-based strategy on the go
Apple’s effort to push iOS as a gaming platform has been apparent from the start, but there is no better evangelist for our faith in iOS-gaming than a real console title. Whereas most other ports for iOS originate from past-gen consoles, XCOM: Enemy Unknown heralds a turning point; the game is ‘just’ one year of age. XCOM: Enemy Unknown was published on consoles and PC last year and received ample praise for rekindling the turn-based genre and reviving the 1994 classic UFO: Enemy Unknown.
After receiving the dire news that the world is under attack, you choose the location for your XCOM base. Each continent offers a different bonus, mainly affecting building costs within the facility. Once the choice is made, the game throws you into combat as to learn the ropes of squad command and general gameplay. Soldiers stand ready to be tapped & sent to a location on the map, which is usually a terror-stricken strip of land with alien activity ahead. Soldiers can either move and attack or dash to cover more ground during their turn. Controls are straightforward and work reasonably well, as they are tailored for the touchscreen and mainly entail tapping, dragging, pinching and zooming. The tutorial level teaches you all this and something else: aliens have invaded and are here to stay.
The next segments of XCOM: Enemy Unknown focus on tactical warfare and strategic management within the confines of a top-notch underground facility. Financial support comes from a third party called The Council, a board of delegates from countries around the world. The location of your facility resembles the lair of either a supervillain or facilities from movies like Independence Day and scrolling through the place is a real treat. Whilst doing so, advice from the world’s best doctors and engineers fills the room. It is recommended that you keep your ears pricked up during these moments, because the advice is crucial for advancement in the game. Each department is introduced to the player with cutscenes, making you feel right at home in this league of extraordinary life-savers.
Tactical elements of XCOM: Enemy Unknown stretch beyond the completion of missions because once lost, a level cannot be replayed. Moreover, when a mission requires you to protect civilians, failing to do so can impede relations with members of The Council. Screw up a few of these assignments and countries will leave the board, severely affecting your cash flow. The same goes for losing a soldier in battle: consequences of KIA’s can be extreme as some of your veterans may have generated invaluable perks throughout the campaign. This permadeath reminds the player of the seriousness of operational command: it is a game of survival.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown offers an exquisite balance between squad and base management, with a wide variety of missions to choose from. Field missions are diverse and vary from lush forests near a UFO crash site to densely populated city blocks. Objectives are equally diverse: sometimes you need to kill and collect aliens, in other missions you need to save a certain amount of civilians. As you take place in the command chair of XCOM, full control is granted over areas such as research, engineering, barracks, fighter squadrons and a delightfully stressful situation room. The amount of control is immense and each decision you make affects the course of the game. Hearing the words “Commander to the situation room” accompanied by atmospheric synthesizer tracks feels awesome, yet is also a siren song urging owners of iOS devices to be vigilant. Read on to see what warnings lie ahead.
Despite the lack of multiplayer (we expect this to be added in future updates) XCOM: Enemy Unknown offers an astronomical amount of content, spanning more than one genre. Having said that, the game is not without problems. Game-breaking bugs are frequent and frustrating when they befall you during important missions. Moreover, when restarting the game you need to sit through the entire introduction video (just over a minute) and keep your fingers crossed with regard to save points. For the moment, the crashes add an unwelcome and additional sense of permadeath, which 2K Games need to fix in order to justify the game’s hefty price tag. This is a genuine console title but it comes with a warning: iPhone 4, 4S and iPad 2 owners may want to wait until an update is out.
Disclaimer: we tested XCOM: Enemy Unknown on an iPad 2 and experienced frequent game-breaking bugs and crashes. XCOM: Enemy Unknown may be hard to resist but we recommend waiting for versions above 1.0 as to enjoy XCOM to its full extent.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is available now as Universal download for $ 19.99