Play Tested: XCOM for iOS

By Will Smith

One of Will's favorite PC and console games of the last year, XCOM, just came out for iOS devices. The iOS version is great, despite some frustrating hardware-specific bugs.

Last year’s XCOM reboot was one of my favorite games of the year—it was a tone-perfect remake of one of the first PC games I played. It even retained the original game’s brutal difficulty while smoothing the rough edges that punished beginning players (myself included). I was never good at the original X-com games, but I was able to master the 2012 version. In fact, my only complaint about XCOM was that its turn-based nature and touch-friendly controls made it a better fit for my iPad than a beefy gaming PC.

It turns out, I was right. The iOS version of XCOM came out a couple of weeks ago, and it’s exactly the game I wanted. For all intents and purposes, it’s the same game that I played on PC last year.

The turn-based combat, story, and missions are essentially unchanged from the PC version. Touch controls work well with XCOM’s deliberate combat pacing. To issue a move instruction, you double-tap on a location block. To trigger an ability, you double tap on its icon. Ironman mode, which adds a roguelike single-save mode to any difficulty setting, is present. I've been playing on Normal difficulty with Ironman enabled, and defeating a Muton Elite moments before it executes my squad member feels just as good as it did on the big screen. Likewise, losing a squaddie (like my best sniper: Wesley Snipes) left the same aching hole in my heart as before. I haven't successfully completed a game yet, but I’m confident enough in the game to recommend the game to anyone who likes strategy games.

Unless, that is, you happen to have an iPad Mini or an iPad 2.

I've played the game on both iPad Mini and iPad 3 (my iPhone doesn't have the 3.2GB of free space required to install the game), and it has some serious problems on the iPad Mini, as well as some older devices. I’ve personally experienced multiple crashes on my iPad Mini. An occasional crash wouldn’t be a problem, except with Ironman mode enabled, every crash has the potential to corrupt your only save file, and thus end your game. Not good. The crashes are exacerbated by the game’s interminably slow load times—from the time you launch the game, it takes almost a minute before you can skip past the intro cutscene, and then it’s another 30 seconds before you can start actually playing.

I wouldn’t feel right complaining about an occasional crash and even a progress loss bug for most $5 iOS games, but with a price tag of $20, XCOM is the most expensive iOS game I’ve ever purchased. To be clear, I think $20 is a perfectly fair price to pay for a game of this caliber and pedigree on my iPad, but I’m also going to hold the publisher to the same standard that I would for a $20 game other platforms.

*The publisher acknowledged the problem existed on June 20, but hasn’t updated that post since.