Monday, October 21, 2013

X-Com: Enemy Unknown iOS Multiplayer Thoughts

I purchased X-Com: Enemy Unknown back in July when it first came out and despite devoting most of my review to complaints and wish-list items, I absolutely love the game and couldn't put it down for about two months. After finishing the single player campaign I stopped playing in order to put the pieces of my shattered life back together but now that the Multiplayer update has been released, it's sinking it's tendrils deep into my life once again. This is an app that's worth every penny. It's a full game with no DLC and it's almost as complete as the console or PC versions. If they release the Enemy Within expansion for iOS, I'm definitely buying that too. So Firaxis/2K, here's a message for you:

Asynchronous Multiplayer - How it works

Think Words with Friends + Aliens and plasma guns. Since the game is turn based you can move whenever you want within five days, go on living your life, and then when your opponent makes his/her move, you will be notified in iOS Gamecenter.

It reminds me of how my dad used to play old-school correspondence chess or fantasy sports through snail mail. Back before the days of the internet, he took part in what was probably the beginnings of online gaming and the first types of asynchronous multiplayer games. He was at the forefront of something big and didn't even realize it at the time. Or maybe he knew all along...

Even with today's technology, where you can play games in real-time with your opponents across the globe, I believe there's still a place for asynchronous multiplayer. With this form of multiplayer gaming, you can play several games at once just like Bobby Fischer without wasting large amounts of time (since you can play each turn in minutes then go back to whatever it is you like doing with your life). Asynchronous multiplayer isn't anything new to X-Com, however. Back in 1999 there was a version by Hasbro that had the same idea. It was like the correspondence chess, snail mail version of X-Com.


Please keep in mind that I don't claim to be an expert. I've only just started playing multiplayer on iOS where most players are probably new to the game while players on other platforms have been playing for well over a year now. These are just my observations and they seem to work against the current iOS multiplayer crowd but I don't guarantee that they'll work against elite/experienced players.

Point-counting - much like counting cards in Blackjack at the casino, you'll want to keep a rough tally in your head of how your opponent spent his points. For example, if you see a cyberdisc or another high-value unit at the beginning of the match, then subtract the value of the unit from 10,000: that's how many points he had left to spend on other units. Remember, on iOS, you can always exit the match and go to the "build squad" interface and see the value of units there. Eventually, you'll be able to estimate the value of your opponent's units without even having to look at a reference. Nerd.

Tip: Aim at an enemy unit and click the "?" button to see what abilities/items the unit has. This will help you get an even more accurate estimate of how much the unit cost.


The game creator gave a good overview of all the units in one of his early interviews about multiplayer (outdated unit costs though). Each one has strengths and weaknesses so take some time to learn the ins and outs of every unit. Don't stick to the same team every time.. try units and classes you wouldn't normally use. You may be surprised to find that every unit really does have a use. On that note...

Sectoids - Don't underestimate the lowly sectoid. They're weak and don't do much damage, but they're great scouts. At 400 points they're a bargain, especially when you're playing with the 10k point limit. Yes they're expendable but don't just throw them away: their real strength is their scouting and the ability to suppress other units. Suppression decreases the suppressed unit's aim and trigger's a reaction shot from the sectoid if the suppressed unit tries to move. This allows your other units to move in for the kill. Another great thing about suppression with sectoids is that they can do it all night long, baby. Other units can use suppression but only sectoids (and sectoid commanders) can suppress with pistols (which have infinite ammo). You don't know how many times suppressing fire has saved my butt. Sometimes they make the difference in a close match. Another interesting ability is mind-merge. I've never tried it though since killing the sectoid also kills the unit that's mind-merged with it. Too big a risk for not enough reward. It could be useful if you need that extra critical damage bonus on one of your units.

Tip: If you can beat someone with a squad of six sectoids, then that's probably the most humiliating thing you could ever do to another x-com player.

Counters: Mind-fray - any unit with mind-fray can and should insta-kill a visible sectoid with mind-fray. It's less risky than taking a low percentage shot which could leave your unit vulnerable if the sectoid is spotting for a squad-sight sniper.
Lightning reflexes - an assault unit with lightning reflexes doesn't have to worry about being suppressed since the lightning reflex ability forces the first reaction shot to always miss, negating the one of the sectoid's most useful abilities.


Humans are the most flexible units in the game. They're much more customizable than the alien units, although not as much as I would have liked. You can pick out the soldier's weapons, armor, and items to carry, you can pick their class and to a certain extent, the soldier's special abilities. Lots of players seem to like assault commandos and snipers, but here are some of the ones I enjoy using.

Smoke Jumpers - Cheap soldiers that are much more useful than rookies (for only 100 points more), due to their smoke grenade and higher accuracy. A group of smoke jumpers + light plasma rifles (LPR) for +10 aim with a sectoid commander seems to be the squad of choice these days for a lot of good players. Individually they're no match for super soldiers, but a group of smoke jumpers can take out any other unit. It's also good to spread out your points so if one guy gets killed or lost to mind control, it's not as devastating to your chances to win.

Counters: ???

Medic - So far in multiplayer, support-class units are my bread and butter. Equip them with a light plasma rifle and a medkit, no armor and they costs only 1900 points. You get an economical, versatile unit that does decent damage and can heal/revive other units. I prefer medics to smokejumpers because of their higher accuracy with LPR (92% vs 80%), dense smoke grenades (+40 defense vs +20 defense), and higher health (9 vs 7). Dense smoke is especially powerful because it provides the almost same defense benefits as a Psi Guardian's telekinetic field (except when flanked). However, as mentioned above, smoke jumpers are 600 cheaper so you can put more of them on your team. A combination of medics and smoke jumpers is usually the foundation of a good squad.

Psi Guardian (3950 points) - This is a pretty cool unit that many people probably overlook due to their lack of offensive power. However, they're the cheapest human psionic unit (psionic assault or sniper units cost at least 5600 points and there's no psionic heavy variant), allowing you fill out the rest of your squad with stronger supporting units. Paired with a sectoid commander, you get both psionic offense and defense.
Most people probably don't realize that human psionic units aren't necessarily immune to psionic attacks. They only have 70 will, which is low compared to sectoid commanders (90), ethereals (120), and even muton berserkers (80). So unless you're using a mind shield or psi inspiration, there's still a reasonable chance the expensive psionic unit you've invested in and based your whole team around could be turned against you.

Juggernaut - a one man wrecking machine that's so expensive that you can only have a few other units to accompany him. Even with just a couple of sectoids, the juggernaut can wear down a bunch of opponents with the combined power of suppression, mayhem, and danger zone (watch out for ammo usage though) You should probably give him a mind shield or you're one successful mind-control away from game over, man.

Counter: assault soldier. using stim they're even more dangerous against the juggernaut, 
smoke jumpers - they're good against almost everything

Ghost Armor Soldier - I'm not fond of using the expensive ghost armor, but here's a tip: If you notice that you're being flanked (the shield next to your health turns yellow) and you don't see any enemies around, then there's probably someone with ghost armor sitting next to you. It's a bug in the game but it's nice that there's some way to detect ghost armor since there doesn't seem to be any other invisibility detectors in the game.

Counter: if they go invisible on you try to move your guys behind cover and set up a net of overlapping overwatch. Hopefully you have more units so you can overwhelm him with numbers once he reveals himself. 
If you know where the soldier is, you can chuck a grenade on them.

Squad-sight snipers - squad sight snipers are deadly, especially if they're packing a plasma sniper rifle (PSR).

Counter: try to suppress and swarm with multiple units. throw smoke grenades like crazy and don't leave guys exposed (even in cover at the edge of a corner). If they can see you, you're probably dead.


Thin-Man - Another fragile unit but has some cool abilities that make them worth your attention. First, they can jump up onto roofs and high places without a ladder. Two, their poison ability limits aim and mobility, so this, combined with some suppressing fire from a Sectoid will make it very difficult for your opponent to hit you. Watch out for psionic units.

Counters: Psionics can easily and reliably kill a thin-man with mind-fray
medkits (any soldier carrying a medkit is immune to poison)

Drone - Really weak. Like weaker than Sectoids. If you want a cheap scout go with the Sectoid. So what good is a Drone? Well, it can repair the Cyberdisc from a pretty long range! They also explode like grenades on command. They're also annoyingly difficult to shoot down sometimes so they have that going for them as well.

Counter: users of the light plasma rifle should have no problem picking off  drones.

Floater/Heavy Floaters - I really like their launch ability which can move the floater to any point on the map. Something I like to do is wait until I can get an idea of where most of the enemy squad is, then launch my floater(s) somewhere behind them out of sight. With my other soldiers I keep the enemy occupied or press the attack until the floaters can flank them. My biggest problem with floaters though is their low accuracy. If you can flank your opponent, though, it doesn't matter. They also make up for any deficiencies with advanced plasma weapons and a grenade for the heavy floater.

Counters: Mind control. Suppression, snipers

Chrysalid - An interesting addition to your squad since it can create zombies when it kills a human soldier. However, it's pretty risky and they can easily be killed with plasma weapons. Make sure you keep the chrysalids out of sight and have other long range units to weaken your targets first before moving in for the kill.

Counters: chitin plating, plasma weapons, high health units.

Muton, Muton Elite - Honestly, Mutons seem like decent units except for the fact that they're extremely susceptible to mind control. Most squads seem to have at least one sectoid commander so it's a big risk to lose 1/3 of your squad to the other team (Mutons are too expensive to have more than 2 or 3 on your squad, which also reduces the effectiveness of the muton "blood call" ability). Watch out for sectoids who will try to suppress you. You might need to use your grenade in that case or just risk taking the plasma pistol damage (not a big deal for the elite variety but a regular muton only has 8 health).

Counter: Mind Control, snipers, suppression

Sectoid Commander - It seems like this guy's is playing for everybody's team these days. It's probably because they the cheapest psionic unit available at only 3200 points. In fact, the Sectoid commanders are used so much that 300 for a mind-shield suddenly seems like a good idea.

Counters: Psi-guardian, mind-shields, and....Berserker. Yup, I once faced a guy who used 3 sectoid commanders but easily slaughtered of his sectoid commanders with my Berserker and medics, even after he mind-controlled one of my guys.

Berserkers - I've didn't think these guys had any use nor had I seen anyone use Berserkers in an actual game before. They're expensive and vulnerable to flying units. However, they have decent will (so sectoid commanders will think twice before attempting to mind-control them), high health, deal heavy melee damage and--best of all--they can BUST THROUGH WALLS!! On any of the maps with buildings I wish I could see the looks on the faces of my opponents as I smash down a wall, punch their guy in the face and scream, "OHHH YEAHHHHH!!!" 

Seriously though, I don't know if top players even bother with Berserkers but it's fun to use them every once in a while. The bullrush ability is kinda wonky so I would experiment with it first before trying it in ranked matches.

Counters: air/elevated units, pick off from a distance with multiple units 

Cyberdisc - This unit is expensive and in some circumstances can be easily countered by snipers or being swarmed by multiple weaker units. That being said, I've seen some interesting strategies with Cyberdiscs. One strategy is to have a squad with one cyberdisc and a bunch of drones. Since the drones can repair the cyberdisc from a fairly long range, your Cyberdisc can pretty much run amok while your opponent has the conundrum of having to try to kill your Cyberdisc in one turn or trying to pick off all of your drones first.

Counter: plasma weapons, heavy with heat ammo, snipers

Ethereal - Currently they're 10,500 so you can't even use them in multiplayer ranked matches. If you can convince someone to play a 20,000 point match though, I recommend getting one ethereal.

Counter; mind shield, psi guardian, assault commando, plasma rifle sniper


scope - cheap way to boost the aim of a unit but it's more cost effective to just equip a light plasma rifle. Use this if you need extra accuracy from your heavy or a soldier carrying a standard plasma rifle. add this to a smoke jumper and they're as accurate as medics.

nano-vest - at only 2 extra health, just go for the chitin plating if you can for only a 100 points more.

Stims - high level players seem to enjoy stims and assault soldiers. I haven't tried it too much but you need to be prepared for it. Either mind control the assault soldier or swarm them with multiple units (you didn't spend all your money on one super unit, did you?). Or just run away until the stim wears off. Actually, running away is probably best. Scout to make sure you see this attack before it gets to you.

Grenade/Alien Grenade - this one is tough. Grenades are great fun but I usually don't buy grenades because for 900 I could buy two sectoids with 100 left over and grenades only do 3-5 damage per unit in the affected area. Most good players know not to bunch up their units in tight groups to deter grenade tossing. Personally I prefer to use grenades that come with alien units as a package, like mutons, heavy floaters, or sectoid commanders. 

Medkit - makes you immune to poison just by holding it and provides some extra health. In the hands of a medic, you can use the medkit three times and even revive critically wounded human units.

Mind Shield - get them if you have a unit you don't want to risk losing to mind control.

Chitin Plating - poor man's body armor. It's good protection against nutty people like me who like the Berserker.

Gripes / Wish list

Things missing from multiplayer:
  • SHIVs
  • Outsiders
  • Sectopods
  • blaster launchers
  • arc thrower (stun gun)
  • random matches with higher point limits
  • other types of multiplayer modes
  • more than 2 players
  • observation mode
  • more customization for human classes, alien loudouts
  • ability to pick up teammates' or enemies' items/weapons
  • improved stats (like win/loss, for example). iOS gamecenter could be a lot better
  • too many multiplayer bugs

1 comment:

  1. I love this game although i too had a large wish list. I dont like it that we can not pick up teammates.
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