XCOM: Enemy Unknown

2K Games' XCOM: Enemy Unknown has finally seen its iOS release in a humans versus aliens battle for the Earth.

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Michelle Starr is the tiger force at the core of all things. She also writes about cool stuff and apps as CNET Australia's Crave editor. But mostly the tiger force thing.

We've been waiting a long time for the XCOM reboot, now rebranded The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and given a release date of 20 August this year.

For XCOM fans with iOS devices, though, 2K Games is giving us a taste to tide us over in the meantime — iOS title XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

The game is sort of a reboot of the very first XCOM title, 1994's UFO: Enemy Unknown, and a port of the title already available for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC and Mac. As such, the core gameplay revolves around turn-based ground strategy as you lead squadrons of up to six soldiers against a new menace that is threatening the Earth: aliens seeking to use humans for their own ends.

To anyone who played the original title way back when, the game will be instantly familiar. After a brief gameplay tutorial, you choose your base — the US gives you a 50 per cent discount on aircraft, Europe on research facilities — and that "ant farm" base is pretty familiar, too. After each combat mission, you will return to regroup, and there are a lot of things you can do while there.

The Barracks is where you can view and train your soldiers, upgrading them with new abilities — if they survive their missions. In the Research Lab, you can study specimens and artefacts recovered in the field, while Engineering is where you can build and buy new technologies — which, of course, you can equip your soldiers with. The Hangar is where you manage your aircraft, and the Situation Room is where you can both receive missions and monitor the global threat level.

The combat itself is pretty easy to get the hang of, with prompts to guide you through the first few missions. Cover is absolutely essential; with each turn, you have to direct your troops one by one to the best hiding spots before opening fire to take out the aliens. This isn't as easy as it sounds, since the alien weapons are very sophisticated, rendering the cover's effectiveness often quite low — a feature not helped by the environments' destructibility. In each area, you also have no idea how many aliens you have to take out — the mission only ends when it does.

You have a range of weapons at your disposal, from the more standard guns, grenades and rocket launchers to more sophisticated technologies developed using alien artefacts recovered from the battlefield. You'll also be fighting against an increasing — and increasingly difficult — range of enemies, making for a rich, varied and ever more complex and interesting experience.

The port to iOS seems like a good move to us. The touch controls can be a little fidgety at first, but, as you grow accustomed to them, they become a good fit for the turn-based gameplay. Swiping around the screen to view maps, tapping to move your dudes and context-sensitive menus make for a pretty intuitive experience overall, minimising mis-taps with confirmation buttons. There was only one real niggle: we would have liked subtitles for those times when you don't want to play without sound, such as relaxing in front of the TV or on public transport.

Overall, we'd have to say that it probably works best for iPad; we can't imagine that the game scales well for smaller iPhone and iPod screens.

We've rarely seen any game implemented so well for iPad. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is one of the finest strategy games available for the platform.

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