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XCOM: Enemy Unkown on iOS (versus XBox’s version)

by Mr. Gin
Games and Gaming, Reviews, Software, Technology
Game by:
Firaxis Games/Feral Interactive
Price:
$19.99 on iTunes

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4.5
4.5
On July 27, 2013
Last modified:July 27, 2013

Need To Know:

Nice. Not very different from Console and prior versions. A little deluxe behavior for different sized screens (button placement varies for usability) and touch controls are mostly good with some confusion between modes. Also the names cheat is disabled for the iOS version (or at least different). Still the same game with good tactics but a shamefully unrandom feel after many dozens of battles. Seems like randomness could have been jacked up some notches for better replay.

Huge X-COM fan here. I liked a lot of the old franchise and really missed the turn-based tactics. For a lot of years. I remember trolling Good Old Games and emulators and other ways to re-experience the game and I’ve always loved the mixture of tactical turn-based (it’s why I started the Fallout franchise too – my love of that cultivated by X-COM), soldier cultivation, resource management, tech trees and light disaster-related political resource allocation that X-COM brings to the table.

So when XCOM: Enemy Unknown came out again, re-engineered, re-designed, and written by Firaxis with updated graphics and a pretty improved gameplay flow, I was all over that poop. And it was good poop. I originally bought it for the XBox 360 and quite enjoyed a good run-through replete with some cheats (the XBox version allows you to change the names of your soldiers to turn them into super-soldiers) and all in all a good time.

It bears noting that the franchise has had a few ups and a lot of downs. I really liked XCOM: UFO Defense (originally XCOM: Enemy Unknown), which was the first incarnation released in 1994, and Terror from the Deep, in 1995, which was like the first but more detailed with more environments (although the graphics seemed somehow worse) and enemies. I did not enjoy any of the games after that until the new redone 2012 game. And I don’t know a lot of folks who did. A lot of the implementations were poor, not ready for release, almost. Buggy and unpleasant to work with or play.

The 2012 game (Firaxis) is really solid. Graphics are much improved. Movement is easier (and with the XBox’s controller, all the sticks and buttons have useful functions, including some of them as shortcut buttons, but the camera can be moved around a lot. It’s not truly a free camera, some views snap to 90 degree rotations to preserve the isometric top-down-ish perspective). And the controls have to allow players to move not just in 2-D but in 3-D, because height is a visual advantage as well as sometimes a tactical one.

Also the general control of all the soldiers is tight. The interface is a little cleaned up from the original 1990-era games and for the most part your view of available options is limited to what each soldier, contextually, can do in her/his current situation. Camera shifts are smooth and clean for the most part, with some jumping around in particularly complex, multiparty actions, like when your soldier moves somewhere and an enemy takes an opportunity shot at her. But for the most part, control and visuals and handling complex tactical situations is good.

And for my money, the overall feel of the 2012 game, balancing scarce resources of multiple kinds (mostly gained during the tactical missions), is better compared to the 1990’s games. Very evocative of the good things from the 1990’s games, but still updated, using some more modern user interface theory and methodology. A good all-round game.

In fact the worst criticism I’ve heard about it (and agree with) is that the tactical battlefields are all too similar. Flora and geography is always the same, no matter what location in the world. There are only 2 or 3 variations on cityscapes. It seems like it would have been trivial to add flavor-features based on location and culture, especially to the cityscapes. It seems like it would have been trivial to mix up perspectives and general overall features given a solid base engine for tactical turn-based battles and all this metadata we have in computing these days.

So that’s the game in general from XBox/PS3/PC.

When the iOS version was released on June 20, 2012, I resisted for about 2 weeks. The primary reason for my resistance is that it’s $19.99. If you are familiar with iOS software and apps, that’s really expensive for an iOS app, where most games go for $0.99 – $4.99 and most office productivity apps top out around $14.99. But then I thought about it and thought about it and decided, finally, that it’s cheap for XCOM: Enemy Unknown. And I was right. $19.99 is a good price on any platform for this game. (And honestly I’m a little worried about how software devs are changing the market to an in-App-Purchase model in response to the generally much lower sale price for games. It seems too open-ended and gambly to me, so I’d rather pay a high price up front and not have to worry about it.)

The port is very very close to what you get on consoles. I have an iPhone 5 and an iPad with Retina display and the software adjusts the HUD for each device so it’s easier to use. For the iPad, the confirmation of action buttons are in the low center of the display. In the iPhone, they’re on the left and right bottom of the display. Also, for the base management interface, most control buttons are by default hidden and pop-up for you on the iPhone but they are top-of-screen tabs on the iPad.

If I’m not mistaken, though, it’s a little less complicated than the game you get on a modern console. The biggest missing thing tactically for me so far is the lack of guided alien bazooka launchers in the iOS version. This could be due to my not having encountered it yet, but I think it’s just missing. Maybe too hard to control in iOS?

Also it bears noting that camera control, while taking advantage of the touch screen, isn’t as good. The touch screen makes it confusing for player and device to tell the difference between an “I want to move the camera” order and an “I want to move the soldier” order.

Finally, though, the best part as far as I’m concerned for seamless play across multiple devices is that it can save games to iCloud, which means you can play the same game sequentially across multiple iOS devices as long as they’re all using iCloud with the same Apple ID.

But overall, the gameplay is good, the price is worth it and the controls are good. If you liked the Console/PC version and you want it more portable on your iOS devices, go for it. It’s worth it.

The Bottom Line on XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Nice. Not very different from Console and prior versions. A little deluxe behavior for different sized screens (button placement varies for usability) and touch controls are mostly good with some confusion between modes. Also the names cheat is disabled for the iOS version (or at least different). Still the same game with good tactics but a shamefully unrandom feel after many dozens of battles. Seems like randomness could have been jacked up some notches for better replay.
4.5

Mr. Gin

Mr. Gin has written 9 FGEC articles.

I'm just this guy, you know? I am also kalessin on MetaFilter, Tsao Mao on XBox Live, tsaomao on minecraft.net, Otter Jenkins on my lexicon server (lex.malcolmgin.com), sometimes also known as Malcolm or aciel (if I'm feeling naughty). Older aliases: perigee, Trubl, Perihelion and (gasp) Logan Five. Oh yes, I've been AROUND.