The Best Games like XCOM on Android & iOS09 Oct 2018 9
XCOM: Enemy Unknown won multiple game-of-the-year awards in 2012 for its turn-based tactical gameplay centered on a squad of combatants. The expansion, XCOM: Enemy Within, was similarly well received upon its release in 2013 and brought the franchise to the mobile market on both the iOS and Android platforms in 2014. The success of these XCOM games inspired many game developers to try their hand at the genre. In 2015 we got Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion, set in the Warhammer 40K universe, and one of my personal favorites Templar Battleforce. Last year brought us Pocket Tactic's RPG game-of-the-year Demon's Rise 2 and tactics game-of-the-year Invisible, Inc. All of these games feature tactical turn-based action that can be favorably compared to the XCOM games.
Below is collection of great games that evoke that tactical gameplay that XCOM fans know and love. Some we've reviewed, many we haven't. We've put some emphasis on games released in the last couple of years, but also aimed for a good cross-section of options out there. Naturally I can't include every title with gameplay similar to XCOM and would love to see other options called out in the comments below.
Developer: Grinning Lizard
Xenowar is a brilliant distillation of the razor-sharp tactical challenges of XCOM, though it does sacrifice some scale and endgame satisfaction in favor of presenting a clean-cut intense series of battles. In particular, the GEO mode is a smart compromise between a full-fledged life-consuming, planet-saving, alien-cleansing XCOM campaign and a single strategic arc that a dedicated gamer can accomplish in just a few sittings. It takes a lot of presence of mind to create games like this, which understand what’s great and reiterate it without becoming derivative or redundant in the process. Oh, and it’s open-source to boot.
Strike Team Hydra (Review)
Hydra’s best point is how creative and wide its customization options are, both in terms of squad composition and difficulty level. The plotting and theme are boilerplate, but in terms of mechanics, stats and abilities, the game is brimming with possibilities. Psionics and physics add some flair and unusual effects to the classes, and the enemies are weird bio-machine hybrids. All this wouldn’t matter a whit if the game’s buffet of options was paired with anything but an equally rich campaign. Here, Strike Team Hydra delivers again, ratcheting up the scenarios, objectives and enemy types just as generously as it doled out strategic tools. It strikes a great balance between question and answer; risk and reward; problem and solution.
Along with the top-down isometric perspective, Frozen Synapse made one other amazing change to the standard tactical shooter formula. Each side takes turns planning their actions in secrecy, mapping out the steps their units will take, the shots they will fire. Then the game will resolve everyone’s programmed actions creating a ‘simultaneous’ turn that was nonetheless meticulously choreographed by those tacticians. One good idea, perfectly rendered, is enough to make a good game. Frozen Synapse fulfills this crystal-clear ideal.
Templar Battleforce (Review)
Space marines versus xenomorphs, loosely derived from the Ur-horrors of Alien. Templar Battleforce owes some thematic debts to Warhammer and others, but its rapid-fire pacing and generous respect system are wonderful tools for experimentation and strategy. There’s some light characterization and world-building, sure, but in lieu of story one has to respect Templar Battleforce’s varied scenarios and equally creative squads allow divergent thinking. To a man with a hammer, everything is a nail, but to a commander with endlessly variable squads, the mutating threat can be met with an equally sundry...battleforce.
Aliens versus Humans
We'll start with an option that predates Enemy Within on mobile. Aliens versus Humans is an old game. So old that if you buy it for iOS you'll get the warning about it slowing down your device since the developer hasn't updated the game to Apple's standards. That warning is often meaningless and misleading and you should go ahead and ignore it in this case.
Aliens versus Humans is effectively a clone of the very first XCOM game from back in 1994.It features base management, research, manufacturing, and of course tactical combat against alien enemies. The graphics are retro and nothing to get excited about, but the gameplay is solid, combat is challenging, and there's a whole lot of content for a couple bucks. You can bring a huge squad to battle which allows for more options to face threats than games that top out with a team of four or so. It also lets you play the attrition game to grind out victories. So while Aliens versus Humans is over three-years-old at this point, it is well worth considering if you're looking for XCOM-like action.
Legions of Steel
The universe is under threat from the Empire of the Machines and an alliance between the League of Aliens and United Nations of Earth (U.N.E.) is all that stands in their way. Legions of Steel takes this war to the Machines' underground production facilities. You direct squads of commandos through the machine's dark metallic underworld.
As with XCOM games, there's a lot of tactical decision making in Legions of Steel. You can make use of movement stances, strafing, covering fire to take things out on your opponent's turn, firing options like auto-fire and suppressing fire, and ambush tactics. There are also a ton of different weapons with which to equip your squad to fit any strategy and I particularly like that you can shoot no matter how far you've moved, with modifiers of course. There are two different campaigns in Legions of Steel and the story is told through attractive comic-book panels between missions. There's also a "Skirmish" mode for quick fights and asynchronous multiplayer if you prefer a human opponent.
Alien Star Menace
The first of a couple free options in this article is a little game called Alien Star Menace. Aliens have attacked the starship Paladin and it's up to you to save the day. Alien Star Menace is light-hearted and looks pretty basic at first glance but it actually packs a good tactical punch. You pick a five-person squad from a variety of special units with different pros and cons and take them into missions on different levels of the Paladin.
The mission objectives are things like "Kill Everything" and "Reach the Stairs" and the game rewards smart decisions like making good use of choke points and ranged attackers. Missions are very quick and perfect for bite-sized play sessions on your phone, which is often a big plus for gamers these days. Alien Star Menace is also free-to-play with no IAP. There are ads, which can be annoying, but the frequency is very low and I didn't find them to be overly obtrusive. I'm happy to recommend this one as a free gaming option for XCOM fans.
World of Warriors: Quest
World of Warriors: Quest is a light turn-based tactical game where you play as a team of warriors from across the ages—Roman centurions, Viking berserkers, and stealthy ninjas for example. The characters fill your standard RPG roles. The Roman, Brutus, is a tank and taunts enemies with his attacks to keep their attention. Gunnar, the Viking warrior, is a decent balance of damage and survivability. The ninja is named Kuro and he's the glass cannon—big area-of-effect damage but very low health. Those are the starting characters but you encounter more as the game goes on.
You choose three warriors to take on a number of quests that lead you across the Wildlands on a mission to discover what the local bad guys are up to. Each quest has several waves of fights and it can be a challenge to keep your team upright and alive so you don't succumb to attrition. Each warrior has special attacks to make use of and there are also consumables֫ that recover health, enable big attacks, or provide extra movement speed. World of Warriors: Quest is not a particularly deep game, but good for those interested in light squad-based tactics. You also can't beat the price—this one is free with no IAPs or ads.
The Last Warlock
The Last Warlock is a turn-based tactical game with a somewhat unique almost-anything-goes approach. You play as a warlock capable of summoning deadly creatures, casting magical spells, and crafting weapons, armour, and other equipment. You embark on a series of quests to find and defeat enemy warlocks, all vying to discover the secrets of the famed last warlock. To defeat these rivals you must first best their monsters, traps, and puzzles before taking them down.
The Last Warlock provides an extraordinary amount of freedom for a tactical game to decide exactly how to do so. You can go straight for your foe or explore a little and take the road less travelled. This provides a great deal of replay value because you can play the same quest multiple times and use a different strategy. Your squad in this game are the creatures you've summoned and you can end up with quite a crew as you grow in power and a quest wears on. The single-player campaign is quite extensive and will provide many hours of play for one premium price. There's also an asynchronous online option for those looking for multiplayer action.
Star Chindy (2016)
Star Chindy mixes in elements of both FTL and XCOM. You warp around the galaxy in your ship, the Star Chindy, in a hunt to take on and take out a big bad alien race that very nearly wiped out earth. You'll maintain and upgrade your ship, and others you pick up along the way, and decide where to go and what risks are worth taking in your travels.
You'll take a squad on various away missions and engage the enemy in turn-based tactical warfare. The missions are a good challenge and get better and better as you train up your squad. The space-based combat is less interesting, however. It plays out in real time, rather than being turn based, and your weapons auto-fire on enemy ships in range. Your job is to frantically maneuver your ships to avoid enemy fire. Luckily the fun of the squad combat more than makes up for this and despite this odd dichotomy, Star Chindy is definitely worth a go for fans of XCOM.
Do you know of any more games that would fit the topic of today's guide? Let us know about them in the comments below!