Hardcore gamers, your savior has arrived! X-Com: Enemy Unknown is now available on iOS. When the full version hit consoles and the PC last year, we went wild for it. But iOS is a different beast entirely, and what works on a computer may not work on an iPad, which begs the question, "Is this shrunk down X-Com still worth your time?"
X-Com: Enemy Unknown is a turn-based strategy game that requires diligence and forward thinking lest ye find yourself overwhelmed by enemy forces late in the game. Yes, that's right, you can play the campaign so badly you have to restart it. If that sounds tedious, it's not. Every mistake made is an opportunity to improve, and X-Com's highly randomized experience ensures that no two games are the same. Your time spent playing will alternate between two game modes, the first of which is spent in your base. You'll spend resources, build new facilities, and try to decide which upgrades are the most crucia. Time may be the most important resource of all, because as you improve, so do the aliens. Improve too slowly and you're dust.
Outside of your base you'll command squads of four to six soldiers as they battle the alien menace, save people, and occasionally say things like "ooh-rah." Patience is the name of the game in combat. Those who take their time to move carefully will find that the enemy falls easily to their superior tactics. Those who are reckless will pay the price because any soldiers killed in battle are permanently dead. This adds an awesome element of tension to each battle, and helps keep things feeling important. And for anyone who likes the idea of having some tension, but wants a bit more control over things, you have multiple save slots to use and abuse in the event of a catastrophic battle.
X-Com is tough, and on the higher difficulties it's unfair, but it's always fair in its unfairness, as each difficulty level is perfectly tuned to provide a specific type of challenge for players of any expertise. Between managing your base and fighting hordes of aliens, you'll stay pretty busy. This game has that magical effect of making you tell yourself, "Just one more game." You'll always be just one more fight, one more day, one more research project away from something awesome, and then when that's done there'll be something else to work towards. Hours will melt away without you even realizing it because you're too damn busy having a blast.
X-Com: Enemy Unknown controls perfectly on the iPad. The touch controls for the camera, the soldiers, and choosing commands are all intuitively designed and responsive. Though the game was originally designed with consoles and the PC in mind, you'd never know it. The audios and visuals are the same level of quality, with unique little clicks and gurgles for the aliens, complimented by stirring music and graphics so beautiful you'll weep.
There are a few elements that were lost in the switch from PC/console to iOS. Multiplayer is gone, but that's not a big deal. The multiplayer was always fun, but it was more of a bonus than a real attractor to the game. You also can't customize the colors of your soldier's armor, which isn't that big of a deal, but it did make it easier to tell them apart on the battlefield.
At $20, X-Com: Enemy Unknown is one of the pricier games out on iOS, but it's worth so much more than that. Plus once you buy the game it's bought. There's no spam for other games, no ads to harass you into buying downloadable content. Gamers looking for a thoughtful challenge will find it in droves here, and with its nigh-infinite replayability and incredible degree of customization you'll never get bored.
If you've played the original X-Com: Enemy Unknown, you know what to expect, because somehow that awesome experience has been shrunk down and encapsulated for a portable audience. If you haven't played it yet, stop reading this review and just buy it already! It's the most fun you can have slaughtering aliens.