XCOM Enemy Unknown makes the shift from full priced PC/Console title to premium-priced iOS title, bringing the gloomy spectre of an all-out alien invasion with it. As Criswell would have put it, can your heart stand the deadly terror of DEADLY ALIENS FROM BEYOND THE DEADLY STARS????
XCOM Enemy Unknown: On the plus side
Good news to report this morning, with the very first confirmation of alien life circling our planet. Unfortunately, there’s none of the glowing fingers and flying bike nonsense to be seen here. Instead, these aliens seem highly intent on that whole uncomfortable probing business… after we’re all dead.
This is the world that the XCOM games have always dropped players into, and when I say players, I’ve got to be honest here. Right up until I dropped the asking price for XCOM Enemy Unknown, I’d never played an XCOM game before.
Sure, I was aware of them as a series, and I think I’ve watched a couple of minutes of people playing them way back in the dim, dark period that I call my University education, but it was a series that, by and large, had passed me by.
Which, if they’re as good as XCOM: Enemy Unknown, would appear to have been a mistake. For those (like myself) new to the series, it’s a largely strategy-centric title that flicks between resource management — sorting out pesky scientists and base-building duties — with strategic turn based combat as you take your startlingly fragile troops out into the field to get mown down by the strange grey fellows with the probes… and that’s just to begin with.
The big thing about XCOM: Enemy Unknown for iOS is that it’s (so reports go) the full console title, ported over to touch interface. It’s certainly a gorgeous looking game; your base is out of the best b-grade Sci-Fi schlock, and creeping around the various spots on the planet, seeking out aliens and cover before your troops get massacred hits just the right notes of both paranoia and action.
Controls are always a bit of a sticking point for touch-based games, and here 2K China has done mostly good work. There’s a solid tutorial that leaves you in no doubt as to how to try to manage your affairs. Try is the operative word there; you’ll often fail to keep international tensions at bay, and equally you’ll send heavily armed troops that you’ve spent hours levelling up out into the field where they’ll be mercilessly flanked and cut down in the prime of their lives. Failure is a natural state in XCOM, and while it stings to lose a well equipped soldier — and even more when the troops around them then flail around like headless chickens.
But it is — from this novice’s perspective — awfully good fun.
XCOM Enemy Unknown: On the minus side
There are some glitchy parts of the XCOM experience. Being a “full” (as far as I’m aware) console title means that there are loading times to contend with. They’re covered with video sections of your troops moving into or out of battle, but those are only cute for so long. Equally — and I have no idea if this is true of the “full” title or not — it’s rather creepy that in your base, characters have mouths that move in time with their voices, but on the field in cut scenes, they’re mouthless Barbie dolls. It adds a certain creepy factor, but it also just looks a little cheap.
Those are aesthetic concerns, but the touch controls are also just sometimes a little quirky. Playing on a third generation iPad, I’ve hit instances where I’ve had to wait for touch commands to be recognised, or where default camera angles have been a bit wonky, especially around buildings.
Those are probably minor concerns next to…
XCOM Enemy Unknown: Pricing
XCOM Enemy Unknown comes in at a hefty $20.99.
No, that’s not a typo; this is, by iOS standards, an exceptionally expensive game. I have absolutely no doubt that there will be those who declare that it’s “way too expensive” and either find ways to pirate it, or simply wait out some kind of app store sale.
XCOM Enemy Unknown: Alex’s Verdict
Leave the pricing out, and XCOM Enemy Unknown is excellent. It’s fun, gripping, mentally taxing and surprisingly emotionally exhausting as you pour hours into creating a team of alien exterminating grunts, only to see them picked apart due to a minor tactical error. You’ve got to stay on your toes the entire time you’re playing, or you’re in for hefty probulation.
Leave the pricing in… and I think that’s still true. There’s no IAP. $20.99 is all you’ll pay, and all you’ll ever pay, and there are hours and hours of strategy fun to be had here. It’s also much cheaper than exactly the same thing in console/PC land right now, although it’s also available at the moment to PS Plus subscribers as well as part of the Instant Game Collection if you’re a PS3 owner.
Yes, sure, there are plenty of good 99c games on the app store as well, but I don’t have a particular issue with premium priced games that deliver premium value. Like, say, Warhammer Quest. Or Star Wars:Knights Of The Old Republic. Or, for that matter, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Now, if you’ll just excuse me, there’s a convoy of greys on the other side of this train, and if I’m not careful, then Hicks will… NOOOOO!!! HICKS!!!!!