The Welcome Invasion
The Android port of the critically acclaimed strategy game XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a game-changer. I didn’t know it was possible to replicate a game like this without significant loss of quality, complexity, or precision and to actually do it justice on a mobile platform, and XCOM: Enemy Unknown isn’t just a great game, it should be a benchmark for how to design (or port) a great, complex game for mobile platforms. It’s ridiculously impressive what Firaxis has accomplished with this port.
The XCOM franchise began in 1994, when Julian Gollop designed the turn-based strategy game UFO: Enemy Unknown. Widely considered a dark horse candidate for greatest game of all time, UFO: Enemy Unknown was a strategy game where you controlled an international earth defense agency trying to repel an alien threat, one randomly generated battle at a time. After a series of unsatisfying sequels and spinoffs, the franchise went into hibernation, only to be revived by the 2012 Firaxis title XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
Like its spiritual predecessor, the 2012 game is a complex arms race with an invading alien force, combining turn-based tactical battles with big picture resource and base management. Soldier death is permanent, losing the war is a permanent game over, and the aliens show no mercy. The appeal of the XCOM franchise is its ability to balance high-level, high-stakes strategy with a strong emotional connection to your soldiers and your mission, and XCOM: Enemy Unknown captures that balance masterfully. You’ll get to know your randomly generated soldiers as they rise though the ranks and gain skills, specialties, and attributes, and your decisions in battle will determine whether they live or die. It’s turn-based strategy at its most immersive, and a successful war against the aliens takes about 30 hours to accomplish, and that’s only if you win the first time and you’re not playing one of the advanced difficulties!
You can promote your troops, give them special training, build facilities in your base, sell alien artifacts, research new technologies, and build a fleet of UFO-fighting aircraft. All of these things are vital to your eventual success against the aliens. There are also special story events that move the plot forward and increase the power of subsequent alien encounters. In battle, there are four classes of soldier, all necessary for any given fight and each replete with diverse skill sets and play styles. Flanking, high ground, and cover are extremely important to consider during a battle, and missions can range from rescue missions to UFO raids to terror missions where you minimize casualties during an attack on a populated area. The game is tough, but fair (depending on your difficulty setting), and the depth and complexity of its gameplay is nothing short of masterful.
The touchscreen controls of the Android version are easily the best control scheme I’ve seen in a mobile game. It’s helped by the fact that the game is entirely turn-based, but large buttons and intuitive use of the touch screen are implemented so well that the game might actually control better on the Android version. The graphics are slightly downgraded from the PC version, but are still extremely impressive and show off the game’s polished near future aesthetic. It is worth noting that I had the game crash on me several times, and I’ve seen similar complaints from other players, but the game has a helpful autosave that stopped the crashing from being too damaging.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown for Android is a great port of a very good game. There isn’t much out there in the Google Play store that can match the experience of repelling an alien invasion in this game. Whether you’d want this version or a PC or console version depends on your taste, but if you’re specifically looking to play a good game on Android and you’ve ever enjoyed a strategy game, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is highly, highly recommended.