A premiere turn-based strategy game moves near flawlessly from entertainment consoles to Apple's iPad in XCOM: Enemy Unknown (2K Games, rated: 17 years and older, reviewed on iPad 3, $19.99).
For those unfamiliar with the 2012 adventure, a player becomes the commander of an elite military organization (XCOM) in the midst of protecting earth from an extremely hostile extraterrestrial invasion.
He must carefully assign the organization's research and engineering teams' projects to create new technologies, keep supporting nations safe and improve the base of operations while managing the XCOM's finances.
Tasks can include sending out fighters to confront UFO's invading a country's airspace (shoot them down to engage a ground assault on the aircraft), initiating alien autopsies in the laboratory, directing technicians to build new weapons and satellites, and viewing a memorial wall of fallen warriors.
The much more entertaining part of the action requires the commander take up to six soldiers on ground missions (each with customized weapon and armor load outs) to save humans, salvage alien technology and fight a variety of aliens in turn-based combat played out on a grid like a three-dimensional board game.
I'll mention the heartbreaking responsibilities of taking care of this elite international group of soldiers. I had many a well-equipped and leveled-up warrior live through many a mission only to see him permanently fall in the blink of an eye after taking a couple of green plasma blasts from aliens.
By the way, the primary enemy threat are spindly shaped insectoids wielding ray guns that one could imagine were captured and stored in Area 51.
Variations to those creeps include flying cyborgs; charging Berserkers; the black-suited, poison-spitting Thin Man; heavy-assault robots; and man-sized insectoids that can turn a soldier into an attacking zombie.
Suffice to report, the level of depth and strategy variations will electrify gamers looking for hours of playing war.
No question, it's a great game loaded with gorgeous-cut scenes and combat animations. And playing it on the iPad is a stellar experience, thanks to the touch-screen controls. It's a quick tap to move soldiers, assign tasks, views stats and make decisions on how to engage the enemy.
Unfortunately, it's also a hard-drive consuming game. Those with an iPad understand the limited storage capacity of the device (usually models offer between 16 to 64 gigabyte). To devote a whopping 3.2 gigabytes of space to XCOM could means missing out on many a multimedia download. Also, for the $20 price, players could probably buy an average of 10 or more other games (equally entertaining) that will keep them very busy for an extended amount of time.
On the painful downside, I'll note that I had zero luck playing the game on an iPad 2 with numerous crashes halting progress. However, once I loaded the game on an iPad 3, the action was seamless.
Ultimately, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a classic piece of gaming for the strategy fan and, despite its hefty download and price, is still a great addition to any iPad game collection.
Parental advice: The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), after watching a human soldier screaming in pain and bleeding out after an attack by a multi-legged Chryssalid monster, decided to label this game in 2012 "M" and that stands for mature — gamers only 17 years and older need be a part of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. So don't let your 14-year-old convince you that "it's just like playing chess, Dad, but with animated soldiers." The combat is intense and violent, and the mature themes of survival are not for the young or squeamish.
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