Version Reviewed: 1.0.0
App Reviewed on: iPhone 5
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The world can be a harsh place when it’s in the midst of an alien invasion - even for a seasoned XCOM operative. If you need a few tips to get started, or want to know about some of the new stuff like Meld, then check out our XCOM: Enemy Within beginner's guide.
When XCOM: Enemy Unknown made its way to iOS, it was pretty great. Of course some things had to be scaled back due to hardware limitations and so on, but it was XCOM and it could be played on your phone. Actually that’s better than great - it’s pretty freaking awesome.
And now here we are, just under a year and a half later, and XCOM: Enemy Within has sort of popped-up out of nowhere. Question is, should owners of the original spring for this semi director’s cut version? Should someone who already has Enemy Within on a different platform buy it again just so they can play it on their phone?
Well, if you like XCOM then you should already know the answer.
Welcome Back, Commander
Enemy Unknown was (and still is) a fantastic reimagining of one of the greatest PC strategy games of all time. But Enemy Within is better. This new iteration isn’t a sequel, but rather a kind of rerelease with extra content. However, it’s not simply a few new maps and some new hair styles.
Enemy Within boasts a lot more additions than just maps - although it does have those, too. There’s a new human faction to fight against that goes by the name of Exalt, and they exist purely to muck-up your operation. In order to deal with them, you'll need to send one of your agents to infiltrate several of their numerous cells - then send an extraction squad in after them to collect vital information. Once you've completed enough of these missions, you should be able to narrow down the location of the radical faction's HQ and can shut them down for good. But be warned: Exalt has access to many the same goodies that your own soldiers do, which means you’ll need to change up your tactics.
Then there’s Meld. Meld is a mysterious alien substance you’ll find on the battlefield and it’s a total game-changer. Not only will you need to weigh the risks against pushing your troops across the map quickly so you can locate and secure Meld canisters before they self-destruct, but once you’ve performed the right research you’ll have access to two completely new ways to enhance your soldiers.
First, you can genetically enhance your troops to give them all sorts of superhuman abilities like jumping really, really high (great for something like sniper mobility) and chameleon-like skin. A squad of super troopers is definitely not to be trifled with, even by hostile alien warlords.
Second, there’s the cybernetics lab. This branch of research allows you to turn some of your soldiers into half human, half machine, hulking engines of death - called MECs - which is every bit as badass as it sounds. These massive hybrids aren’t particularly fast moving, but they pack a serious punch. Literally. One of the MEC’s secondary weapons is a giant fist that can mulch larger enemies like Berserkers and punch smaller foes through walls. Guess which branch of Meld research is my favorite.
The Best of Both Worlds
All that only covers what’s new between Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within, though. You’re no doubt curious to know how this specific version holds up.
Really, really well.
The touch interface hasn’t been changed, but it really didn’t need to be in the first place. It’s just as intuitive and functional as it was with Enemy Unknown. Barring the occasional camera going wonky when trying to select locations in cramped quarters, which was also a problem with Enemy Unknown.
There are some noticeable differences between the mobile and console/PC versions, such as the simpler models and textures, but this port of Enemy Within looks decidedly better than its predecessor - and it runs a bit better, too. It’s not so much a night-and-day difference, but the lighting and shadows are definitely better-looking and there's definitely less frame rate chugging this time around. That's not to say it didn't chug on my iPhone 5, but it was only really a problem for me on big maps with lots of crumbling building walls and burning wreckage.
Oh! And there are a lot more customization options! It’s still not quite as robust as on PCs or consoles, but there are definitely more ways for you to tweak the look of your soldiers. Secondary armor options are available, although a bit limited, but far more importantly you can now select several different color schemes for your soldiers' outfits. This was probably my biggest pet peeve in Enemy Unknown as I love customizing my characters but also find being able to color-code different soldier classes to be almost essential.
As a near-rabid XCOM fan, I found it difficult to stick with Enemy Unknown’s mobile port after a while for two main reasons: Enemy Within came out and I couldn’t quite justify playing the older version anymore (even if it was portable), and I honestly hated not being able to change my soldiers’ armor color. Now that both of those problems are nonexistent, I couldn’t be more excited to continue the fight on my iPhone.