X-Mercs – top-down tactics on the go

X-Mercs-gameplay-1

Inspired by the top-down tactical strategy games of years old, X-Mercs is another entry in the world of mobile free-to-play games. Being a veteran player of X-Com myself, of which the game takes loose inspiration from, I was interested to see what the game boasted. I should add for context, this review takes place over several hours of gameplay, but not so much late game content accessed by players who’ve spent more time with it. Instead, I’ll be forking into the functional elements of the game and reviewing what’s good and bad.

Players:
1-2 (Campaign and PvP)
Multiplayer: Yes
AI: Yes
Universal App: Yes
Purchase for iPhone:  See link below
Purchase for iPad:

Gameplay

X-Mercs gameplay screen

Top-down tactical strategy sounds complex, and so is its deployment. It’s a genre that can be found on modern and old games, whereby the player generally controls a variety of units and uses the surrounding level to dispense their plans. Mostly, it’s combat-centric, and in some cases it’s turn-based wherein others it’s real-time. X-Mercs takes the former, and it’s this I’ll be discussing a lot in the review.

To start us off, after a pretty visually impressive cinematic, I’m introduced to the world of X-Mercs and pulled into a tutorial. For veterans most of the info might feel redundant, but for new players or those who’ve never touched the genre, this is a useful first step. That’s because this game has a lot going on, which I was glad to see. In terms of actual gameplay, multiple factors have to be considered to reach success. And, as you pull further into the meat of the game, the base management system also needs to be understood for player to effectively utilize all their resources and such.

The gameplay itself is top-down (think bird’s eye view) where the player controls a group of units with an objective for the level. The objective might be something like kill x units or reach area x, and the units they have are themselves different classes. From what I saw, scout, heavy, and sniper were initially available.

With these units and an objective, the player must accomplish the mission but do so strategically. Within the game, classes have different specialties and traits. A heavy uses a shotgun with lots of health, and hence excels at close range. A scout is great at, you guessed it, scouting. A sniper, while frail, can do crazy damage from a distance. Knowing all this, player’s must utilize cover and positioning to be effective, while simultaneously using the respective class advantages.

For example, if your unit is behind a wall and not directly in enemy line-of-fire, they’ll have better defense. While the tutorial doesn’t put you in any unwinnable danger, understanding the necessity of positions and unit specialties is key for future, harder missions. So, while early in I’m just going through the motions, as things progressed in game I was definitely challenged to think more about where I put who. Do I put the sniper in cover this turn, or just take a shot?

X-Mercs character selection screen

I should mention that’s important, because lastly there’s action points. A soldier can only perform so many “actions” per turn, like moving, shooting, healing, and so on. If I move the heavy, and he doesn’t have an ability to counteract this, he has no action points remaining. Oh yes, and abilities. As you progress further in the game, your soldiers rank up, as do things like upgrades and gear, giving you more options on the battlefield. While I won’t delve into every bit of detail, but all this adds nice layers of complexity for the late game (and eventually PvP I assume for others).

Plenty more goes into it, and I have only managed to put in several hours into the game, but there’s a second layer as well. I mentioned base management, which is another aspect to your missions. At the main base screen, players have options ranging from science, medical, and engineering. All these open up for things such as better weapons or supplies for battle. You also have barracks, to hire more soldiers, and a place upgrade their skills. There’s a carnival of skill trees and upgrade options in all these systems, so learning that too was important.

X-Mercs skill trees

Now, there were of course limiting factors. The game is free to play, so like most it runs on resources like currency, premium currency (stuff you get with real money), in-game resources for upgrades, and so on. This isn’t unexpected, and generally players can deal with this if they have say, an expansive list of Facebook friends. If you’re not one of those folks though, you might be slowed down on parts of the game. I will say though, this game has no energy system, so you’re free to actually play the game, just not progress as fast if you don’t have a network of gaming friends.

Implementation

With such a heavy system to manage and ambitious combat structure, how does the whole game hold up? Pretty darn well, I found. Again, the game style takes inspiration from X-Com, which is a tough act to follow, but the gameplay here is solid and functional. There’s lots of tactical options, and while the early levels weren’t gigantic by any means, you still had to think about what you were doing. That’s important for any strategy oriented game, and I’m glad the functionality felt hands on. Nothing seemed “cheap” or like it was taking a shortcut, it all had some thought put into it.

Visually the game’s solid too. While yes, your main soldiers don’t look much more than a standard space marine or such in power armor, the graphics are colorful, clean, and engaging. Enemies will range from mutated monsters to enemy soldiers, and they have plenty of variety on their own. Mutants are especially interesting, and offer particular challenges with their own abilities, versus a generic cavalry of monsters. Heck, even base management was nice and active, with your workers going about things to give you a sense of functionality.

X-Mercs gameplay screenshot

Audio is also great. Sound effects feel chunky for weapons and soldier voices aren’t phoned in. I noticed a refreshing lack of stock sounds and music is serviceable, though is sometimes silent during missions. Nothing wrong with that, but we all like to slay monsters to good battle tunes, I feel.

Final Thoughts

X-Mercs is a decent entry in the field mobile games hosting solid graphics, entertaining gameplay, strategic depth, and overall feels pretty fun. If you don’t feel like shelling out for titles like X-Com or just prefer mobile games, this is a great choice, one that the dedicated player can get dozens of hours of enjoyment from.

 

7.9

Good Things

  • Free to play
  • Good, engaging gameplay with tactical depth and base management options
  • Graphics are vibrant
  • No energy system so players can keep playing
  • Lots of late game options, such as PvP

Bad Things

  • Still has a resource system which may be limiting for some players
  • Tutorial may feel too long for experienced players

The Breakdown


Gameplay
8
Interface
8
Artwork
8
Features
7.5



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