A lot of games have been crossing the line between console and mobile. First we had titles such as Angry Birds, which made the move from the mobile market, and now we’re getting a whole host of games going the other way. Hugely popular releases such as Knights of the Old Republic and Limbo are making their presence known on the iOS devices, alongside this – a game that we personally awarded 10/10 when it was released on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC about a year ago: XCOM: Enemy Unknown is here, and it’s here to stay.
The earth is being invaded by aliens and it’s the job of the XCOM organisation, set up to protect the many nations of the planet, to swoop in when a threat is detected – and they have to swoop fast to thwart the attempt and keep the various nations from panicking too much and withdrawing their funding. The game’s hub resembles a kind of ant farm containing the different elements of the main XCOM headquarters. This hub is where you’ll spend time ordering your scientists and engineers to research new weapons and armour, as well as different ways to kill the enemy new. You can also research and develop new equipment for your frontline soldiers including scopes and explosives. The engineers also have the ability to create other structures for the ant-hill style XCOM headquarters and satellites to keep an eye on the world. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a game that is almost too easy to get lost in, draining hours when you only intend to have a game or two.
There is a storyline underpinning the gameplay, broken down into military operations involving the collection of specimens of the enemy for study, or saving key members of the political parties of XCOM nations. Although it bookends the reason why you’re in particular areas quite nicely, it’s not the main reason you’ll play. In fact, as easy as it is to continue down the vague line of the story, it’s just as easy to get lost into the cycle of scanning the world for alien invasions, then going in and wiping the floor with their corpses. For hours I forgot that, at the top of my list of things to do, was the collection of a specimen from a new type of enemy. I had to collect them alive through the use of a newly developed taser-like device (the technology for which had been pilfered from the invaders on a previous mission) which knocked out the enemies without killing them. I absolutely forgot that I was supposed to be doing this and, with each subsequent mission, I was so focussed on completing the individual objectives – saving the diplomat, clearing the area, searching a crashed UFO, etc – that I totally forgot about the overarching story objectives until I got back to the XCOM headquarters, at which point it was, obviously, too late.
The third addictive factor of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, is the management of your ground team. At the start of a mission you’ll be able to micromanage each team member, deciding what gear they’ll be taking into the field and customising their names and nationality to suit your own preferences. Be careful though:, if you name your entire team after your friends and family, and you lose them due to a silly decision in the heat of battle, you won’t be able to get them back. There’s no “cooldown” here; if they die on the battlefield, they’re dead for good. They could be Captains or Rookies, the enemy doesn’t care, all they care about it is lessening your numbers and taking down XCOM. This grats an odd sense of attachment to your team: they’re not just numbers coming from a barracks that’s been haphazardly placed such as in a more traditional RTS game. You’ll know these people, you’ll have named them, equipped them personally, watched them rise through the ranks, and so when they die because of a mistake on your part, it feels particularly jarring. You have been warned.
VERDICT: To compare the iOS version of XCOM: Enemy Unknown to its console brothers would be doing it a disservice. Doing so would undoubtedly sound like it’s a stripped down version, slightly inferior just for the mere fact that it’s on a mobile platform, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Everything that we knew about the console version has been brought over with love, affection and a true knowledge of how to use the touch-screen, as well as the sheer power of the iPad, to its absolute potential.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown isn’t just one of the best iPad games available, it’s one of the best games available, full stop. If you haven’t already picked it up on console or Windows PC – and don’t have PlayStation Plus, which would enable you to get the game for absolutely nothing – then you owe it to yourself to pick up this iOS version. It’s a little bit pricey when it comes to iOS games (weighing in at over a tenner) but when you consider that you’re getting essentially a full console game, playable on the move, it’s a steal.
Remember, we will be watching.
INCREDIBLE. This is the pinnacle of our scoring spectrum, reserved for games that truly affect us, that capture our imagination so completely that they affect the standard by which we measure future games. 10/10 is not a declaration of perfection, but an assurance that the game in question is of amazingly high quality and has exceeded our expectations.