XCOM for iOS Review!

Did you miss me?

The world is yours to police.
The world is yours to police.

Apologies for not posting anything in recent times, but if you know DisCONNECT, you know that these things happen, and I occasionally just disappear for no discernible reason. I do have some articles to write but right now I have a review for you. XCOM is undoubtedly one of my favourite series of all time. Unlike fanboys though I’m not afraid of change, so when the new XCOM: Enemy Unknown was released last year instead of going OH MY GOD THIS ISN’T A DUPLICATE OF THE ORIGINAL I accepted it on its own merits and seriously enjoyed it. Some people decried the removal of time units or how the combat phase ended up being a lot faster than in the original, as well as the reduction in base management. In some cases I agree, but I also didn’t miss hunting for one solitary alien for countless turns in the original. In any event, XCOM is awesome.

Man those guys have a bony arse, how do they sit down?
Man those guys have a bony arse, how do they sit down?

I was surprised and sort of intrigued by the announcement that Firaxis and 2K China were going to release an iOS version of the game. I mean surely there must be some significant compromises to get it onto the iPad, right? In any event, this $20 AUD release is begging to be reviewed. I played this one on my iPad Mini, which in terms of capabilities is effectively an iPad 2. Your experience will likely be better on the iPad 3 or 4. You can also play it on your iPhone.

Just another day at the base.
Just another day at the base.

Engine

Graphically the game is moderately impressive. It’s a significant step back from consoles and from the PC of course, but we’re dealing with vastly inferior hardware here. That said, they did do a decent job at keeping the framerate fairly consistent on the iPad Mini. Textures are fairly low resolution, and the lighting is almost entirely static without much in the way of visual effects, but it’s passable. If you were hoping for copious eye candy, you’ll be disappointed, but it’s still a remarkably decent attempt.

Sputnik overhead.
Sputnik overhead.

Some animations are a little laggy, as if they’re dropping frames, and some sections have been replaced by pre-rendered video, but otherwise it’s a remarkably good port. Loading times are tolerable but be prepared to wait a bit. Unfortunately, the game seems to crash every so often – rebooting the device tends to reduce these instances, suggesting there may be a memory issue here. Then again, the iPad Mini isn’t the best device for this sort of game. Oh, and achievements are supported, as is iCloud for save games.

All you need are a few good troops.
All you need are a few good troops.

Gameplay

It’s XCOM. I say again: it’s XCOM. I’ve already reviewed the PC version of the game as linked above, so I really don’t think I need to say too much about the mechanics. I haven’t played right through to the end, but from what I can see pretty much all the mechanics are here. There are a few differences but they’re fairly minor and mostly cosmetic. Otherwise it’s the same escalating conflict with the rush to research new weapons and gear, shoot down UFOs, take live captives and stop the threat. The core gameplay is unaffected.

Friggin' poison!
Friggin’ poison!

The difference comes in some of the content and customisation options. Firstly, there’s a limited set of maps available in order to save on space – the game is nearly 2GB installed, which is starting to get a bit big for a mobile game. The full tutorial is still present but honestly I wish they’d ripped that out with something a bit less on-rails and retained some more of the maps, but whatever. Soldier customisation has also been scaled back. While it’s entirely possible to name your soldiers, choose a voice and a few visual options, you can’t select from different armour appearances and can’t change the colour of the armour. I understand that all this helps to save on space, but what was the issue with armour colours? I mean would it have killed them to offer even just a handful? I used armour colour (and helmets) to distinguish between soldiers on the PC version. Why remove that? Also a number of the more dramatic action camera sequences have been cut, mostly the kill shot sequences.

Frag out.
Frag out.

The controls are actually quite good, but of course this is a turn based game so it’d be hard to screw this up. Rotating and zooming are done with gestures. You pan around the map with one finger. Select soldiers by tapping on them. Tap an empty square to select it as a movement target or whatever. Tap commands along the bottom to enable shooting or overwatch, or whatever other option you like. It’s fairly intuitive. Base management works much the same way, though the ant farm screen has been significantly reduced in visual complexity. Otherwise you still build facilities, research things, and manufacture weapons and armour for use out in the field. No real changes here except visually.

Benches make the best cover.
Benches make the best cover.

Overall: Excellent

This is a pretty sparse review but really, all I have to say is that it’s a visually scaled down XCOM, and XCOM is awesome for reasons I’ve already covered. While it’s quite a significant step back in terms of graphics from the console versions (and way behind the PC) it’s still remarkable that I can play this on my goddamn iPad. It’s a highly competent port with an excellent control scheme which keeps the core gameplay mechanics intact. I wish there were more maps, and I wish armour colour customisation was still in, but they haven’t significantly compromised the core gameplay of XCOM in this port. That’s actually a pretty damn good achievement. It has a few bugs, namely with crashes, but otherwise it’s an excellent game. Be warned that it’s quite heavy on the battery though. If you’re a fan of the 2012 release and really want to play it on the go, then there’s little reason not to recommend it, especially if you have an iPad 4. $20 seems like a lot, but there’s much more game in here than the casual games selling for a few dollars.

Staring match, GO!
Staring match, GO!
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