XCOM Enemy Unknown Review

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.

The parking inspector looked on with glee. The owners of those two taxis were SO busted.
The parking inspector looked on with glee. The owners of those two taxis were SO busted.

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.
Tip: Don't walk through the park at night.
Tip: Don’t walk through the park at night.

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.

Billy, have you been drinking too much Red Bull again?
Billy, have you been drinking too much Red Bull again?

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.

We come in peace. Bwahahahhah! Hey, Xxxzlorg, do you reckon they might believe that? It's got to be worth a try while the probes warm up.
We come in peace. Bwahahahhah! Hey, Xxxzlorg, do you reckon they might believe that? It’s got to be worth a try while the probes warm up.

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!!!!!

8 thoughts on “XCOM Enemy Unknown Review”

  1. “Expensive” is not an absolute; it’s a relative term.
    You mention that XCOM is expensive by iOS app store standards, and it is. However, in the spirit of fairness you should also mention that XCOM is inexpensive in comparison to other versions of the game (which launched at $80, and aside from sales hasn’t dropped that much yet). You should also mention that in terms of dollar/ content ratio, it’s ridiculously good value. This is, after all, an AAA-grade console title.
    It distresses me that people are going to consider this game “expensive” and either wait for a price drop or pirate it. The entire idea that iPad games can offer full, quality gaming experiences for serious gamers rests on whether this specific game performs well on the app store. Every developer and publisher is going to be watching it very closely.
    For people that actually would like to see quality games on the app store. Buy it.

  2. The price is only a concern for me because I already own this as a PC title… had I not already purchased this on the PC, I think I would grab it on the iPad. I’ll wait and see if there is a sale and then pick it up.. it’s a good game because it, in theory, has infinite replayability…. will just have to see, in time, how replayable they have made the tablet version..

  3. Absolutely, 100 per cent agree, Matthew. That’s why I said, “by iOS standards, an exceptionally expensive game.” That’s a relative description, and as I think should be clear from my summary, I think it’s well worth it. I don’t want anybody to pirate it, but looking at the usual reactions, do you really think people won’t complain that way?
    Although I did intend to mention the console/PC pricing (which I’ll add in now) when writing it up.
    I’d be very happy if this was picked up and a more premium price model evolved out of it — it’s no doubt an experiment by 2K Games to see what the market will bear — but it’s still got to justify its price (which it does), same as any title.

    1. I agree about the premium pricing model (My name kis not Matthew btw..).. I’d much prefere to see full games without all the IAP and F2P silliness that has become the norm over the last couple of years. I’d happily pay, and I already have done so with some titles, a bit more if it means I get the full game without any extra to pay inside the game.

      1. Oh wait.. you were replying to Matthew but had not yet approved his comment so I thought you were replying to me 🙂

    2. Oh, I wasn’t criticising your review, Alex – just that you should mention that from certain perspectives XCOM is a remarkably cheap game.
      I knew in my heart and soul that this game would get that reaction from the gaming community – it’s just that entitled, but it’s still disappointing, given how much work went into making this game port happen. I hope that 2K prints a mint out of it, because I want to see more games like this on the app store.

      1. No worries. Be interesting to see if it being “free” on PS Plus right now impacts iPad sales. My copy is still sitting there downloaded, but I haven’t had any time to touch that version!

        1. I felt that was quite horrible timing on 2K Games’ part. The people the iPad version will be sold to are very likely the same demographics of iPad gamers that own PS3s, and so by essentially giving a not-insignificant portion of the iPad’s potential audience a “free” alternative, I can’t see that PS Plus initiative not affecting iPad game sales.

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