Ah, the Great App Store Pricing Debate. For years people have been arguing over the cost of mobile games. What constitutes “too much?” Where’s the line when it comes to free-to-play monetization techniques? Should developers have deep discounts and temporary giveaways? Should consumers simply expect everything to go on sale and wait accordingly?
The recent Dungeon Keeper debacle is a good example of this. Gamers and critics alike have railed against it for using various monetization techniques and associating itself with the classic PC strategy series, and many point to it as an unpleasant indication of where the video game industry (especially mobile) is headed. It’s an issue that’s almost as complicated as the initial Freemium vs. Premium debate; so let’s take a closer look at everything and try to make sense of it all.
Posted by Andrew Stevens on January 31st, 2014 + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
2K is celebrating the Chinese New year by reducing the price for 6 of its mobile titles for a limited time only. Users can now pick up Civilization Revolution, NHL 2K11, and Sid Meier’s Pirates! for $1.99, 2K Drive for $0.99, NBA 2K14 for $3.99, and XCOM: Enemy Unknown for $9.99. Now go enjoy some alien eliminating, hard checking, three point shooting discounted mobile games!
Every year, with thousands more apps and games being released on the App Store, it becomes increasingly difficult to single-out just which are the crème de la crème of this ever-growing iOS market – and more specifically, which of them truly set a higher standard in terms of innovation, uniqueness, and individuality. Be it a game designed for the iPhone or iPad, anything developed and released on the iOS market in this day and age has to have that special something to grab our interest and retain it for months to come. In no particular order, here are a selection of the most notable games and apps of 2013 that raised the bar in one way or another.
Morphopolis – Quite possibly one of the most visually stunning games I’ve seen all year, Morphopolis‘ astounding presentation and imaginative world designs are what truly sets this hidden object puzzle game apart from those of a similar style. The beautiful hand-drawn watercolor hues bring every aspect of the game’s artwork to life, while the folksy ambient soundtrack sets a beautiful and warm tone to suit the mellow and relaxing pace. What is so immensely likeable about the puzzles in Morphopolis is that each of them is original, unique, stylish, and distinctive in nature, with every single one utilizing the environment in some manner to build upon the atmosphere.
As 2013 starts to wind down, people naturally begin to reflect. That and anticipate 2014, but that’s another set of words entirely. Anyway, as I began to think back on the year one major theme kept popping into my head: the increased power of mobile hardware and the way it’s been used to create some truly impressive adaptations of games from other platforms.
What’s really blown me away about all this is just how faithful these ports have been. In some cases concessions had to be made with the UI or the graphical details, but a good many of these games are nigh indistinguishable from their console/PC counterparts. Heck, some of them actually fare better than the originals!
So with this in mind, we present you with our list of notable iOS ports from 2013 (and maybe a few that came out earlier because they’re just that awesome).
It’s hard to kick-off a list like this without XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Simply hearing that one of 2012’s best strategy games was bound for iOS was exciting enough. However, this was no rush-job or some bare-bones freemium cash grab. Firaxis somehow managed to shrink the game down with only a few extremely minor changes (i.e. slightly less detailed visuals, fewer maps overall, and fewer soldier customization options). The flip-side to that is the inclusion of touch controls that were a perfect fit for the gameplay. Continue reading 148Apps 2013 wrAPP-Up – High Quality iOS Ports »
The week is almost over, and the holidays are that much closer, but those gifts won’t find/buy/wrap/give themselves now will they? Thankfully there are people like us putting together handy-dandy holiday shopping guides for you! Whether you’re looking for new hardware and accessories, or just something a bit less impersonal than an iTunes gift card, we’ve got you covered.
Today’s guide centers around iOS gamers. These are the folks who love their portable games and spend most of their morning commute matching pieces of candy or fighting immortal titans. If you’d like to make the gamer(s) in your life have an overall more pleasant and convenient gaming experience, or simply get them some really cool stuff to play, check out our list below for some ideas.
MOGA Ace Power Gamepad
The MOGA Ace Power Gamepad ($99 – iPhone/iPod Touch) has several distinct advantages over the other controllers in this list: it’s collapsible so it’s easy to carry while still acting as an extension of the iOS device, it’s the first official MFi gamepad for iOS devices, it uses dual analog sticks in addition to buttons and a D-pad, and it comes with its own battery that will help to extend the amount of time iOS gamers can play things while away from home – or at least a charger. The noticeable downsides are that it’s rather heavy thanks to the internal battery, and it doesn’t support portrait orientation. [Our Review]
While you’re considering the MOGA Ace Power Gamepad, you should probably also think about software to go with it. I’d recommend Oceanhorn ($8.99 – Universal), Dead Trigger 2 (Free – Universal), and Silverfish ($1.99 – iPhone) since all three are not only good games in their own right but also confirmed to be compatible. I’m sure there are plenty of other games out there that will work with it as well, but if you’re trying to put some sort of package together it would probably be best to stick with what you know will work.
MOTO TC Rally
There’s also the option to mix things up and use and iOS device as the controller for something else, rather than attaching a physical controller to it – hence the MOTO TC Rally ($99 – iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch). This is more than just a RC car with an iOS controller: the free app used to control it adds quite a few gaming elements to the physical racing. Users can race their friends and cause virtual damage -that actually affects performance- through special impact sensors, use power-ups, customize their car’s performance and more.
LEGO Mindstorms EV3
The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit ($349 – iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch) is another great option for those looking to venture a little off the beaten path. I mean it lets users basically build whatever the want, then control it with their iPhone or iPad. How cool is that? It’s got the universal LEGO appeal, the remote control angle, and taps into those creative juices for potentially limitless amounts of fun. [Our Review]
iKit NuCharge Battery Case for iPhone 5
The iKit NuCharge Battery Case ($89 – iPhone) is certainly something to consider for the iPhone 5 or 5s gamers in your life. The lightweight case doesn’t block any ports, and it allows users to recharge their phone on the go. Perfect for lengthy trips or holiday visits with relatives where someone (not naming any names here) inevitably forgets to bring their charging cable. [Our Review]
What games go best with a phone-charging battery case? Battery hogs. There are a fair number of them out there and they can usually be picked out by their super-pretty graphics. A couple of great-looking (and just plain great) games you might want to consider are Warhammer Quest ($4.99 – Universal) and, of course, Infinity Blade III ($6.99 – Universal). However, XCOM: Enemy Unknown ($19.99 – Universal) is by far the biggest battery-muncher and would definitely benefit from something like the iKit NuCharge case.
Mophie Juice Pack Pro
The Mophie Juice Pack Pro ($129 – iPhone) may not be the most elegant-looking case, but what it lacks in style it makes up for in functionality. This is one very durable charging case that will keep batteries going longer and protect the phone from minor splash, dust, and more serious impact hazards. It’s a good fit for camping trips or gamers who are particularly brutal with their devices. [Our Review]
The Mophie Juice Pack is another charging case, sure, but it’s also quite durable. So it should be able to stand up to a little punishment when you toss your phone across the room after a particularly rough game of Tilt to Live 2 ($2.99 – Universal) or Pivvot ($2.99 – Universal), and will let World War II turn-based airplane strategy buffs like our own Andrew Stevens keep playing Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies ($4.99 – Universal) through just about any harsh weather conditions.
Ultimate Ears Mini Boom
Doubtless we all know at least one audiophile, and the Ultimate Ears Mini Boom speaker ($99 – iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch) is definitely something to consider for them. It’s easy to connect to any device via bluetooth, is durable, a good size for travel, and produces some impressive sounds even by itself. It’s a great way to enhance anyone’s iOS gaming experience. [Our Review]
Of course if you’re looking to get some nice speakers, you may want a game or two to go with it that put the enhanced sound to good use. I’d recommend The Last Door – Chapter 2: Memories ($1.99 – iPad) for those who love a good scare as it’s a ridiculously creepy game without any audio enhancement whatsoever, so you can imagine what some high-quality speakers will do to it. Home ($2.99 – Universal) is another excellent choice for the same reason. LEGO Lord of the Rings ($4.99 – Universal) is another good option because, come on, who doesn’t want to hear that epic score and the official movie dialogue on something more substantial than their iPhone/iPad speaker?
Feel free to peruse our Editor’s Choice selections for more top-rated game ideas.
Posted by Rob Rich on October 10th, 2013 + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
I think it’s safe to assume that most iOS strategy gamers rather enjoyed XCOM: Enemy Unknown when it was released back in June. I know we certainly did. But the struggle for Earth’s survival isn’t over just yet, and now even more operatives can join in the fight.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown has, at long last, received its much-touted multiplayer update. Now you can create your own custom squad made up of humans, aliens, or a mix of both, then take on friends and strangers alike in asynchronous multiplayer through Game Center. Don’t already have the game on your iOS device? Well it’s also on sale for $9.99 (down from $19.99), so this is about as good an opportunity as you’re going to get!
Posted by Rob Rich on August 2nd, 2013 + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
2K Games just released an update to XCOM: Enemy Unknown that addresses a few issues and adds even more replayability to the already very replayable campaign. In addition to the expected minor bug fixes, improved touch controls, and better use of system memor, they’ve also included a new option called Second Wave that allows players to adjust the following:
Damage Roulette: Weapons have a wider range of damage. New Economy: Randomized council member funding. Not Created Equally: Rookies will have random starting stats. Hidden Potential: As a soldier is promoted, stats increase randomly. Red Fog: Combat wounds will degrade the soldier’s mission stats. Absolutely Critical: A flanking shot guarantees a critical hit. The Greater Good: Psionics can only be learned from interrogating a psionic alien. Marathon: The game takes considerably longer to complete. Results Driven: A country offers less funding as its panic level increases. High Stakes: Random rewards for stopping alien abductions. Diminishing Returns: Increased cost of satellite construction. More Than Human: The psionic gift is extremely rare.
When the App Store first launched, five years ago, many of us were merely pleased to see any kind of game on there. It hadn’t really occurred to anyone just what could really be done here. After all, so many years of Snake clones and earlier mobile versions of Gameloft titles, only go so far. 5 years later, we now know that some very impressive titles from the console and PC gaming catalogue can be converted across, and with some impressive results. Here’s a look at our favorite four surprising console ports.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Arguably the most impressive port yet, the recently released XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a truly stunning game. Besides being one of the finest Turn Based Strategy games in years, its conversion is second to none. Touch screen controls are perfectly implemented here, and no compromises have needed to be taken. Those used to $0.99 purchases might feel it’s a trifle expensive at $19.99, but there are a ridiculous number of hours of enjoyment to be had here.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2013-06-20 :: Category: Games
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
A delightful surprise for many, when it leapt onto the App Store, this classic BioWare RPG still stands tall today. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic won’t hold its players’ hands, potentially confusing newer games, but it’s worth figuring out. It offers an exceptional story based gaming experience, the kind of which is rarely seen. The controls might not be perfect here, but it’s forgivable thanks to being such a brilliant game.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2013-05-30 :: Category: Games
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Rockstar Games has done a fine job of converting some of its titles to iOS. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is the pinnacle, thus far. The strongest and most popular of GTA titles, it looks stunning on iOS as well as offers some appropriate controls to ensure everything feels smooth and well focused here. Most importantly, it’s an ideal example of a title no one would have really expected to see five years ago.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2012-12-06 :: Category: Games
Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright Trilogy HD
It might not have the graphical prowess of the other entries here, but Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright Trilogy HD was quite the delightful surprise when it made its way to iOS in its full entirety. Capcom has released many great console ports to iOS, but this one just about fought off the Street Fighter series for top spot. The series is like little else out there, requiring players to take the role of an attorney, as they explore crime scenes and use evidence appropriately throughout the court case. The adaptation is stunning, and a worthy example of how DS games can be translated to iOS.
Over one million apps have made their way onto the App Store during its five years of existence. A million. That’s a pretty miraculous number when you think about it. However it’s not the amount of apps we have to pick from that I find so fascinating, but rather just how much things have changed since 2008. Pickings were comparatively slim at first, and many developers were just starting to dip a toe in the waters of Apple’s new smartphone.
On top of that, the technology itself has changed tremendously in a relatively small amount of time. It makes me wonder if anyone from 2008 would even recognize current iOS devices, and by extension the App Store. Would a newer Apple initiate have any idea what they were looking at if they somehow managed to take a trip to five years ago? I think it warrants a look at how the hardware, the App Store, and the apps contained within it have evolved.
2008 – The Beginning of the Beginning
The App Store’s first year was a rough but promising one. The iPhone 3G rolled out to coincide with Apple’s new software venue and the original iPhone was still viable. The iPod touch was also present and accounted for, while the second generation appeared closer to the end of the year. Even at this point many developers were eager to push these early iOS devices to their limits, to make them more than just a phone or an .mp3 player with a fancy screen.
Handy apps like Pandora Radio, Last.FM, Facebook, and Yelp were to be expected, but that didn’t make them any less impressive to have on a handheld platform. Others such as the intuitive personal organizer Evernote, the eerily accurate song-identifying app Shazam, eWallet’s convenient and secure account password management, and MLB At Bat with its extensive baseball coverage further capitalized on the particulars of the hardware and its general portability. Of course there were also some pretty unnecessary options out there, too. Flashlight kind of served a purpose but was also fairly pointless. It wasn’t as bad as stuff like More Cowbell!, though.
At the same time, the games available on the App Store were beginning to show people that “mobile” didn’t have to equal “mediocre.” Sure there were a few simple ports of the odd classic such as Ms. PAC-MAN, Vay, and Scrabble, but there were also some impressive iOS renditions of popular console games like Super Monkey Ball coming out. Potential mobile gamers also had a few really special titles such as Galcon and Fieldrunners to tide them over. When all was said and done there were over 7,500 apps on the App Store by the end of the year, with more being added every day.
2009 – Moving Right Along
The following year saw even more impressive releases as Apple’s digital marketplace began to expand. The second generation of iPod Touch was the bright and shiny new toy at the time, but it was followed shortly by the iPhone 3GS in June while the latest and greatest third generation Touch closed out the year in September. It all meant better processors, better CPUs, more advanced operating systems, and so on. All stuff that developers needed to acclimate to, but also stuff that meant they could push their boundaries even further. There was no loss of steam when it came to content, either: the App Store finished off 2009 with well over 100,000 apps available.
Many of the basic smartphone necessities were covered, but there was room for so much more. Especially while the technology was improving. Plenty of people used their iPhones as phones, sure, but with the addition of Skype they were able to enjoy the added functionality of instant messaging and voice chat without cutting into their data plans (so long as a wifi connection was present). Big companies were really starting to take notice as well. That same year Starbucks and many other big businesses threw their virtual hats into the ring with their own apps designed to make life a little bit easier for their iOS-using customers. Practicality was also becoming an even bigger focus. The Kindle app gave iOS users a practical e-reading option, and Dropbox was there being Dropbox. By which I mean “an awesome and super-convenient way to transfer files between multiple platforms.” And this same level of refinement could be seen creeping into the games as well.
So many of the App Store’s most notable games and franchises came out around this time. It was almost a mobile rennaisence of a sort. This was the year Real Racing first blew mobile gamers’ minds, even causing some of them to question the legitimacy of in-game video footage until they were able to see the finished product for themselves. Zenonia was just a fledgling action RPG at the time, and while a lot of people liked it I doubt they knew just how many sequels it would spawn. The same goes for Pocket God, although with updates rather than multiple releases. Flight Control began to eat away at peoples’ free time, Angry Birds and Doodle Jump hit it big (like, super big), and Myst and The Sims 3 further displayed the potential for major releases on mobile platforms. Oh, and Canabalt almost single-handedly invented and popularized a genre.
Being asked to sum up the past five years of the App Store, on a personal level, is tough. Partly, because I have the memory of a goldfish, but also because so much has happened in those few years. How do you highlight what’s so great about a device and service that you can’t imagine being without? My iPhone and the App Store, by proxy, has been immensely important to me in this time. It’s given me so much information, enjoyment and even been a great outlet in times of need. Here’s a feeble attempt at trying to sum up how vital it’s all been for me.
Launch day: Despite the goldfish analogy, I do remember when the App Store first launched. I’d had an iPhone for a couple of months previously and had dabbled in jailbreaking, but didn’t feel too comfortable with it. The day the App Store started was genuinely exciting stuff. It’s hard to believe, for those newer to the Store, but it was possible to browse from start to finish, thanks to there being a mere 500 apps available. I did that, regularly, until it got to a point where there were just too many titles to look at. Like with any launch day event, these apps didn’t show off everything the technology could do, but they did offer a glimpse of a thrilling future.
Flight Control: Excluding a dabble with the no longer with us, Bejeweled 2, Flight Control was my first great iOS love. It showed me how great the touch controls of the iPhone could be, and how quickly one could gain satisfaction from a phone game. My past experiences with mobile gaming had been fun, but lacking that certain something that made me think it could rival handheld consoles. Flight Control changed that, for me, and I loved spending ages battling to improve my high score. Not that I was any good at it, though!
Exploration: I like apps that enhance my life, and I’ve used many in the past. Star Chart sticks in my mind, however, thanks to it enabling me to learn more about an area. While at the summit of an ancient ridge, Cefn Bryn, I could load up Star Chart and work out exactly what stars were above me and where. It was pretty magical.
A career path: It’s a pretty significant one, but if it wasn’t for the App Store, I wouldn’t be writing this. In fact, I’m not entirely sure what I’d be doing, given throughout my freelance career thus far, the App Store and iOS have played a very big role. It’s changed my life for the better. It’s been nearly three years since I wrote my first review for 148apps, Carnivores: Dinosaur Hunter, and I’m immensely grateful for how far I, and the site, have come.
The indie uprising: I always passively appreciated the efforts of indie developers, before the advent of the App Store, but my love for them has definitely grown. Perhaps more excitingly, I feel enabled to give it a go myself at some point. While I haven’t yet found the time spare to really pursue it, Xcode, Stencyl and Gamesalad are waiting for me, reminding me that the era of the bedroom coder has returned. That’s got to be a good thing for creativity, right?
Beloved Apps and Missed Titles
Favorites: I’ve struggled to narrow the list down. Really struggled. The memories of one Saturday morning avidly playing Game Dev Story in bed, before realising it’s practically lunchtime are particularly strong. Much the same as my hundreds of hours spent with Fairway Solitaire are fond, if tarnished by the time it inexplicably lost all my data and progress. Or how about the time I demonstrated the power of the iPad to my mother with the double whammy of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and XCOM: Enemy Unknown? The former being one of my favorite games of all time.
Out of them all, though, a select bunch are used nearly every day. I take photos each day to track my life and have some fond memories to look back on, so Instagram is a must have for me. I like to back up such things, as well as my social networking sharing, so Momento is always at the forefront of my recently used apps. As a writer, iA Writer completes the selection, thanks to its cloud syncing ensuring I can always write up a quick idea, no matter where I am. New Star Soccer remains the key game that I regularly find myself returning to, living my fantasy as a world class soccer player.
Apps I miss: There are a couple of apps I miss, though. Puzzle Quest being one such title, given my love of the Match-3 genre and the fact I’ve played it to death on all other formats. Similarly, I adored Big Blue Bubble’s use of the Fighting Fantasy license, although at least Tin Man Games is doing a brilliant job of taking over that mantle.
It’s been a fun five years, and given how far the App Store has come in that time, I’m excited to see what the next five years will bring. It’s looking like a pretty rosy future to me!
XCOM: Enemy Unknown has been out on iOS for less than a week, but that didn’t stop it from making a bit of a splash on the App Store. So far it’s taken the number 3 spot for paid iPad apps and number 4 for top-grossing iPad apps, as well as being named Editor’s Choice by Apple on the App Store for the week. It’s a designation that we here at 148Apps wholeheartedly agree with.
During these past few days, the Council has been keeping tabs on all of XCOM’s operations. And in that time they’ve recorded the loss of 143,900 soldiers. Almost 150 thousand lives lost so far, and that’s not counting civilian casualties. However, they’ve also discovered that there have been 1,775,322 x-rays taken down in the process. That roughly averages out to one operative lost for every twelve aliens. While it’s unfortunate that so many have had to sacrifice themselves for the sake of humanity there’s some consolation in knowing that we’re still coming out ahead. There’s definitely a light at the end of the tunnel, but we could all stand to do a little better.
It’s true that only time will tell who will come out on top, but my money is on us. It kind of has to be. But we must all remember not to get too carried away, either. The battle for mankind’s survival is important but there can also be consequences to spending too much time worrying about Sectoids and Mutons, and not enough about work and stuff. It’s all being documented in a new video series – “XCOM: Enemy Unknown Consequences,” the first of which can be seen below.
Just remember, we can and will win this war, but only if all of our operatives play it safe.
Carter and the gang discuss the biggest new release of the past week, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and what its impact on the market will be. Other titles from across the iOS spectrum are discussed as well.
Carter talks to Coatsink’s Tom Beardsmore about his studio’s new game Fatty, and how it evolved from a larger project they’re still working on. As well, there’s discussion of why informing the player of what they can and can’t do in a game is so difficult.
Why is there such a buzz around XCOM: Enemy Unknown arriving on iOS? Sure, It’s not just a high-quality title, but it’s also a current-generation console and PC game that is being brought to iPhones and iPads. But why does this buzz exist? Why is the mobile gaming community excited about getting to play a game that already exists on multiple other platforms?
I believe it’s because mobile gamers not only want to play core games like XCOM, but they also want them to succeed because they want more of them. The mobile market just hasn’t been the friendliest environment so far for the kinds of experiences available on consoles and PC. Developers and publishers have been scared away from making either ports or even original core games thanks to the pricing race to the bottom, despite hardware becoming more technically-capable of handling core games. $19.99 is cheap for XCOM, but not in the wider context of $0.99 and free-to-play games that are so prevalent on mobile.
It feels hopeful to see promising titles take a blowtorch to the current system. The mobile market should be able to support games worthy of higher prices as well as the lower-cost indie titles and the free-to-play games, in a similar way to what Steam has done. That service is not the most accessible for indies, and it still reinforces the archaic notion of ‘publishing’ in a digital distribution system. Despite the drawbacks, at least it’s possible for games at smaller price points to thrive along with the big-budget, big-price games. Mobile gaming is largely beholden to the free-to-play (or almost free) pricing scheme.
Providing additional hope for core games on mobile is the promise of gamepads. There are going to be some core games that just aren’t going to be great on touchscreens. Sure, it’s possible to create passable interfaces for many games, but many games are just plain better with physical controls. Hello, Grand Theft Auto 3. That Apple is making physical controls a possibility, and with the sleeping giant that is TV gaming via the Apple TV lying in wait, core gaming feels like it is nearing takeoff on ‘mobile’ platforms.
Too. Many. Virtual. Buttons.
With this movement, there is definite potential for drawing in core gamers who have rejected mobile gaming. If they see that mobile can support the kinds of games they love, then perhaps they’ll give the platform its just due. On the flipside, I think that mobile gamers want to see their platform of choice become accepted. Is it insecurity? Perhaps to a small degree, but there’s no reason for this platform to be so disrespected.
Sure, the gaming handhelds have tried to provide core gaming experiences while on the go. But there’s just so much less creativity on those platforms because they’re not completely open to all developers yet. The Vita’s getting to that point with Playstation Mobile, but its single-use focus means I don’t see a need to carry it around with me at all times when when my iPhone is just more handy. I can use that to do everything, including playing games. But what reason is there for my iPhone to not have the kinds of games that I can have on my Vita and 3DS?
Yeah, but does it have Tweetbot?
Mobile gaming is great, and it’s opened up avenues for new types of games and for new types of gamers. Yet there’s no reason the core gaming experience, and those that enjoy it, shouldn’t be welcome on mobile too. So yes, get excited about core games like XCOM coming to mobile, and support the worthy ones, because it can lead to more great games coming to mobile, and that’s a very good thing.
In the world of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, even the lowliest of alien adversaries can be lethal. Especially early on. Whether it’s a Thin Man’s poison or a Heavy Floater’s mobility, every single species has at least one kind of combat specialization you’ll want to look out for. Simply shooting at something until it’s dead can certainly work, but if you want to kill it and keep your squad alive, you should probably take a look at the tips below.
[SPOILER WARNING: This guide lists all of the aliens you'll encounter on missions throughout the game. If you don't want to be surprised, please stop reading now.]
Sectoid – Sectoids are one of the most fragile aliens you’ll encounter, but that’s no reason to take the lightly. They’re numerous, they’re quick, and they can boost each others’ combat abilities by linking up telepathically. Of course if the Sectoid that initiated the mental link is killed, both will die. Just stay in cover and pick them off and you should be fine.
Floater – Dealing with Floaters can be a bit tricky because of their mobility. They can simply fly up to “the high ground” whenever they feel like it for an accuracy and defense bonus, and can even airdrop themselves anywhere on the map at the cost of their turn. When one or more Floaters goes missing, it’s a safe bet that they’ve repositioned themselves and are planning to flank you, so make sure to keep everyone in Overwatch whenever possible.
Thin Man – Thin Men are about as formidable as Sectoids (i.e. not very), but they’re far more mobile due to their ability to leap over large walls or on top of buildings. They’re also poisonous and can use that to their advantage by spitting venom at soldiers or leaving a noxious cloud behind when they’re killed. A Thin Man’s poison doesn’t do much damage, and it only lasts a few turns, but it can add up so try to stay away from those green clouds.
Muton – When you first encounter Mutons, you know things are getting serious. These green jumpsuit-wearing aliens are essentially the enemy equivalent of a typical XCOM soldier. They’re formidable, come equipped with Plasma Rifles, are a lot more accurate than most of the other aliens you’ll have encountered up to this point, can use their Blood Call ability to boost their allies’ offensive capabilities, and have alien grenades that they aren’t afraid to use. Mutons are Enemy Unknown’s first real test, but things will only get tougher from here.
Chryssalid – I mentioned Chryssalids in the beginners guide but the warning bears repeating: do NOT let them get close. Chryssalids are primarily deployed at Terror Sites and will often go straight for any civilians they find. When a Chryssalid kills a human (including your own soldiers), which is very easy because their razor-sharp claws to a lot of damage, they also implant a sort of egg into them. This will create a sort of zombie – which is also a rather durable and hard-hitting enemy – that will shuffle around for a few turns before bursting open as a new Chryssalid jumps out. Yes, they reproduce. They’re incredibly fast, do lots of damage, and create more of themselves by killing things. Never, ever, ever, ever let them get in close to your soldiers.
Cyberdisc + Drones – The Cyberdisc is basically the aliens’ equivalent of a light tank. It’s rather mobile in its disc form, and a horribly intimidating death machine when it changes into its combat form. It can lob grenades, fire off some really heavy hitting plasma weaponry, and is usually flanked by two drones that can also deal a bit of damage with some small lasers and repair damage that the Cyberdisc has suffered. While it might be tempting to take out the drones first so they can’t fix anything, the Cyberdisc is a far bigger threat that can usually be dealt with in one turn provided enough soldiers are close by and can perform actions when it appears. Another benefit is that the Cyberdisc is too big to use cover, although it does still benefit from elevation bonuses. Also, try to keep clear when you take a Cyberdisc down as they explode afterwards.
Berserker – Berserkers are a very intimidating breed of Muton which usually appear with two regular Mutons in tow. They don’t bother with fancy weapons, but rather bum rush anything they don’t like and try to rip it limb-from-limb. Much like Chryssalids they make up for their lack of ranged attacks by being more mobile, although Berserkers aren’t quite as speedy. The flipside is that they take a free movement action towards their attacker whenever they take damage. That, and they can Intimidate nearby soldiers, causing them to panic and lose a turn. This can be advantageous, however, as it’s possible to corral a Berserker over the course of a turn by taking pot shots at it with several soldiers while drawing it into range of the bigger guns.
Heavy Floater – All of the mobility, elevation, and air-dropping benefits regular Floaters possess are also a part of the Heavy Floater’s skillset. However the Heavy Floater is far more durable, uses stronger weapons, tends to be more accurate, and makes liberal use of grenades when possible. The same basic tactics for Floaters apply, but doubly so.
Muton Elite – Muton Elites are essentially badass Mutons. They’re tougher, hit harder, and fight harder than the average Muton. They wield Heavy Plasma guns instead of the more run of the mill Plasma Rifles, and like to use grenades a lot more. Oh, and they also like to show up in groups of three. Best to treat Elites as you would regular Mutons, but be a bit more cautious and don’t hesitate to bring out the big guns.
Sectopod + Drones – Whereas the Cyberdisc is the alien equivalent of a light tank, the Sectopod is more like a full on battleship. This mechanized walker fires a devastating laser (twice!) as well as a cluster of rockets, and it has the most health out of any regular enemy unit in the game. Oh, and it also has two damage-repairing drones with it. Sectopods are pretty much the entire reason for teaching a heavy soldier the Heat Ammo skill since it gives them a bonus 100% damage against robotic enemies. Assuming a heavy soldier is present and in range, a rocket certainly wouldn’t be out of the question. At the very least it should destroy the drones and damage the primary target. A sniper with Disabling Shot is also handy since they can use it to shut down the Sectopod’s primary weapon for a few turns and give the squad a chance to regroup.
Sectoid Commander – Think “regular Sectoid,” but on mental steroids. Sectoid Commanders are only slightly more sturdy than their underlings, but they make up for it with some pretty serous Psionic powers that go well beyond simple being able to buff their pals. Mind Control isn’t out of the question, actually, so it’s imperative to make Sectoid Commanders a top priority target, unless an Ethereal is present. Kill it and the controlled soldier will be free, but if not you’re going to have one heck of a serious problem on your hands.
Ethereal – These incredibly powerful Psionic aliens have no need for weapons. Their minds are weapons. Taking on an Ethereal is no easy task as it’s packed with offensive and defensive skills. It puts up a Psionic shield that makes it very difficult to hit, can prevent damage when it is hit, has a tendency to counter-attack, and has an entire arsenal of mental attacks at its disposal. If handled improperly, an Etheral can all but wipe out an entire squad by using mind control, causing panic, and simply tearing a target’s mind apart. The two Muton Elite escorts are just gravy. Thankfully mechanical devices such as the S.H.I.V. are totally immune to mental attacks and it’s possible to develop Mind Shields for your soldiers to equip in order to boost their defense against mental attacks. Treat with extreme caution, regardless. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little overkill.
If you missed part one of this dramatic re-telling of one Commander’s playthrough of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, be sure to read it through here.
Taking a U-Turn
Next up is a mission directly from the XCOM council. It’s time to head into Canada to stop aliens from moving through a neighborhood and detonating a bomb that could inflict maximum panic across the country.
Here I am playing it safe, again, as I go through the back alleys, disabling power sources that are fueling the bomb. I did a good job working up to the bomb itself. I’m using one soldier to shut down a final power source on the outside of a warehouse, but an alien shows up on top of the building, shooting down on my soldier, killing him. I switch to another soldier and kill the alien on the roof while sending another soldier into the warehouse to shut down the final power source, followed by the bomb itself. The mission appears to be wrapping up rather well as I disable the bomb. However, immediately following the shut down of the bomb, multiple aliens show up on my flank. This is the first time I meet the more human looking aliens rather than the small grey aliens. The first alien drops from the roof, landing on top of a vehicle, giving it a clear shot on Leroy, killing her. Meh! A second alien has another easy shot, killing the guy who disabled the bomb. It’s my turn again and things aren’t looking good as Nick Dunn is my only remaining soldier, huddled in a corner. I was able to shoot and kill the alien who shot Leroy, but then yet another alien drops from the roof, behind Dunn, and kills him.
Wow…I went from having an amazing mission to the complete opposite.
I lost the future of my XCOM unit in a mission that turned upside down so very quickly. I should have covered the roof, which would have saved two of my soldiers and possibly a third. If you don’t cover every possible route and leave something open, this game will make you pay. Unbelievable!
Well, I suppose this drama is good for a Commanders Log, but I am really regretting playing on the classic difficulty. I’m getting run over by mistakes and it’s becoming hard to establish anything. I guarantee you that I’ll be watching high points much more carefully during the rest of my missions. I think this is also showing that I haven’t played in a while, so I am making a lot of mistakes. Meh!
It makes since, at the end of that mission, I finally get my upgraded armor that I’ve had the research team working on. At least it should help my future soldiers with their missions.
I don’t remember things going this bad, this quickly, during the last time I played it. China has withdrawn from the XCOM project. It’s not good that I’ve already lost a member. If I don’t turn things around soon and start putting together a large streak of victories, then I feel this will be game over very quickly.
Learn from my mistakes, people! Don’t play on classic! Haha.
Well, at least don’t play on classic at first, especially if you are new to the game.
My first month as Commander on iOS has gone by, receiving a B grading from the council. Since I completely botched the Canadian mission, I need to make sure to bring their panic level back down from 4 bars. Asia and Africa aren’t looking so good either, with Europe looking alright except for France and Germany, which are at 3 bars. Hopefully I can continue to keep a solid handle on North America, South America, and Europe while working on Asia and Africa.
We’ll see how this goes. Moving onward!
I just lost every soldier under my command while panic sets in India after another failed mission. Once again, I got completely outgunned. Well, from now on with my new recruits, I’m going to start using scopes instead of extra armor because of all the missed shots. It’s getting a bit frustrating!
I just shot down another UFO and cleared out the crash site successfully. Better shots made a difference this time around. I still lost 2 guys, however; one to an alien and another to friendly fire because one of my soldiers panicked. This is the first time friendly fire has happened on this playthrough. It’s nice to win a round, finally, though the panicking soldier still made it feel like a failure.
I finally built another satellite and placed it over Canada, bringing down the panic by a couple of bars. Still, there are countries that have four bars and two countries with five. I need to be careful not to lose them.
Oops doesn’t work with this game, not at all.
I’m pretty much showing everyone how to fail as quickly as possible at XCOM. I should start a new campaign against myself. FIRE THE COMMANDER! I should also change the title to “How to fail quickly” instead of it being a Commanders Log full of epic and wonderful battles.
To explain the oops, I didn’t pay close attention to my recruits after losing too many soldiers in back to back missions. I am down to just two soldiers for the next mission. I did just hire new recruits, but it takes three days before they arrive. So, I have a decision to make; cause panic by skipping an alien encounter or fight with the two soldiers and hope for a miracle.
Well, I went for the miracle, fighting with two soldiers, and failed. There is now full panic in nine different countries, and remember, I already lost China. That leaves me with only 6 countries at manageable panic levels. Ugh, this game is depressing.
I have now come across a new mission type; I must help save civilians in Canada by finding them on the map and getting them to safety. I just run across yet a new and more powerful type of enemy, here at the beginning, and I just don’t have strong enough equipment or soldiers to handle this. This is getting brutal. I’m expecting to see a game over screen very soon now.
I know that I need to develop the right equipment so that I can upgrade my soldiers, but I’ve been losing too many missions from the beginning to even get a handle on things. I’m not earning rewards because I am not winning missions. In other words, I’m not earning enough money to develop facilities and not earning engineers to help develop better equipment. I’m only earning a beating.
The doom tracker just went up, big surprise. I lost Canada and it’s only a matter of time before I lose the remaining countries as well.
Oh, and I just realized after losing all 4 of my soldiers, yet again, I don’t have any soldiers and nor do I have any money to hire new soldiers. This means I need to visit the gray market to sell some extra material that I have in storage.
I’m No Longer Thinking Clearly
I’m finally able to build a new lab, but I think I’m doing everything a little too late here. I’m basically playing like a complete n00b, much worse than my first time around with the 360 version. I still blame my soldiers who forgot how to shoot, even with the scope. On a previous round, I had a soldier with a 65% chance on his shot and he ended up missing twice. Grr.
The end of the month just came around and I gained some extra cash and another scientist. Let’s see what I can build. Still, I did lose 3 more countries and six are on the verge of backing out of the XCOM project.
Three difficult missions have just come up. I took the mission with the reward of gaining engineers, because I need engineers to develop better armor for my soldiers. I’m now hoping for another miracle.
…and I just failed the mission.
I am awful. I’m wondering if I am more focused on my writing than I am on the gameplay, because I am simply making too many mistakes. I just let two soldiers get killed by an exploding vehicle.
Watch out guys for cars that can explode! Dare I say it again? Yes. I am playing like a n00b. I have no clue how I didn’t notice that the car was on fire. The aliens have drained our spirits!
I really hope this is helpful to you guys. If you are not overly cautious and strategic with every move you make, this is the type of beat down you can expect. Classic is difficult, but I guarantee you that Normal can be just as challenging if you don’t develop weapons and armor at a quick pace. You need to be smart with every mission, because every mission counts toward the outcome of your game. Even if you don’t realize it right away, your progress at the end can be faltered by mistakes at the beginning, dooming your chances of being successful.
It’s time that I rescue a VIP. Well, attempt to at least. Again, I really can’t believe the amount of misses that my soldiers are going through.
I had 88% CHANCE ON A SHOT AND NOTHING!!! Wow! Mission failed. ‘Nuff said.
I also lost both my interceptors, followed by my only satellite. My monthly spending surpasses my income, so the XCOM project is going into debt until I get another satellite up in the air and order more interceptors to protect it.
I still can’t develop armor because I don’t have enough engineers and I’m finally close to getting my laser weapons, except I need more material to build them because I sold all my previous material to buy more soldiers and build a foundry.
Finally! There’s an easy mission to select! I’m going in with Thunder-1 and Thunder-2, my first two S.H.I.V. units. (Super Heavy Infantry Vehicle)
Finally! A mission complete! Yay! There were only 4 aliens to clear out. My SHIV units did most of the hard work, though I still lost one unit. It feels great to finally get a win even though I know it’s too late to turn things around.
Going Out With A Win
There it is, folks! The end of the month report has come and everyone has left the XCOM project. It is over, the game is over.
That was absolutely brutal. I lasted 92 days, only. I fought in just 12 battles, winning half. I killed 46 aliens and lost 31 soldiers.
I can’t believe how quickly things moved, I definitely wasn’t prepared for the beat down I received. I wasn’t able to gain any traction at the beginning by winning missions so that I could earn rewards to quickly build the items my soldiers needed. Only at the end did I finally have the infantry vehicles. Also, I could never build better armor because I never had enough engineers. I was just getting ready to build my laser weapons, too! I simply wasn’t prepared for the game and shouldn’t have played on Classic. I should have saved that for a later date after I remembered all the ins and outs of the game.
Take these words of advice.
Go slowly and pay attention to every little detail after every single mission. Obviously, there isn’t much you can do if the aliens continuously outgun your soldiers. If you’ve never played XCOM, I recommend starting on an easier level. I’ve played XCOM before and yet I still became overwhelmed by how badly my soldiers were and how quickly things fell apart. I had good cover on most occasions, and when I didn’t, the aliens were better with their movement. I would also recommend that you play all easy missions at first to gather as much material as possible and earn the rewards!
I still absolutely love this game even after the beat down, it’s an amazing game. The mission where I killed 10 aliens and lost 0 soldiers was an amazing round that I can hold onto with this experience. I love the strategy of it all and how every detail matters when it comes to your research and what items you build. I don’t remember the aliens becoming so difficult so fast in my original playthrough, and that’s probably because I started on a higher difficulty.
However, I am a little annoyed with the accuracy of my soldiers. I know a lot of them had 50/50 chances, but it felt more like 10% chances while the aliens have nothing but sharp shooters on their side. I had multiple occasions where I had 65% chances miss and even an 88% chance miss. That’s just absolutely annoying. XCOM will play with your head and drive you crazy, unfortunately, but it’s worth it.
Another thing that didn’t happen during my playthrough was a chance to build a connection with a soldier. Only 8 of my 31 soldiers went on multiple missions while only 4 made it to a third mission. Three missions were the longest any soldier made it. Cpl. Nick Dunn had 10 kills in his 3 missions. It’s too bad Cpl. Dunn and I couldn’t have done more together. It’s sad looking at the memorial of my soldiers. I almost don’t want to share this experience with you. Haha. Whatever, I’m keeping it real. We are not always perfect gamers. We make mistakes and sometimes let a game totally kick us where it hurts. Plus, this game is known for doing that.
Character connection is part of the fun in this game, but if you don’t play well at all, you’ll never experience it. You’ll never have the missions like I did during my first time playing the game where my only Colonel totally dominate the battlefield, saving a VIP, all by herself. I would also play her cautiously while sending the rookies forward so that she never got into bad situations. That’s part of the fun, being worried about your favorite soldiers and ensuring that you do everything you can to keep everyone alive.
Oh well, I’ll play again and begin on an easier difficulty. I’m sure I’ll win most of my rounds at the beginning, earning multiple rewards that allow me to more quickly unlock the material I need to upgrade my soldiers.
Final note: I saved halfway through my experience and decided to play some of it again. I took on a couple of easier missions, winning on back to back occasions. It figures that I actually had some good shots and was able to keep my soldiers alive under good cover. I also noticed that I was finally able to build an officer training school to increase my squad size which would have helped tremendously. Oh well, here is a great article on the difficulty of XCOM and how quickly things can start going downhill.
I wish you all the best of luck and hope you have a far more successful time with the game than I did. There is so much more for you to discover on your journey into the XCOM project and so much to enjoy.
We’ve already gone over a bunch of the basics when it comes to surviving (or at least prolonging) XCOM: Enemy Unknown. But what about more advanced tactics? That’s where these advanced tips come in. This article in particular is all about the soldiers; what gear compliments which class, what skills work best when paired with others, that sort of thing. This is by no means meant to signify the only successful setup, but rather to give players looking to optimize their troops’ effectiveness with a few guidelines to get them started. And by all means, if you have any related questions or would like to chime in with your own loadout tips, please do so in the comments below.
[SPOILER WARNING: This guide involves the use of armor, weapons, and skills that won't be available until late in the game. If you don't want to spoil anything for yourself, please stop reading.]
Assault – A very effective equipment set for an assault soldier is Ghost Armor, an Alloy Cannon, Plasma Pistol, and Arc Thrower. Ghost Armor allows a soldier to cloak for an entire turn (so long as they don’t shoot at anything), and when coupled with Run & Gun is ideal when trying to figure out where enemies are hiding without alerting them to your presence. The Alloy Cannon is simply a beast at close range, and when used in conjunction with Run & Gun can get the soldier up close for an almost inescapable blast of shrapnel. The Arc Thrower isn’t necessarily essential, but when using Ghost Armor it can be very easy to get in close to stun a target. Unfortunately Run & Gun doesn’t pair with the Arc Thrower, but it’s still ideal for closing large distances in a hurry.
Heavy – A good loadout to consider for a heavy soldier is Titan Armor, Heavy Plasma, and a S.C.O.P.E. Titan armor is the sturdiest armor available, and is immune to poison and environmental fire damage to boot. It’s not particularly mobile, but it’s incredibly durable. Heavy Plasma is, of course, the nastiest of the heavy machine guns but as with all the other versions it’s not remarkably accurate or frugal with ammunition. This is why I recommend the S.C.O.P.E over, say, a Nano-fiber Vest; because that extra 10% accuracy bonus can make the heavy a far more effective alien killer without resorting to using rockets prematurely.
Sniper – I’ve yet to find a more effective set of equipment for a sniper than Archangel Armor, a Plasma Sniper Rifle, Plasma Pistol, and a S.C.O.P.E. The rifle and S.C.O.P.E are kind of a given, but pistols are also important because a sniper’s accuracy doesn’t only pertain to their primary weapon. And since it’s only possible for them to move and fire their rifle in the same turn with a particular skill (and the shot still suffers an accuracy penalty), the pistol is great for repositioning them and using Overwatch. The Archangel Armor is the real star, though. Everyone gets an accuracy bonus when they’re positioned higher than their target, but snipers can get an even bigger bonus with the right skills. With this armor equipped, all a sniper has to do is fly straight up as high as they can and wait.
Support – My ideal set for a support soldier includes Ghost Armor, a Plasma Rifle, Medkit, and Nano-fiber Vest. Why Ghost Armor? Because it can be incredibly useful to be able to make the squad’s primary healer invisible for a turn. That and it’s possible, with the right skill selection, to increase a support soldier’s movement distance. It’s not quite as good as Run & Gun, but when coupled with invisibility it makes them a very effective scout. The Nano-fiber Vest is more of a take it or leave it thing, but another handy perk support soldiers can get is the ability to carry two items instead of one. Unfortunately it’s not possible to equip two medkits, but the added durability provided by the vest can certainly help keep them alive longer. An Arc Thrower is also a perfectly reasonable choice.
Assault – As I’ve mentioned, it’s unfortunately not possible to use an Arc Thrower along with Run & Gun (Squaddie). However, Killer Instinct (Colonel) works quite well with it as it boosts the soldier’s critical damage by 50% for the rest of the turn. The catch is that it only applies to critical damage, but a number of skills such as Close and Personal (Sergeant) and Aggression (Corporal) make critical hits a lot more likely. Since I tend to push my assault soldiers into harms way I prefer to stick with the more defense-oriented skills such as Lightning Reflexes (Sergeant) and Tactical Sense (Corporal). I’ve also found that using Flush (Lieutenant) while another soldier, probably either a heavy or support, is suppressing the target can be very effective as Suppression not only reduces the target’s movement and accuracy but grants the shooter a free shot if they attempt to move. So a successful Flush won’t only damage the target but also force it out of cover, which will in turn give the suppressor a follow-up shot.
Heavy – Bullet Swarm (Corporal) is certainly a tempting skill as it gives the heavy a chance to attack twice in one turn, so long as they don’t move, but I vastly prefer the accuracy bonus Holo-Targeting (Corporal) grants. Especially when paired with Suppression, which will keep a target pinned down, reduce their accuracy, and boost the other soldiers’ accuracy against it. Similarly the choice between Rapid Reaction and Heat Ammo (Lieutenant) might seem easy, but note that Rapid Reaction only grants a second reaction shot if the first is a hit. And later in the campaign the chances of most target surviving the first hit are pretty slim. Conversely, getting a bonus 100% to damage against robotic enemies can be a godsend. Mayhem (Colonel) is another great skill to pair with Suppression as it grants a damage bonus. So the heavy can suppress a target, hurt it, reduce it’s everything, then probably kill it if it even attempts to move.
Sniper – Squad Sight (Corporal). Forget about being able to move and fire the sniper rifle in the same turn with Snap Shot (Corporal), Squad Sight is a sniper’s best friend. Being able to move and shoot might be handy in the early stages of the campaign, but there’s an accuracy penalty associated with it. Plus there’s really no substitution for flushing out enemies with other squad members, then mopping them up from over halfway across the map. Squad Sight also works incredibly well with Damn Good Ground’s (Sergeant) higher elevation accuracy bonus and some of that Archangel Armor I mentioned previously. Pair all of that with Double Tap’s (Colonel) tendency to let the sniper fire off a second shot during their turn and you have an extremely formidable killing machine the aliens won’t ever actually see. Seriously, one of my snipers that was using this setup took out a Sectopod single-handedly in one turn.
Support – Support soldier builds can essentially go one of two ways: healing or buffing/debuffing. I prefer healing as it’s far more useful (and likely) to repair damage than prevent it. The Sprinter (Corporal) ability can be incredibly useful because it gives the support soldier a few more tiles worth of movement that can, and often does, mean the difference between getting to an injured comrade in time. Similarly, Field Medic (Sergeant) is another great way to keep the squad alive since it lets the soldier use a medkit up to three times per mission. Revive (Lieutenant) can also be incredibly handy as it not only stabilizes a downed soldier but can put them back in the fight, effectively keeping the squad at full strength. Savior (Colonel) and its bonus 4 health whenever a medkit is used, when combined with upgraded technology at the forge, means the support soldier can bring just about anyone back from the brink and keep them in top form.
I’m still haunted by visions of a parallel world (classified as Xbox 360) as it wasn’t long ago that I was in charge of the XCOM project and led a squadron of soldiers against an alien army. Soldiers I grew attached too, including the first Colonel who helped lead us to many victories.
Col. Carrie “Chops” Welsh, a name that I’ll never forget.
As commander, I led her and the rest of my squadron on many successful missions as it seemed as if we had an upper hand on the enemy. However, not long after, our run of successful missions came to an end as we came across a new alien technology. And missions weren’t the only thing I lost. I had one mission where I lost my entire squadron, except for “Chops,” who had seven kills and saved a VIP all by herself. There was also a mission that had no hope for survival, though Col. Welsh made it back because of the two remaining squad members who bravely created a barrier, allowing her to escape. Those soldiers knew that there would have been no hope of winning this war without her.
Even with all the success and all the sacrifice, sadly, a couple of missions later and after a careful approach, I lost her to a surprise attack and eventually lost the war. The XCOM project was dismantled and I quickly left that world, learning a lot from the experience.
I know that my past experience will help me on this new battle that’s about to begin on this world, classified as iOS. The same thing is about to happen again, and thankfully from my past experience, I should have a bit of an edge on them.
And so it begins! Again.
I’m very much anticipating playing this new iOS version of XCOM after having fallen in love with the console version. It’s been quite a while since I’ve played the game, though, so a lot of things are going to feel fresh as I begin my new journey on the iPad.
I just watched the opening presentation and am now listening to the fantastic menu music that has me feeling even more excited as I write this. I’ve missed this game!
I’m presented with an option of difficulty. I won’t go the Easy route and there’s no way I can do the Impossible difficulty. So, it’s either Normal or Classic, and Classic is identified for experienced XCOM players only. I’m going to make things interesting; hello, Classic difficulty! I hope this doesn’t turn out to be a mistake, going with a higher difficulty level, especially since I haven’t played it in so long. It should provide for an interesting Commander’s Log, though!
The question of whether or not we are alone in the universe has just been answered as something comes crashing down to Earth, causing panic in the streets. And, as I have foreseen, I have now been chosen to lead the XCOM project. I am the Commander!
First Taste of Action
Here we go with the first mission, an alien sighting in Mexico. It’s my squad’s duty to sweep the area and neutralize all enemy hostiles. It didn’t take long for me to remember why I love this game so much in the first place, watching the aircraft take us to locations, seeing the battlefield and moving my soldiers strategically while hunting down the alien invaders. Also, I totally dig the intense feeling when moving forward on the battlefield without knowing the exact enemy location.
Getting back out in the field is great, even though I don’t have my best performance. I lost one soldier on my first mission while killing six enemies. I also had a nice laugh while watching three aliens come crashing onto the street by jumping through windows and then immediately jumping back into the same building that they just jumped out of. These aliens are crazy!
I’m finally getting the rundown of the XCOM headquarters and then I’m sent to the barracks to promote two of my soldiers; sniper, Holly Taylor and heavy gunner, Raul Ruiz. I think I’ll avoid using real names during my playthrough. Yes, I know. Where’s the fun in that? I still don’t want to kill my friends. Yet.
Research time! I have three projects available, including xeno-biology to learn more about the alien race, weapons fragments to better understand their weapons and help better develop ours, and alien materials to build better armor for my soldiers.
I want better weapons! Time to complete that project.
Even though it looks small, I forgot how big the XCOM headquarters feels with all the different scientific projects, engineering projects, and everything else that needs to be managed like your UFO interceptors, soldiers, and facilities. There is so much going on here and every little bit of it is extremely important to being successful. It’s almost overwhelming at times, having to carefully manage every area and making sure I bring back materials to work on further projects.
Bravery Turns To Panic
Now I’m back to mission control, scanning for activity. I’ve come across three abduction sites in Argentina, Germany, and India. Germany and India are listed as easy and moderate on the difficulty, and the panic level of both countries is low, with Argentina already showing two five panic bars. The mission in Argentina is also difficult. I could take the easier route and earn some money or engineers as a reward, or I could take the difficult route and receive 4 scientists as a reward.
Well, I’m feeling brave during this playthrough, so I am going with the difficult mission based in Argentina. Hopefully I can calm the panic there.
I’m playing the mission cautiously but my guys just don’t know how to shoot. These soldiers keep missing their shots, and the enemy simply outguns us. I’m down to one remaining soldier, who just got hit, putting him down to his final health bar. He panics and somehow shoots and kills the alien who shot him, after missing time and time again before that. Now the final alien misses and I am fed up with this crap shooting accuracy, so I charge the alien and throw a grenade at him. Boom! Mission over.
I may have calmed the panic in Argentina, but my team certainly didn’t handle the situation calmly at all. They panicked on multiple occasions and I ended up losing three of my four soldiers in this mess, with my remaining soldier down to his last health bar.
Holly Taylor, the sniper, scored a kill during this mission, but unfortunately, she died soon after. Newcomer Nick Dunn took 6 of the 8 kills in that mission and was the only one to survive. I think he’ll be around for a while, after having this type of experience, he’ll be the soldier on the field that leads me to countless victories! He’s out for 15 days, though, while he heals from his injuries.
While panic decreased in Argentina, it increased in Asia and Europe.
Shootin’ Down UFOs and Clearing The Crash Site
Now, I’m back at XCOM headquarters. Weapons research is completed and it’s time to begin a project on experimental warfare, allowing us to learn even more about the alien technology to use in our own weapons.
I’m now encountering my first UFO contact in the southern United States; time to scramble an interceptor! It’s so much fun watching my aircraft takeoff on their mission to hunt down a UFO. Also, you know what? I wish I could name my pilots! GO MAVERICK!
Anyway, I shoot down the UFO, sustaining heavy damage to my own aircraft. Another reminder of why I love this game: the control room full of cheers when the UFO goes down. Now it’s time to send a ground unit to the UFO site.
Hopefully this mission goes a lot better. I’m going to be a lot more aggressive with my approach, making sure I provide even higher percentage shots for my soldiers. I hope this pays off!
I get super aggressive with the first alien, killing him right away, forcing the second alien to fall back. I quickly gained ground on the second alien and set the two guys behind him to overwatch. The alien moves out on his next turn and my two overwatch troopers take care of business, killing it. I’m now coming across a new alien that came out from within the ship, an alien of almost pure energy. As it moves out, the two soldiers shoot it, taking it down to 1 health bar. However, it kills one of my soldiers during its next move. I finish it off right after, though.
It sucks when you lose a soldier, but especially when it comes down to one health bar on that alien and then it survives to get a shot off, taking out one of your own.
Bah, I miss on a 65% chance shot which leads to the death of another soldier. She was in a somewhat covered position, but I let the alien get a clear shot from the side. Now I’m getting aggressive again and charging both aliens who are in close proximity to each other. I pull out a grenade and say goodnight. My soldiers have killed 5 aliens and secured the crash site, but I still lost two of my team members in the process.
Elise Leroy got 4 kills in this, her first mission, and is now assigned to sniper class. I think I have a team building here, with Elise and Nick Dunn, two strong soldiers with good first missions. Let’s keep it going and not lose any more soldiers. Elise wasn’t hurt in this mission, so I think her and Nick will be active in the next round.
The Mission Where It All Goes My Way
The United Kingdom, along with most of Europe, is already at three bars on the panic meter. There is an abduction site in Manchester and so I am sending a team there now. Mission difficulty is Very Difficult, so I hope Leroy and Dunn can put together a strong assault on the alien targets. Reward is $200 dollars, which I could really use to buy more satellites, squad armor, and weapons.
It’s a windy, rainy night in Manchester, almost kind of spooky as I move my squad from vehicle to vehicle on the city streets. I come across aliens almost immediately. My lead soldier takes a hit with the first alien shot; one more and he’s done. I move him closer to throw a grenade, taking out the two lead aliens. The initial explosion only kills one, though the second alien, hiding behind a car, launched into the air as the car exploded. I don’t recall ever seeing an alien go flying quite that high! I’m going to make all you aliens become little miniature UFOs!
Beautiful! I have Leroy set up on overwatch, behind a car, and an alien comes forward into her sights, letting her snipe it from a distance! Goodbye, alien! Best shot so far from this playthrough. I love setting up snipers on overwatch. It helps better protect my frontline soldiers.
Scary moment; I’m playing it safe, keeping my soldiers back on overwatch. However, since nothing is happening, I’m pushing my soldier with low health forward and he comes across two aliens who have overwatch on his position. Thankfully, both aliens miss on their shots. However, they are lined up for a perfect shot on their next turn, so I position my other soldiers in a way to attack the aliens without giving up another turn. I launch a grenade over a truck, it lands on their position, and one alien goes down. The other alien has one life bar left, so I take another soldier to get a wide angle shot on him. Thankfully, my soldier hits him, surely saving my other soldier’s life. This is intense.
Haha, wow! I forgot that an alien snuck into a truck and has been patiently waiting there for me to move. I finally move right past it, watching it shoot because it is on overwatch. It’s an up close shot and yet it misses! So lucky! He is lined up for shots on two of my guys, including Leroy, but I’m having a soldier throw a grenade into the truck to end the round, which he does.
That’s ten aliens killed and zero soldiers lost! HOORAH!
Of course, after that successful mission, calming the panic in the UK by 2, China goes into full panic with five red bars, the highest amount. Maybe I’ll use some of my reward money to buy a satellite to send up over China to calm things a bit. I’ll need to order a few interceptors to have over there as well so that UFO’s can’t shoot down the satellite.
Stay tuned for part 2, in which even the best efforts by the XCOM team aren’t enough to save the world.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is now available for iPad and iPhone [App Store, $19.99], and we’re very excited. While XCOM isn’t the first console game to be ported over to iOS, it is one of the most ambitious. XCOM: Enemy Unknown while first released for XBox 360 and PS/3 in 2012, this deep turn-based strategy game has transitioned to touch controls better than any others we’ve seen. We at 148Apps are overjoyed to see it come to iOS and we’ve devoted many thousands of words to the release that you’ll see over the next few days. We hope you enjoy it.
148Apps Goes Deep on XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review – Our review of XCOM: Enemy Unknown notes that “This is simply a great strategy game that happens to have been altered to work on mobile devices; not a dumbing down or a tie-in, but a direct port. It’s worth playing in any form, but being able to fight for the Earth’s survival whenever I want is particularly glorious.”
The X-Com series, particularly the earlier games, are notoriously unforgiving. Although while XCOM: Enemy Unknown has been modernized, and is therefore more player friendly, it’s no slouch either. In fact, even on the Normal difficulty there’s a good chance you’re going to get creamed if you try to breeze through it. But all is not lost. If you find that you’re losing soldiers at an alarming rate or keep getting the project disbanded because a bunch of countries freak out and leave, we’ve got a few tips you might want to consider.
Facilities are essential. Your manufacturing and research abilities, as well as your satellites, all require the proper facilities to operate. Completing a terror mission to earn five engineers could be a waste if you don’t have enough workshop space to use them. And that could lead to falling perilously behind in the early game arms race.
Research, research, research. Don’t neglect your scientists! The technologies they can uncover after studying alien corpses and weaponry are essential to giving your soldiers a fighting chance. By the same token, don’t be afraid to take aliens alive. Assuming you can do so with relative safety. It allows you to recover their weapons intact, which can then be equipped on your soldiers or sold for a tidy profit.
Don’t ignore the Council. You might prefer to spend your money and resources on better armor and weapons, but if you don’t get a few satellites in orbit and ignore the Council’s requests you stand to lose immense amounts of funding. Plus you can flat out lose if too many countries abandon the project.
Check your stores often. Sometimes you’ll acquire items you don’t need for research or manufacturing, and these can be sold off in bulk for a decent price. The same goes for alien tech and specimens you’ve fully researched. So long as it isn’t Ellerium or alien alloys there’s a good chance you won’t need it for the long haul.
Build smart. Most facilities belong to one of a few different categories, such as energy production or satellite use. Whenever two facilities belonging to the same category are next to each other either horizontally or vertically (i.e. uplink next to an uplink, etc) they both get a bonus. This is a very good thing.
Pay attention to your upgrades. You won’t necessarily have the chance to develop all of them, but many of the projects you can produce at the Forge (once it’s available) can make a huge difference.
Consider holding off on major tasks. Despite all the open-endedness Enemy Unknown’s story does progress linearly. Every so often an urgent mission or task will appear, and once it’s completed the next phase of the story begins. While the alien forces will get more and more difficult to deal with over time, regardless of where you are in the story, there are benefits to keeping the plot in check. Namely it gives you the opportunity to research better equipment and gather more resources before the endgame.
Pay close attention to soldiers’ skills. Plan accordingly. Try to select skills that compliment each other, such as the heavy’s Holo-Targeting (accuracy bonus to all squad members when firing on an enemy) and the sniper’s Squad Sight (can target any enemy that other soldiers see, no matter the distance, so long as there’s a clear path to the target).
Consider having two or more of each elite class. It can take some effort but will be worth it. It enables you to create various soldiers with skills that are ideal for a variety of situations; such as a sniper that specializes in large, outdoor environments or an assault soldier ideal for cramped locations.
Upgrade the barracks. Don’t forget about the Officer Training School. Many of the upgrades you can acquire can be a huge help throughout the game; especially the ones that increase the squad size. Check in every so often as more options become available as your soldiers gain higher ranks.
Don’t ignore the support class. Having a medic on the team can mean the difference between a favorite soldier spending a few days in the infirmary or getting their own epitaph. Plus their smoke grenades can really help out in a pinch.
Sidearms can be your best friend. Pistols may not seem all that great at first, but they can mean the difference between life and death; especially plasma pistols. Make sure to give your most powerful handguns to your snipers as they can’t move and fire their rifle in the same turn unless they learn a specific perk. Otherwise, if you intend to move them at all, make sure they have rockin’ pistols. And make the effort to manufacture the pistol upgrades when you can, too. I’ve had my snipers take down enemies from quite a distance during their reaction shots using only a pistol on several occasions.
You wanna live? Get a S.H.I.V. The S.H.I.V. is a small robotic vehicle, not unlike a human-sized tank. They’re no replacement for a battle-hardened soldier but with enough research and development they can be quite devastating. Plus they’re the perfect expendable solution to filling an injured soldier’s spot on the squad during a mission.
Use the right armor. You might think it’s clever to put every single soldier in your squad into the most durable armor you can find, but it’s more likely to hinder them. For example, snipers shouldn’t be on the front lines, and therefore could benefit a lot more from armors that may not be super-tough but can help them reach the high ground easier.
Cars can, and will, explode. It seems obvious but I can’t stress the importance of keeping an eye out for burning vehicles enough. Cars and trucks do provide decent cover, but once they catch fire it’s only a matter of time until they blow. And you don’t want your soldiers near them when that happens. So take a moment to see if the vehicle you plan to move to, or are currently hiding behind, is a ticking time bomb before you make a move.
Don’t take unnecessary risks. It’s often better to miss out on alien tech than to lose a skilled soldier. Take it slow and don’t spread out too much. If a soldier encounters an alien squad and no one can reach them within a turn or two, they could be in serious trouble. Splitting up into groups of two or three is usually the best way to go. At least until your soldiers reach the higher ranks.
Head for the high ground. Everyone, soldiers and aliens alike, benefits from a higher elevation. The higher up you are, the better your accuracy and the worse your enemy’s is. It’s not worth taking unnecessary risks to get to the top of a building or anything like that, but if you have the chance to take a higher vantage point then do it.
Never, ever, ever, ever, blindly rush in to a room. It doesn’t matter if it’s a UFO, base, regular mission, or terror site. It’s a sure-fire way to get vaporized. Approach with caution instead. Get at least two soldiers into good positions, preferably with one next to a door or window, and go into Overwatch. Then carefully open the door or peek in on your next turn.
Approach all newly encountered alien species with extreme caution. At least until you know what they’re capable of, and especially if you’re new to X-Com. What looks like a pushover could quite possibly decimate your entire squad if given enough of an opportunity. Just assume every new life form you encounter is the most dangerous creature you’re ever going to face and you should be all right.
Take ‘em alive. It’s not always feasible, or worth the risk, but when you can you should try to capture an alien or two alive. Not only can their interrogation lead to new research opportunities, you’ll be able to recover their weapons intact which could save you a fortune in engineering costs.
Push forward at the beginning of your turn, not the end. When you move ahead into unknown territory you always run the risk of encountering a squad of aliens. Believe me, it’s much better to discover them after only moving one or two soldiers than all of them. It leaves the entire squad incredibly vulnerable, especially in the later levels.
Keep Chryssalids as far away as possible at all times. You’ll typically see these spider-like aliens during terror missions but they can (and will) appear elsewhere. KEEP YOUR DISTANCE. Trust me.
Surprise attacks are possible. While the aliens are definitely at an advantage most of the time, they aren’t omnipotent. Use this to lure them into a trap on occasion. If your soldiers can’t see them, they can’t see your soldiers, so it’s possible to set a few up in key locations and use one of your own as a decoy to draw them into range.
Don’t underestimate Sectoids. Sectoids are the most “normal” of Enemy Unknown’s, and possibly the most common. However, while they aren’t particularly durable they can use their telepathic abilities to strengthen their comrades. However, if you kill a Sectoid while its mind is merged with another alien both will die. Keep that in mind.
The Most Important Thing
Be prepared to lose. A lot. Newcomers, especially. XCom is a fair game, but it’s also fairly unforgiving. A few wrong decisions early on could create a ripple effect that totally undermines your progress later (see previous tips about selling gear and tending to the Council). Depending on the difficulty and options selected you could also lose a beloved soldier in a flash thanks to one silly mistake. Avoiding these situations is incredibly difficult, but learning from them doesn’t have to be.
If you’ve got your own tips and strategies you’d like to recommend feel free to chime in below. With the odds stacked so firmly against us, We’ll need whatever help we can get.
2K and Firaxis Games have announced that XCOM: Enemy Unknown will launch on iOS this Thursday, June 20th, for the price of $19.99.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is set to bring the full console and PC game experience to iOS devices, optimizing it for touchscreen gameplay. It will support GameCenter and iCloud functionality for easy save game transfer between devices. However, it will not include head-to-head multiplayer at launch, although, it will be added at a later date, free of charge.
X-Com: UFO Defense has become virtually synonymous with “strategy” ever since it was first released in 1994. X-COM: Terror From the Deep (1995) was a neat idea for a sequel that took the fight for Earth’s survival into the oceans with entirely new aquatic aliens to battle, although it was hampered by a significant research bug that could make completing the game impossible. X-COM: Apocalypse (1997) expanded the formula even further by adding more complexity to the world as well as other human factions to worry about in addition to the always-present alien threat. After that came X-COM: Interceptor (1998) which deviated quite a bit from the series’ roots. This time the fighting was over a specific region of space, and much of the gameplay centered around space combat using Interceptors and coordinating wingmen during an attack. Finally, there was X-COM: Enforcer, which was an even bigger departure than Interceptor. Enforcer was more of a third-person arcade shooter set in the X-COM universe, with no real strategy or management elements to speak of aside from selecting which weapon to use in a level. But while the series has done fairly well for itself over the years, none have every quite managed to eclipse the original.
I could go on and on about why it’s so great and why I would go so far as to purchase the DOS version just so I could run it on my Mac in an emulator. I actually have, on occasion. However it’s not just me. A lot of people think very, very highly of this strategic battle for Earth’s survival against seemingly impossible odds. So many, in fact, that its influence can be found throughout almost 20 years worth of games across multiple platforms. Granted I’m only one guy and have human limitations, so I haven’t tracked down every single one, but I have compiled this collection of fifteen different titles that manage to evoke some of that X-Com magic.
The Beginning of the End: 1994
It all started in 1994, when X-Com: UFO Defense was first released across several home computer platforms including the Amiga and DOS, and was later ported to the original Playstation. At the time there really wasn’t anything quite like it. There was an almost masterful mix of base management (building facilities, researching new tech, hiring personnel, manufacturing better gear, etc) and tactical combat that, to this day, hasn’t been able to be reproduced in quite the same way.
Every single sortie was an intense game of cat and mouse as the precariously mortal humans (i.e. mice) tried to track down and eliminate their superior alien targets (i.e. cats). Simply stepping off of the Sky Ranger for the first time could result in a rookie – or even worse; a veteran – getting vaporized as the extraterrestrial threat had usually already spread itself throughout the environment. Crafting better weapons and armor back at the base certainly improved a soldier’s chances of living to fight another day but even on the easiest setting it was quite common for an entire squad to get wiped out in short order.
With enough tenacity and practice, however, players could eventually fight their way through the invasion forces and even take the battle to the aliens’ base of operations. It’s the kind of undertaking that could require days or even weeks worth of planning and strategies to complete, but it made X-Com all the more satisfying for it. Then, once the dust had settled and the threat had been quelled, it was time to do it all again.
The First Wave: 1997 – 1999
1997 saw the release of Incubation: Time is Running Out for the PC. There was a linear set of story missions to complete, and little emphasis on micromanagement aside from equipping squad members before each fight, but it managed to capture the turn-based intensity and gruesome alien combat quite well. 1999′s Abomination: The Nemesis Project, also on PC, followed suit with more combat and less management. About all the player could do when not in a firefight was select which areas of the world to try and defend from the alien/viral threat, then take their squad into real time combat.
Finally, Jagged Alliance 2 joined the fray that same year, and on the same platform, to round out the 90s library of strategy games. The combat sections were fairly reminiscent of the earlier strategy series but in many ways it played a little more like chess thanks to the need to take control of various areas. Unlike X-Com, the game took place solely on the island of Arulco rather than the entire world and instead of in-depth base management players would hire additional mercenaries, monitor enemy troop movements, and plan the hostile takeover of a town or mine or other useful area.
Turn (Based) of the Century: 2000 – 2005
Once the year 2000 rolled around, it was time for games like Shadow Watch to take the reins. This tactical espionage thriller put players in charge of an elite team of operatives, each with their own special abilities and personal loadouts, and tasked them with retrieving documents from corporate offices (guarded by nasty enemies, of course) and other Shadowrun-style stuff. No expanded tech trees or cannon fodder rookies, though; they had to get their team through it all using only their wits and careful use of each team members’ strengths. A year later in 2001 Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel spun-off from the main series as a means to scratch a very particular itch. This isometric strategy RPG may not have had an expansive and open-ended story like its siblings, but it did have lots and lots of turn-based combat.
The PC received even more strategy love in 2002 with Laser Squad: Nemesis, which was kind of like playing X-Com as a turn-based deathmatch with several playable races. A single player campaign was available but honestly, that’s not why most people played it. Then in 2002 we saw the release of one of the most well known “spiritual successors” to X-Com when UFO: Aftermath became available. Aside from the “we already lost and are now fighting to take back our planet” theme and real-time combat that could be paused at any time to issue orders, it made for a very close approximation. Although many would argue that the UFO series was vastly inferior regardless of having an additional eight years worth of technological advancements on its side.
2003 went on to give us S2: Silent Storm, also for the PC (lots of PC love from the strategy genre, yessir). It was a very similar experience to the previously mentioned Jagged Alliance 2, although it was more about completing a linear set of missions and the occasional random encounter than trying to dominate territory. Plus it was set during World War 2, which is probably the most “normal” environment of any game on this list. Rounding out this lot in 2005 was Rebelstar: Tactical Command for the Gameboy Advance; a game developed by many of the same people who worked on Laser Squad Nemesis, actually. Again, it was pretty much all turn-based combat segments very similar to classic X-Com missions, and again it involved a team of soldiers who gained experience and new skills as they progressed. However it was also possible for players to “save” a set number of a soldier’s action points to put them into “Overwatch” in order to cover areas and otherwise react to alien activity when it isn’t their turn. Sounds a bit familiar, hmm?
The Next Generation: 2007 – 2011
In 2007, the Xbox 360 received what was possibly its first X-Comlike when Operation Darkness was released. This bizarre strategy title involving World War 2, werewolves, and various other monsters wasn’t exactly a critical darling. Still, it did call to mind a little of that old school turn-based charm. Plus werewolves. I mean come on, werewolves, people. Fans of handheld devices and space marines had a bit more of a reason to celebrate that same year when Warhammer 40K: Squad Command came out for both the PSP and Nintendo DS. Much like earlier X-Comlikes it focused on the squad and a linear story, with turn-based combat and lots of nasty things to kill. 2007 also happens to be when UFO: Extraterrestrials (not to be confused with anything from the aforementioned UFO series) was released. This one was also very similar to the original X-Com, exept that it didn’t take place on Earth but rather a recently colonized world somewhere else in the universe. There’s still plenty of R&D and alien slaughter, though.
As we get closer to the present it’s hard not to mention games like 2008′s Valkyria Chronicles for the Playstation 3. Which is exactly why I’m mentioning it now. It was an obviously anime-inspired turn-based strategy game set on a fictitious continent during a fictitious war, but the hidden enemy movements and limited soldier actions felt quite familiar in a cozy sort of way. Last we have Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, which was released for the Nintendo 3DS in 2011 both as a launch title and as one of the only worthwhile games on the platform. Shadow Wars hybridized X-Com’s turn-based tactics and finite battlefield resources with the overhead grid approach from other games like Fire Emblem.
Full Circle: 2012 – Present
And now, eighteen years later, X-Com is back in the form of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Firaxis’ 2012 “remake” (of a sort) of the Microprose original. Taking one of the most universally celebrated PC strategy games and dressing it up for modern gamers, while simultaneously keeping as many of the nostalgic bits in place for long time fans, was an incredibly tall order that many people were skeptical of. In the end, though, the team at Firaxis did a stellar job with preserving the feeling and oppressive intensity of the original game while streamlining and updating the experience.
The modern release of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a seemingly impossible achievement that manages to introduce newcomers to one of the genre’s most beloved series as well as appease (most of) the old school fans. It’s a game that’s well worth owning and celebrating, and we’re on the verge of being able to experience the panic of hunting down a pack of Chryssalids whenever and wherever we want on our iOS devices. The future, even one under threat of a hostile alien invasion, is looking mighty bright.
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.
For those of you who don’t know, the original X-Com: UFO Defense is one of the most beloved strategy games in existence. It was only fitting for it to receive a modern update of sorts, but XCOM: Enemy Unknown turned out to be a modern update that was treated with the utmost respect by Firaxis (Civilization IV, Civ. V). Now that same re-imagining of a genre cornerstone is coming to iOS. XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s lead designer, Jake Solomon, was kind enough to answer some of our questions regarding the upcoming mobile release.
148Apps: You and the rest of the Firaxis team obviously have a ton of reverence for X-Com and it shines through in Enemy Unknown. Has X-Com had any influence over other projects you’ve worked on? Jake Solomon (JS): Since the first time I played X-Com, it has been one of game designs that exemplifies to me a great game, and that means that it’s also been a big part of how I think about game design to some extent. Specific influences are probably harder to point out, but I still crack it out and play the original from time to time.
148Apps: What’s your fondest memory from the original X-Com? Mine is making it to the point where I’m invading alien bases without having lost a single soldier on the way. JS: Wow, that’s really hard to pick one memory. There are always a handful of moments from a game that you remember, and you take them together and you can tell these war stories about the game. For example, I remember this one game where I had this one rookie who was so useless and I was like: “Son, you’re going to Mars. I can make that happen for you.”
148Apps: How about the aliens? Any particular favorite or least favorite? I find I have a sort of love/hate relationship with Cryssalids. JS: The Chryssalid is iconic for sure. I guess the one I don’t miss is the Silicoid. I mean, it’s a rock, and it spits at you, and it leaves a giant trail showing where it went. It’s such a non-threat.
148Apps: Deciding what to cut, keep, and change when streamlining X-Com’s mechanics for Enemy Unknown must have been pretty tough. Was there anything you all were actually glad to see go? JS: I don’t think I was necessarily happy or sad about specific changes we made. We felt the mechanics changes were necessary because of the systems we wanted to include in the game, like soldier and alien abilities and the class system. We did want to make sure that all of the decisions you were making were meaningful ones that had real consequences within the game, and keeping that in mind was sort of a guidepost for the mechanics design.
148Apps: The iOS port of Enemy Unknown looks like it’s coming along quite well. Was an iOS version always planned or was it a result of the game’s PC and console reception? JS: There was a discussion about whether the iOS version was even feasible at first. Unreal 3 does scale very well, but we still had to go investigate the tech side. And what do you know? It worked really well. After that it was largely a matter of adjusting the interface and making some changes for storage size.
148Apps: Please tell me the option to customize soldiers’ names and appearances is still in there! JS: Yes, you can still fully customize your soldiers. That’s such a huge part of how people play XCOM that it wouldn’t have been the same if that wasn’t in there.
148Apps: Have there been any features for iOS devices that aren’t prevalent on consoles/PCs (camera, QR codes, augmented reality) that you’ve considered incorporating into this version of Enemy Unknown? Not necessarily as major elements but as little extras or something? JS: We wanted to make sure that the game that we released on console and PC played solidly on the iPad, so getting that experience solid was our highest priority. I’m sure there are cool things we could do with the camera and location tools, but that’s something to think about for the future.
148Apps: I could see Enemy Unknown‘s multiplayer working quite well on iOS, especially if it was asynchronous. Any chance of that happening or is the focus entirely on the campaign right now? JS:There will eventually be an update that includes multiplayer, and that’ll be a free update for people who own the game.
148Apps: Will the iOS version of Enemy Unknown include the “secret” characters and/or extra Council DLC missions? Or might the missions be available as add-on content? JS: We’ve been focusing on creating the best release on iOS as possible – we hope this release like the PC and console will drive a lot of interest and community feedback!
We here at 148Apps would like to extend our appreciation to Mr. Solomon and the entire Enemy Unknown team for answering our questions and for making a remarkably excellent strategy game. No specifics on a release date or pricing are available yet but it’s due out “this summer” and will have a “premium” price tag.