Strategy Game of the Year 2014 Runner-up: XCOM Enemy Within19 Dec 2014 0
This year's strategy game of the year runner-up takes one of last year's finest games and makes it better. XCOM: Enemy Within was an expansion pack for 2012's XCOM: Enemy Unknown on PC, but for us on iOS & Android it comes as a standalone app, and it's without a doubt the best mobile game to come from publishers 2K all year.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown took a big gamble with a classic strategy game of near-religious import. The original X-Com had been a tactical combat simulator of an alien invasion of Earth, pushing the boundaries of 1994 computer hardware to deliver as much detail and realism as possible. 2K's new XCOM took the spirit of that game but dumped all of the old mechanics in favour of new ones -- it was like trying to replicate the Mona Lisa with a
Brilliant though XCOM was, there were some dull spots here and there. The player probably had too many resources to spend in the late game, for example, and there were early-stage enemies that became trivially easy to beat once you'd put together a squad of veteran troopers.
XCOM: Enemy Within is the spit-shine job that makes XCOM truly gleam. There's new mechanics that buff out the flaws of the original: a new enemy faction that drains your surplus resources until you knock them out of the game, and new enemy types that force you to change your tactical plans on the fly and keep lower-level enemies relevant all the way to the final showdown -- though the final showdown itself is still a bit of a damp squib.
Most importantly, Enemy Within activates a narrative trap that the original 2012 title set but never sprang. As you research and absorb alien technology to give your troopers an edge in combat, the game's characters started to question if you were compromising your humanity in order to fight off the aggressors. It's a thought-provoking dilemma and one that's well worth exploring in a time of enhanced interrogations and open-ended wars, but the XCOM just left the question dangling.
Enemy Within picks that question back up and underlines it, offering you the opportunity to use alien tech to alter your troops' DNA and even gruesomely hacking off their limbs to insert them (voluntarily?) into colossal mech suits. EW makes saving your species from the extra-terrestrial threat fresh and exciting again -- but then gives you a moment to look back at the humanity you've saved and wonder if it's still humanity at all.
To see all of the games recognised in the Pocket Tactics Best of 2014 Awards, visit the 2014 Awards Index page.