XCOM’s history goes back to the 80’s. Enemy Unknown restarted the series, appearing first on PC and console, and later porting to Android. XCom Enemy Within followed as a standalone expansion. You lead an international defense group waging war against invading aliens in randomly generated turn-based battles. It’s been lauded for a deep resource and soldier management system. XCOM’s 30-plus hour campaign gives you plenty to sink your teeth into.
Build facilities, research new tech, sell alien artifacts, and upgrade your aerial fleet if you want to survive. The individual battles use the four unique classes of promotable soldier to flank, hop from cover to cover, and take the high-ground.
When your soldiers die because you made the wrong call, you might feel like you’ve lost a friend. There’s no way to recover them. If the aliens win, it’s game over, man; game over. Don’t we love when deaths actually have meaning in games?
The best aspect of XCOM has to be the touch controls, and it’s rare we can say that. It’s probably one of the only titles where the touchscreen translation may actually improve over the computer controls. Highly regarded by HD editors and the gaming community at large, XCOM Enemy Unknown is a must-own for Android, and Enemy Within is a must-play for XCOM fans. The downside is that Enemy Within bumped Enemy Unknown off the Google Play Store, so you’ll need an apk if you want to try it.
If Don Bluth made games, they might look something like The Banner Saga. The beautiful hand-drawn style makes you feel like you’re playing a classic film. The sound matches the art in quality and melancholic tone. Its morally ambiguous choices are applied to an Oregon Trail-like travel system, and the medieval Norse fantasy traveling party is as dark as you’d expect.
The grid based combat system forces you to focus on strategy. The easiest comparison is probably Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem. It’s all about party management and troop positioning. It’s also different from other games of its ilk in that character hit points or health and attack power are the same stat: Strength. When you suffer a hit, your ability to retaliate suffers.
In The Banner Saga, the auto-saves can be harsh as your characters die, but life in the Nordic wastes is hard and unforgiving. The story’s ability to convey that Norse gloom stands out as a unique strength of The Banner Saga. If you like your games with an artistic slant, or have a special place in your heart for classic Disney, the Banner Saga is definitely worth a play through. One of the best android strategy games ever crafted.
Another PC port, the original Frozen Synapse offered a bright clean minimal style that may have been a result of a strapped budget, but the strategy doesn’t suffer for it. It’s all about the complexity of the paths you set for your units; you’re not limited to simply releasing your soldiers to plod straight along whatever narrow path is allotted them. You strafe, duck, use cover, and set waypoints for turns. The strategy gets even more intense when you go head to head against other real players.
This is the perfect game to pick up if you feel like truly conquering an environment. Prime’s graphics upgrade over the original Frozen Synapse increase the destruction you can wreak on the battlefield, adding new particle effects and character models. Though preferences vary for the visuals of the two Frozen Synapse games, both offer involved strategy and challenging game play.
This unforgiving strategy rogue-like game opens with 18 character classes to choose from. The unusual variety provides the basis for unique interactions with the randomly generated map. Each one has different abilities and units, and needs different resources for their specials; from herbs for the Druid to human sacrifices for the Demonologist. Battles play out automatically, and are determined by the setup, type, and number of your troops, be they lowly spearmen or an immortal phoenix.
The myriad of characters in combination with the random map generation and encounters gives plenty of reasons to play Conquest of Elysium 3, though it’s definitely a better experience on phablets and tablets, since the larger screen helps with all the small touch options, it’s a great game no matter how you get your hands on it.
Classic tower defense at its finest. Kingdom Rush looks and plays great. It takes the standard tower defense model and gives players a branching tower upgrade tree to combat varied enemy types. KR also has a variety of specials, reinforcement abilities and a hero unit that let you take on incoming bad guys with a mixed bag of tricks, applying different strategies to different situations.
The colorful cartoon art style does well by the strategy and fits the audience. The clean animations are cute without being kiddie, and full of little detail flourishes that make the maps pop. Kingdom Rush is one of those games that may not strive to do anything crazy unexpected, but what it does do, it does right. If you’re looking for a tower defense game with that bright flair, this is the one.
An embattled Baghdad is the setting for Anomaly: Warzone Earth, the hardcore tower defense game that turns the genre on its head: You are the one doing the attacking. The objectives change through the 15 levels, but in each one you need to plan a route for your troops through a series of hazards. Careful use of the four different specials will help your troops survive the barrage of fire from turrets along their path to victory.
The change from defender to attacker affects every aspect of gameplay. Instead of upgrading towers, you upgrade troops and even the route. Keep in mind this is an active-play type of game – the upgrades are made on the fly in the midst of battle. But that action is just one part of what makes this strategy one worth playing.
Myth Defense 2 is a tower defense where you get to play as the bad guys with zero irony. Specialized towers are the tool you use to dominate the stylized but interesting terrain elements. Swamps, walls, winding roads and multiple locations to defend add more strategy to the tower defense formula. Eventually you unlock the ability to randomly generate stages, which adds replay value exponentially.
War of the Zombie started out great and has gotten even better. In my first review I called it acombination of Plague and The Last Guy. Unlike in Plague, your objective as director of Safe Industries PMC is to wipe out the infection, as opposed to spreading it. Gameplay alternates between top-down action missions and strategic resource management, in this case a double-hulled aircraft carrier and any forward operating bases. Rescuing people during missions and hiring them to Safe builds your staff. Level your marines’ stats with advisors’ help, buy air support for missions, build labs and assign scientists to develop tech, and employ diplomats to keep the natives happy. Did I mention there’s no in game store at all?
WotZ had more than enough content to form addictive habits at launch, and ongoing developer support has been impressive. Van Der Veer Games added more vehicles, weapons, ARK defenses, covert relations, air support, and even a new gameplay element, dungeons, in the form of underground bases. They show love to their fans with quick responses to errors and the occasional code blast for in-game cash on their Facebook fan page. War of the Zombie gets more addictive as you play, scratching the real-time strategy, action, and zombie itches all at the same time. If you’re into zombies and strategy games, this is a great choice.
Dark Star takes place on Xenon, where you continue your battle against hostile aliens. Your Commander droid is ever-faithful, and you wouldn’t make it through all 26 levels, let alone on the hardest of the four difficulties without it, and without upgrading it. My only complaint with Sentinel 4 Dark Star is that the changes and additions over the last game were minor. Extensions to the Commander tree and addition and expansion of currencies is great, but Sentinel doesn’t innovate much from the standard tower defense formula. But hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The Rebuild series by Sarah Northway has you pushing back the undead horde by reclaiming the abandoned and infested city one building at a time. Think an older SimCity full of cranky Sims you have to feed and keep happy, surrounded by roving bands of zombies and other survivors. Rebuild’s third installment features added character skills, professions, buildings and weapons, all done up in a shiny new art style.
The kooky competing factions keep you on your toes, offering comradery, trade, or becoming a massive pain in your ass. Sometimes they can be all three at once. It’s all about the random events, and your decisions. Do you give the Luddites help when they ask, at the cost of their own stores? If you don’t your reputation with them might slip. Do you let the injured stranger stay the night? If you do, he might turn while the camp is asleep. Increase the size of your zombie fort until you’re wall to wall with your nearest neighbors, and is still fun in the endgame, after you have leveled up your community members to full strength and maxed out their skills.
You play as a lone astronaut that wakes from cryosleep to find you’re lost in the great beyond. The universe stretches before you. Out There is brutal and unforgiving. So much so that they warn you “This game is hard,” on the Google Play page. It’s just you and your spaceship against a vast random map where you need to gather resources just to survive. Hop from solar system to solar system and ship to ship, balancing the hunt for necessities with the losses you take collecting them. The styling is definitely hard comic, and the story is told mostly through illustrations as opposed to cut scenes. The comparison to FTL (Faster than Light) is there, but unlike that space-rougelike, you won’t be duking it out in dogfights with the aliens you encounter. There’s no space combat, because the universe itself is your enemy. You play at the mercy of circumstance. Be warned.
If flowers had a war, it would be called Eufloria. The game is one of art, beauty and patience. You control an army of seedlings that you use to dominate asteroid worlds one by one. While the visual and musical styling set it apart from others of its type, at its heart it’s still basically a tower defense game. Instead of little bipedal soldiers with guns or grenades, or the typical space fighter with bombs or cloaking, you have a variety of “trees” that produce seedlings with different abilities. Instead of bases, you have asteroids. The soft, simple art and audio elevates it above other games that rely on tired medieval fantasy or space sci-fi settings. Eufloria rewards patience as an integral part of the strategy.
Another game with a beautiful art style, this time like an unfurled map. Autumn Dynasty’s spin on the traditional takes it to the Far East in the feudal era. Think carefully about the placement of your squads of soldiers, because location and counteracting one unit with another can make the difference between a win and defeat. For instance, Cavalry can fire the fields to scatter pikemen, but pikemen in hedgehog formation are immune to archers. There are only five kinds of units, but their relations keep the game interesting.
Autumn Dynasty also has a unique command interface that actually takes advantage of the touch screen in a way that wouldn’t be quite as authentic if it were a PC or console game. You use calligraphy to direct your forces, swiping directly on the map. With a campaign, skirmish mode and online multiplayer there’s plenty to keep you busy in Autumn Dynasty.
This one takes a different tack on strategy altogether; as there is no combat at all. Your objective in Plague. is to Inca disease and kill the entire planet. There’s some niggles with the in-game store that put this at the bottom of the list – if you decide to spend a few bucks it makes it vastly easier to win – but it’s still a solid title.
Pick a country and a barely dangerous or infectious disease type and a starting location on the world map. Use DNA points rewarded by infecting your first people to design symptoms based on what you want your disease to do. Want to make yourself more infectious? Consider adding a new symptom, like sneezing. People eventually catch on and will try to cure themselves, so maybe you want to make your disease tougher; resistant to airplane or ship filtration. In any case it’s a dark game, with the possibility of long periods of downtime depending on what kind of disease you’re playing. Still, it’s interesting enough to warrant trying for at least one complete annihilation of the Android human race.
15. Civilization Revolution
Explore, expand, exploit and exterminate in this continuation of the classic series. It is a slightly different experience than on PC. Choose one of the three paths to victory; technological, economic or cultural. You don’t have to go splattering your foes unless you really want to or unless they ask for it, which they often do.
Civilization Revolution 2 takes the mobile translation a step further, with shiny new graphics and a new touch interface. Sometimes these seem like upgrades, and sometimes these changes seem like a further simplification or dumbing down of the legendary Sid Meier Series. If you’ve never played a Civilization game, however, Civilization Revolution 2 is a great place to start.