‘XCOM: Enemy Unknown’ shines on iOS


XCOM: Enemy Unknown crosses over from the console to iOS devices on Thursday, for $20. (Courtesy of 2K Games/Courtesy of 2K Games)
June 19, 2013

Firaxis’ “XCOM:Enemy Unknown” is headed to the iPad and iPhone on Thursday, aiming to show that a triple-A title can make the leap from console to a more portable format.

Tablets and phones have started to come into their own as gaming devices, but the offerings on mobile still mostly take a lighter tone. Even many tablet titles are “HD” versions of candy-colored casual games, though there are a handful of more sophisticated titles that offer a glimpse of tablet gaming’s potential.

The port for “XCOM:Enemy Unknown,” particularly on the iPad, could prove that this whole mobile gaming experiment is headed in the riSght direction. The mobile version of XCOM is the full title that users saw drop onto their consoles and PCs last fall: a deep turn-based strategy game that lets players take command over a handful of soldiers fighting off an enemy invasion.

Overall, the touch interface is well-suited to this type of game. Instead of using a mouse-click, players can order troops around by simply moving characters by touch — giving the the feeling that they’re presiding over a Big Board in an old war movie. This ability is somewhat diminished on the iPhone, of course.

Other touches, such as the ability to use iCloud saves to pick up games across devices, show that Firaxis has focused on designing its game for mobile from the ground up.

There are some issues with the title. Navigating the camera by pinch-zooming and negotiating elevation with the game’s two-finger swipe control can be tricky while trying to overcome the game’s learning curve. (There were a few instances, for example, where I quit the iPad game by accident in an attempt to zoom out .)

Also, the file itself is pretty big: 3.2 GB. Depending on your iPad model, that’s a hefty chunk of storage space.

The graphics, while very good for a tablet game, are still not as sharp or impressive as the title’s counterpart on the 360, PlayStation or PC. You can’t expect console-quality graphics on a tablet — at least not yet -- and there are occasional, notable moments when a slightly strange texture reminds you that you’re working with an evolving medium.

And then there’s the price. “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” costs $20 — costly for a mobile app and probably more than most are willing to pay, particularly if they already own the game on another platform. Even compared with other, more serious iPad games, such as the $10 “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic,” the XCOM title may have too steep a price tag. Firaxis has plans to add more features in future versions, such as multi-player games, that may attract more purchasers.

Regardless of those niggles, “XCOM:Enemy Unknown” for iOS is a step forward for mobile gaming, showing that serious games can untether from the console without compromising much at all.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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