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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App of the Week: Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe

Developer:
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

Compatible with:
iPhone 3GS or up (optimized for iPhone 5)

iPod touch 3rd gen or up

iPad

Requires:
iOS 5.0

Price:
$5.99

Available here

 

With their endless capabilities, your iPhone and iPad were designed, and marketed, under one simple banner.

The world in your hands.

It was a lofty goal that has, of course, been achieved. With the mind boggling specs, features, and of course applications, there is little of the world that isn’t available to you at high speed and incredible clarity thanks to the iDevices. Now though, there is at least one app out there that says that’s not good enough and would like to give you not the world in your hands, but the entire universe.

Thanks to it, now, as James Bond tried to warn us, the world is not enough.

Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe (and no, not that Brian Cox) is based around the four part TV series of the same name where Professor Brian Cox takes viewers on a tour of the known universe with incredible thoroughness and mind boggling visuals. The app aims for the same goal as it allows users to explore the entirety of the known universe with full information and visuals for everything along the way. A lofty goal that it not only achieves but does so in a capacity that is almost impossible to fully understand.

For instance, you start off on a 3D map of the universe, using your fingers to zoom and interact with it. On the top of the screen is a scale option which will allow you to control your viewing capacity of the universe, and ranges from the end of it all, to a zoom in that will let you view the sub-atomic particles that make up everything that is known. On the bottom of the screen is a bar of information that will provide texts, videos, and more about anything you can find and will also let you quick jump to certain things. There is an almost impossible amount of media available on all subjects, with much of it being tied to the miniseries that boldly tried to explain the going ons of the entire universe in an entertaining manner, and nearly achieved it.

That’s one thing to consider about this app. You can call it an educational tool, and it most certainly is, but its greater achievement is the entertainment. Professor Cox travels the world to capture events like the aurora borealis and a total eclipse in their most perfect forms. His experiments are both incredible exhibitions of the known, and fascinating explorations of the unknown, and it’s his love of it all that frames the entire app, and makes it half of what it is.

The other, arguably larger, part of the app doesn’t involve any pre-loaded media, but rather the joy of exploration. When you consider how much information and visuals are available for just the Earth alone on top of that same level of depth being provided for essentially everything we know about the large part of entirety, you could argue that much like the universe itself, there is no real end to this app. There certainly is no end to the fun it provides.

Which does bring up one of the minor sticking points of this app. At $5.99 it is a little more expensive than the usual app, but as you may have already figured out, it is hard to argue that you don’t get what you pay for. Also, while the app is now available for the iPhone and iPod touch, to truly appreciate it you really do need an iPad, preferably with the retina display.

That aside, if you have the proper set up and the funds what you get is an app that fills you with this otherworldly feeling that is like someone injected pure wonder into your veins. It successfully covers the bold topic of everything, with a careful wisdom and infinite amount of fun. There is no moon, star, landmark, black hole, sun, or planet that isn’t included for detailed exploration, and all of it is beautiful and fascinating.

Much more than a time waster, and something far greater than a textbook, there is no classification for this app that would easily explain or define it. Not only is it nearly everything about nearly everything, it is also my app of the week.

  

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