XCOM: Enemy Unknown iOS preview: made for mobile

It seems a no-brainer to port a strategy game like XCOM: Enemy Unknown to the mobile environment. Porting it to iOS without compromising the original experience, however, is the true measure of its success. But after spending some time with it on the iPad, it's safe to say that XCOM: Enemy Unknown for iOS feels like a match that was meant to be.


One of the major concerns with any mobile port is possible quality loss due to downsizing to meet mobile size restrictions. According to Jessica Lewinstein, online & mobile PR manager for 2K Games, "it's the same experience you get from the PC [version]. The only differences are that we took out a couple maps … and cutscenes." A cutscene where an alien is being interrogated, for example, is simply replaced with a dialogue detailing the events of what occurred. "Things that were cut really don't affect your overall experience," she said.

Starting up the game on the European continent, it really does appear that the overall gameplay is intact. The basic game controls transition very naturally from the console and PC experience to the iOS environment. Moving and dashing involve either tapping a finger on a desired location and tapping to accept the move or tracing a finger to a specific area and double tapping. Completing most basic actions is similarly intuitive. You use the assault rifle on nearby aliens, for example, by tapping on the "aim" button and then tapping "fire" to accept the move.

Certain game controls feel more interactive. Using a grenade is a great example of how the port takes advantage of the iOS gestures. After tapping to select a grenade, drag your finger to create a blue laser-like trail in the direction of an alien enemy, and tap to accept and turn them back into space matter. There wasn't enough time to get to an area with climbable platforms, but Shacknews was informed that swiping two fingers up or down allows you to climb or descend.

If anything can detract from being immersed in the game, it's going to be the camera angles, and XCOM for iOS does a solid job of providing multiple ways to alter views without causing a headache. Just as you would in most iOS apps, pinching in and out allows you to zoom in or out, and you can also pinch in a circular motion to move the overhead camera around 360 degrees. For those who prefer on-screen touch controls for screen movement, they are readily available on the bottom, left-hand side, and might be easier to use on an iPhone than on iPad.

Visually, the game looks great, with sharp, clear in-game graphics and high-quality cutscenes. Unfortunately, cutscenes that have made the cut can't be skipped or paused in any way, which is mildly frustrating in the mobile environment, but nothing that greatly detracts from gameplay overall.

A PR representative said that Jake Solomon, the lead designer for the console version, would test the iOS version while sitting next to his daughter's crib. Solomon seems to understand the mobile gaming experience, and it shows through the simplicity and intuitiveness of the controls.

Perhaps most important is that the game is a premium app, a 2K PR rep said. "There's no in-app purchases, there's no free-to-play aspects to it. You purchase it, you get the full game."

In an app-world riddled with hastily thrown together ports, XCOM: Enemy Unknown for iOS could just as easily be another miss. While nothing appears to have been added, care has been taken to utilize the pre-existing iOS gestures to work intuitively with the game mechanics. If the iPhone controls live up to the iPad experience, this iOS version may prove to be the mobile experience XCOM fans have been waiting for.