Tuesday, July 16, 2013

X-Com: Enemy Unknown iPhone Review

I've been playing the X-Com reboot on my iPhone for the past couple of weeks while taking dumps and waiting for my wife as she shops in the mall, and I just have to say that it is such an awesome way to pass the time. In fact, I find myself playing it when I should be doing other things, like sleeping, for instance. As a huge fan of the original, I'm happy to report this reboot combines some of the best parts of the 1994 game while modernizing the gameplay and making it easy for anyone to get into. 

Just call me "Diesel"
I'm not going to bore you with the details of the game, since it's already been reviewed by many people more qualified than I to write game reviews. It's an awesome game. Don't be fooled by the long list of complaints/gripes below, but I do want to express some things I wish they would've included or consider including/addressing in the next game (not all of which are iPhone specific).
  • Battery Drain - If you rely on your iPhone for other things like being phone, then watch out: X-Com eats your battery faster than a baby chrysalid eats through a zombie's stomach lining.
  • No snap shot/auto shot/aimed shot - The original game let you decide whether you wanted to take a quick shot (snap shot), three consecutive low-accuracy shots (auto shot), or a single slow but accurate shot (aimed shot). Since the new game doesn't use the same time unit system that the old game had, it doesn't quite make sense to have these three options anymore, but I still miss them. The new game keeps some semblance of these different types of shots. Snap shot is now a double shot at lower accuracy that Assault soldiers can use after they gain the snap shot ability. Snipers have inherited the aimed shot since they can't shoot after moving (in general). Auto-shot (triple shot) might be too over-powered in this game so I can see why they removed it completely.
  • Maps not random enough - Maybe this is only a problem with the IOS version, but the maps all start to look alike after a while and could use more randomization like the original game, which had completely randomized maps for each level.
  • Can't use run-and-gun ability with the arc thrower = LAME. Also can't run and gun with hunker down. Run then COWER!!!
  • Only 6 soldiers per mission - I know this is probably a gameplay decision/software limitation to only have 6 soldiers in your squad but it doesn't make sense that X-Com would only send 4-6 soldiers to infiltrate a heavily-guarded alien base.
  • You can only shoot at enemies - In the original game, you were free to shoot wherever you wanted. You had to watch out for friendly fire, but you could do lots of cool stuff like shoot out the walls when you need a new entrance or want to expose aliens inside of a building, you could shoot holes in the floor or ceiling, you could intentionally blow up gas stations with a well placed rifle round, stun your own teammates if they're mind-controlled, or kill an alien who you've mind-controlled. If you have an alien under mind control and all of the other aliens are dead, shouldn't that count as capturing an alien alive? This situation happened to me and I had to wait until the mind control wore off, then the alien proceeded to wound my psionic soldier before the rest of my squad could put the alien down.
  • Huge limits on what your soldiers can bring into battle - The original made you feel like Rambo each time you equipped your soldiers, since there were slots and pockets everywhere where you could stick as much ammo, grenades, pistols and rifles as your soldier could carry. It's probably better for gameplay balance purposes (and simplification) to limit what soldiers can carry into battle, but I miss loading up rookies with tons of grenades and supplies to be our mules. Rookies still usually end up as canon fodder though (they're cheaper than SHIVs). Hey, economics is merciless.
I think this soldier is ready for battle
  • Can't drop or pick up stuff off the ground or receive items from other teammates - If only one guy on your team is carrying a medkit and he dies.... too bad. None of your other soldiers have the dexterity to bend over and pick it up off the ground. Also, there's none of the crazy situations like when your soldier drops a proximity grenade on the ground or drops his gun, panics and runs into a room full of chrysalids. In the old game you could also pick up corpses and unconscious aliens/humans and carry them around in your backpack. Just like in real life...
  • No proximity grenades/flares - I loved setting booby traps for aliens with proximity grenades. They didn't always work but when they did, man it was so satisfying to hear the alien death screech. There was also the shame and humiliation of losing your own soldiers or civilians to a proximity grenade that you forgot you had placed.... :/ Little touches like these added a little bit of interactivity with the environment that made the game more fun and interesting.
  • You can't always sell what you manufacture - In the original you could sell anything you manufactured. While this led to predictable strategies like mass producing laser rifles and laser tanks, if they addressed those loopholes it would've been nice if they included the ability to sell more of your stuff. I suppose in the new game, it would make satellites useless if you could just make money by becoming an arms dealer on the black market.
  • No alien attacks on your base / Only one base to manage - In the original game, you had to manage multiple bases and when aliens found out where you live, they would try to break in and kill everyone! The layout that you chose for your facilities had a huge impact on how easy or difficult the base defense missions would be. The smart thing to do was to put all of your hangers (the only entry points for the aliens) in one side of the base and funnel the aliens through a single choke point to get to the inside of your base. It's a minor detail but those missions were fun because you get to see your base close up and defend yourself within its walls.
  • When you lose a country's support, in the new game it says that the country has simply withdrawn from the X-Comp project. In the original game, it took a much darker tone and stated the withdrawing nation has "formed a pact with the aliens." I wonder what that means...
  • What happened to the snakemen??? I guess the Thin Men are their replacements...
  • No Mars mission???
Come on Copenhagen, you got what you want,
give these people AIRR!!!

This game is awesome. It's expensive for an IOS game, but considering that the console and PC/Mac versions cost twice the amount, plus add on the convenience of being able to play X-Com wherever and whenever you want, and it's more than worth the cost of admission (plus no in-app purchases). This reboot remains true to the original while bringing plenty of great new ideas to the table (mind fray, anyone?)

It offers tons of replayability (I don't think I'll ever get tired of the turn-based combat) and soon (?) we'll eventually get a fun and accessible player-vs-player mode that we've always dreamed about (if you don't count the X-Com email game, Laser Squad Nemesis, or Rebelstar Tactical Command). Let's just hope there's local multiplayer or at least a "hotseat" mode.

I've only played the iPhone version of this game, but the controls and interface are fantastic--this game seems like it was designed for the iPhone to begin with. In fact, just talking about X-Com makes we want to go play it RIGHT NOW.

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