If a real alien invasion is this much fun, maybe it’d be worth it.
When XCOM: Enemy Unknown launched on PC and consoles last year, it immediately entered the game of the year discussion. A successor to the classic XCOM series, Enemy Unknown is built on a foundation of turn-based gameplay, decision making, and the ability to let players play in the style that best suits them. Now that XCOM: Enemy Unknown has landed on iOS, mobile users can get their hands on what may very well be the best game on the App Store.
Earth is under alien attack and the world’s superpowers have teamed up to give birth to XCOM, an organization built to investigate and eliminate the alien invaders. From the start, players are given the choice as to where XCOM headquarters should be located. The first of many important decisions, the player is granted various perks based on location. This also introduces the political aspect of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Every decision—whether it’s made at HQ or on the battlefield—carries a variety of consequences. Some of the world’s leaders will love certain decisions, while others will become so disgusted that they leave the program. It’s tough to keep everybody happy and sometimes sacrifices must be made.
Sacrifice is most apparent on the battlefield. An XCOM squad consists of four-to-six of the world’s greatest soldiers. Before every conflict, players can customize the squad to their liking. Investigating a UFO crash site may be a good opportunity to give low-level soldiers a chance to gain experience, while it’s a good idea to bring the top talent to fight off an attack on a city. Each character’s loadout can be customized, with new equipment available for research at HQ.
Once on the battlefield, XCOM: Enemy Unknown shifts its focus to turn-based strategy. The general idea is simple: one at a time, each character can move and perform an action. Once all the player’s characters have moved, the aliens follow the same pattern. It’s a simple formula that pays off thanks to a variety of class-specific abilities, loads of equipment, and detailed stages. The enemy AI is excellent and each alien species acts completely unique. Certain enemies will take the same strategic approach as the player, covering behind walls and setting up flanks, while others will charge in freely, hoping to score a quick kill.
Death is permanent in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but soldiers are surprisingly resilient, especially on lower difficulties. That said, understanding the situation at all times is one of the most important parts of battle. Sometimes it’s better to finish an enemy quickly and cause collateral damage rather than giving it more chances to kill. Other times, it may be wise to retreat and preserve the lives of experienced soldiers. XCOM: Enemy Unknown will challenge players at every turn, forcing tough decisions through difficult situations.
Back at headquarters, players are free to research new equipment and technologies based on items salvaged from battle. Certain research leads to new equipment for the engineering team to build. As the game progresses, players will be able to add staff to these departments, allowing for better and faster work. Items not used can be sold on the gray market to earn a quick buck. Funding is tight in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, especially when countries start backing out. Money is used for nearly everything: expanding the base, building equipment and items, and hiring new soldiers. Players are encouraged to use whatever strategy they prefer, but proper management of funds is of the utmost importance.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown isn’t a perfect game. The graphics are a step down from the PC version, with occasional textures being outright bad. The original’s multiplayer is also nowhere to be found, though the main draw has always been the campaign. The story is limited and some of the alien designs are incredibly campy. But in the end, none of these issues matter. The visuals are still excellent, given the amount of detail on the screen at any time. Meanwhile, the story and campiness are both overshadowed by the sense of discovery and decision-making gameplay. When you’re playing XCOM, its flaws are easily the last thing on your mind.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is quite possibly the best game on the App Store. Its twenty dollar price tag may seem a bit high, but the amount of detail and polish makes it easily worth the price. Whether you prefer the turn-based battles or playing politics at headquarters, XCOM offers something for everyone. There’s no excuse for missing this one, as it may be quite a while before something this special comes along again.