App of the Week – Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies


Developer: Fireaxis Games

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad 2 , iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 6.0

Price: $4.99

Available: here

There’s just something about strategy games on touch screen platforms that’s so satisfying. Controlling armies or deciding the fate of civilizations in this genre is always a good time to be sure, but when you add the touch element it makes you feel the role of commander or leader like no other game on any other format possibly can.

It’s an advantage that can lend a critical entertainment boost to even the most mediocre of mobile strategy games, which unfortunately many strategy app developers seem to be increasingly aware of. As much as I love the average mobile strategy game, there does seem to be a complacency sinking into the genre that makes every new encounter with one of these games increasingly less and less thrilling.

Into that scenario enters the legendary Sid Meier (the man behind the “Civilization” series) and Fireaxis Games who’ve not only developed many of those “Civilization” titles, but the recent strategy phenomenon known as “XCOM: Enemy Unknown.” With them, comes “Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies,” the follow up to the successful “Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol.”

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Moving the game’s venue from WWI to WWII, “Pacific Skies” gives you the option of choosing either the American Navy and Army, or the Japanese Navy and Army to command. In either case, the actual gameplay works largely the same, as you try to wipe the enemy off the map, while leveling up your soldiers and avoiding enemy encampment trap areas. Breaking down every in and out of the gameplay would be a lengthy exercise in tedium, but basically as far as general objective goes, little more is asked than to successfully command your troops in combat using a pretty versatile, largely grid based troop movement system

What’s more important than what’s in the game, though, are the various things that aren’t. By removing many resource gathering and base building elements from the average strategy game and focusing solely on the command of troops and vehicles, Fireaxis has stumbled upon the perfect formula for a mobile strategy game. Whereas removing those traditional elements could have made the game feel overly simplified, here there is so much creativity put into the ins and outs of the combat system, and so much work put into making the enemy A.I. a genuine challenge, that all the strategy you could ever want comes through the action and the action alone. It’s incredibly rewarding to play a strategy game that cuts right to the action, but doesn’t feel watered down in the slightest by doing so.

Rewarding is overall the best way to describe “Pacific Skies.” There are no easily won battles here, yet the game so expertly manages all of the elements that go into a combat scenario that you never once feel burdened or overwhelmed by what’s happening. Instead you are given just the right level of challenge to compel you to keep going at all times. You can’t understate how importance that balance of difficulty v.s. reward is in these types of games, nor can you understate the level of satisfaction that comes from experiencing a game that gets it right like “Pacific Skies” does.

“Pacific Skies” may be most easy to recommend to strategy fans and those that have lost weekends absorbed in the History channel, but honestly everyone who enjoys mobile gaming should have at least one strategy game on their device, and considering the absolutely perfect balance of brain teasing and instant gratification “Pacific Skies” off, it’s the one to get even if you usually shy away from these types of games. This is quite honestly one of the most complete app games out there, and the clear app of the week.

  

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App of the Week – XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Developer: 2K Studios

Compatible with: iPod Touch 5th gen and up, iPad 2, iPad Mini, iPhone 4S and up (optimized for iPhone 5)

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: $20.00

Available: here

There’s a lot to be said about “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” for iOS, but none of it can be said without eventually mentioning the price.

Yes, “XCOM” is a $20 gaming app, in a world where $20 can also easily translate to owning 20 gaming apps. This will cause many people dismay, or even fits of laughter.

But I’m not going to talk about the price just yet. Instead I just want to focus on “XCOM.”

XCOM” took the console and PC world by storm last year as gamers everywhere discovered the joy of running a worldwide alien defense organization, and commanding troops on the ground in tense and violent tactical operation scenarios. A revival of one of the most complicated and hardcore PC franchises of all time, “Enemy Unknown” somehow managed to find a way to maintain the things that made that series great, while also making the experience much more manageable and appealing to the more mainstream gaming market.

Of course the star of the game is its permadeath system. Much like last weeks “Sword and Glory” app, death is not only around every corner in “XCOM,” but when it happens you lose that soldier for good. This is made worse by how much you can customize a soldier to make them your own, and the hours you will inevitably spend leveling up your favorites. No matter how much time or effort you put into a character though, one false move and they are dead and gone.

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It’s a punishing system to be sure, but it gives the game an element of tension that would be impossible without it. Every decision matters in “XCOM,” whether it be on the battlefield, or in the management mode when trying to determine what countries to aid (you can’t save them all) and what research to pursue in order to manufacture new items and weapons. Every moment in “XCOM” is spent making these tough decisions, and as such success and joy are found not in glorious moments of gratification, but just through mere survival, and a chain of little moments that make up your 30+ hour playtime.

A glorious moment of success is to be found, though, the minute you boot up the game and realize that this is indeed the entire “XCOM” experience (sans multiplayer) on a mobile device. Sure the graphics took a very slight hit, but this is compensated for by some nice touch controls that add to the feeling of being the “Commander” character the game casts you as. While playing this on an iPhone over an iPad is not the most welcoming of propositions, again it’s the fact it even exists in that format in a playable manner that deserves recognition.

Ultimately though, even though this is still every inch of the original 2012 game of the year candidate expertly ported by 2K to a potentially hostile format, it does come back to the price. While $20 spent well is a fair amount of money, the fact is that $20 for this game is a steal, considering it means you’re getting what is essentially a console game at about a third of the original price, to take with you wherever you go. The price is all a matter of perspective, and in an app world where a “Free” game can easily set you back around $20 when you consider in-app purchases (of which “XCOM” has none) and usually are not of this level of quality, you really have to call this a case of paying an appropriate price for what you get.

“XCOM” defied expectations last year and made most of its fans out of people who never played this type of strategy game before, much less the franchise. With any of the luck I do not have when I play this game (my guys die a lot), this mobile version will do the same as it’s a near-flawless port of that all-time great strategy experience.

So get ready to craft a virtual graveyard of fallen soldiers, start seeing Chryssalids in you nightmares, and get addicted to “XCOM” all over again as it’s not only a perfect port, but my app of the week.

  

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