Tobold's Blog
Monday, January 18, 2016

As I mentioned in a previous post I love games based on the UFO / XCOM heritage and am currently waiting for XCOM 2 to be released. But while I'm waiting I play a game on my iPad which is called X-Mercs, which is very, very similar. Up to the point where some of the abilities of your soldiers have exactly the same name and function as in the XCOM game, e.g. Lightning Reflexes. On the other hand the game adds a different background story and that results in your team not only fighting aliens, but also mutants and rival mercenaries / soldiers, so there is a bit more variety.

X-Mercs also has one of the weirdest business models I have seen, which doesn't differentiate between different currencies, e.g. a currency earned by playing and a currency bought for real money. There is only one currency which is both earned and spent in the basic gameplay, but can also be bought for real money, and be spent for advantages that look a lot like Pay2Win. That description suggests that you could play X-Mercs for free, but in my opinion that is not the case. Earning currency through playing is deliberately slow, and what you earn doesn't even cover some of the things that I would consider basics. For example you need a lot of currency to get a fourth and fifth soldier into your squad. So if you play for free you'd have to grind a very long time with just three soldiers in your squad, and as the game constantly raises the difficulty even of the side missions that is going to be increasingly unfeasible.

The overall result is that the game is not so much "Pay2Win", but rather "pay to make the game playable". Once you *did* pay something like $60+ and unlocked the must-have stuff, the game suddenly plays like a "buy once" game, and doesn't constantly push you towards further purchases. Yes, sometimes you get "special offers" to buy powerful consumables for cash, but you can ignore those. So compared with my experience from last year with League of Angels, X-Mercs is actually rather cheap. Of course not everybody would agree to spend $60+ on a mobile XCOM clone, but then the same can be said about any $60 console shooter.

What I also like more in X-Mercs than in League of Angels is that there is very little mandatory daily activity in X-Mercs. Yeah, you better collect the free money that accumulates in some of your buildings from time to time, and send out expeditions. But otherwise X-Mercs very much plays like a single-player XCOM, where the story only progresses when you have time to play. Then again the PvP part of X-Mercs appears to be more or less optional (I could get better beam weapons if I had a PvP rank, but up to now that hasn't blocked me in the PvE game), and maybe if I played the game more competitively I would be pushed more towards keeping up with the Joneses. On the other hand the free money you get over time, and resources from expeditions, mean that there is an advantage to take things slowly. If you wanted to progress much faster and play much more every day, you probably would be stopped by a lack of money and resources, and could then "unblock" your progress by paying even more real money. That is pretty much par for the course, most Free2Play games have additional ways for impatient people to pay more.

While the political correctness brigade would probably complain about the depiction of women in the game, the graphics of the game are otherwise okay, considering the platform. Not super-pretty PC graphics, but nice enough 3D graphics and okay animations for an iPad game. As a result X-Mercs takes up 2 GB on your iPad, compared with 3.3 GB for the iPad version of XCOM : Enemy Within. And you probably need at least an iPad Air to play it fluidly. I observed rare crashes to desktop, and even rarer a crash that erased the progress of the current mission so that I had to start over. No game-breaking bugs that I am aware of.

Overall I think that if you haven't played it yet, XCOM : Enemy Within for the iPad at now $9.99 (down from previously $19.99) is the better deal. If you already played many hours of XCOM and are just waiting for XCOM 2, X-Mercs is an option, but not really a cheap one. So I can't universally recommend it.

I was surprised by just how well XCOM translated to the ipad. That game runs smooth as butter and the UI is near flawless. I'd almost go so far as to consider the touch interface almost better than the KB&M/Gamepad. That game really should be the gold standard for UI design and tablet/mobile porting.

X-Mercs kinda made me mad just on general principle. I do actually intend to install it at some point but I'm very frustrated at the idea that they can make money by basically walking in XCOM's footsteps, if not piggy-backing them like a parasite, with some new art assets.
@Cam - Best control your temper as "parasite piggy backing with altered art assets" has been a pandemic for a long time now. Browser games, shooter games, MMO-clones, Street fighter copies, even MOBA's with Shrek (see 300 Heroes).

Maybe X-Mercs has enough difference to let you see past the cloning?

For example I recently got Vermintide which is basically L4D/L4D2 but in a Warhammer setting. The skaven have similar specials to the infected too, yet for all the similarities I kinda prefer Vermintide even though I know it's a near clone. :P
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