Even with the iOS release of XCom: Enemy Unknown rapidly approaching, some may find the wait unbearable. Playing the original release on Mac, PC, 360, or PS3 is certainly an option but if you’re specifically looking to fill the gap on your iOS device (or simply want to play something similar on the go) then today’s your lucky day. We’ve got a list of seven different iOS titles that ought to scratch that itch until Firaxis makes it official. Keep in mind they don’t all offer the same exact X-Com experience, but they do all evoke a similar feel for various reasons.
Aliens versus Humans is definitely the list’s most faithful to the early X-Com series. Skyrangers and Interceptors are MIA but there’s still plenty of that good old back-and-forth between base management and turn-based firefights. New technologies such as advanced weapons and armors can be researched and produced and soldiers can acquire marginal improvements if they survive a number of missions, too. It’s the closest thing to playing UFO Defense on your iOS device that you’re likely going to find for a good long while.
Hunters 2 shares quite a few key similarities with early X-Com games, but it’s not a 1:1 likeness. Many key elements are here; such as hidden enemy movement, soldiers that level up and learn new skills individually, customizable loadouts, and needing to keep an eye on action points (i.e. Time Units). That said it’s also its own game with an emphasis on combat over management, daily missions to complete for extra credits in addition to the campaign, and a much smaller (but elite) team to control that prevent the stages from overstaying their welcome.
Tactical Soldier – Undead Rising is another close comparison to the older X-Com series. It’s zombies instead of aliens, and it’s all about the skirmishes with little in the form of resource management, but it’s definitely rocking that tactical vibe. Stylistically it’s very reminiscent of getting a squad of rookies killed before they even step off the Skyranger, and there’s a big focus on each soldier progressing individually with better stats and abilities.
Battle for Wesnoth might use orcs and elves instead of aliens and space marines, but it still manages to capture some of that classic X-Com magic. Mostly it’s because your soldiers can be leveled up individually and sport their own names, but it’s also just a very rewarding strategy game. One with a ridiculous amount of campaigns to play through and factions to control.
Frozen Synapse doesn’t require any base management. It doesn’t have named soldiers that can individually tweaked. There aren’t any aliens. And yet, most missions in this simultaneous turn-based strategy game feel quite a bit like X-Com. Your soldiers are just as susceptible to bullets are your enemies, and losing even one can have a huge impact on your strategy and chances for success. There’s also the added intensity of planning each move, right down to the little details like which direction a soldier will aim. That in itself isn’t so nerve-wracking but having to decide what to do without knowing what your opponent is planning (and vice-versa) can be just as harrowing as being down to your last rookie and knowing that final (you hope) Sectoid is close by.
Star Command is a bit similar to Frozen Synapse in that its strategy is more reactionary. Rather than trying to lure enemies to key positions you need to think fast and get your crew out of harms way while simultaneously trying to avoid getting your ship scrapped and trying to blast your opponent’s vessel. There’s nothing turn-based about it but the combat can be every bit as lethal and death is just as permanent. Of course it’s possible to reload an earlier game in order to save a downed crew member, but that sort of goes against the spirit of it all.
Rebuild might appear to be the least X-com-like game at first glance, but it’s actually just as valid as every other title on this list. Instead of capturing the feeling of a desperate struggle to keep your squad alive, it captures the feeling of a desperate struggle to plan ahead and manage resources well enough to prevent total annihilation. In essence it’s more like the Geoscape than the battlefield. Carefully taking control of various buildings, divvying out salvaged weapons and clothing, and assigning roles that best fit each survivor’s skillset are all essential to not ending up like every pocket of humanity always does in a George Romero movie.