XCOM: Enemy Unknown Mac Review

by | Apr 26, 2013 | Strategy

XCOM: Enemy Unknown developed by 2K Games and published for the Mac by Feral Interactive is the long-awaited reboot of the critically acclaimed sci-fi turn-based strategy game, XCOM: UFO Defense. Luckily this isn’t any old version released on our fine platform, it is the Elite Edition.

Update: If you have a high-end machine, the newer XCOM 2 should a better alternative for you.

The Elite Edition includes the base game and all previously released DLC: two extra content packs, the game’s soundtrack and a selection of desktop backgrounds and ringtones. Feral certainly make sure you get plenty of bang for the buck.

Enter XCOM: Enemy Unknown

You play as the commander of an elite military organization known as Xcom (Extraterrestrial Combat Unit). As commander, you control your squad(s) in turn-based combat missions against alien enemies. Between missions, you direct the organization’s research and engineering divisions in creating new technologies and improving XCOM’s base of operations. You also manage the organization’s finances all in the name of war. You are also able to upgrade your arsenal by finding artifacts within the different locations that you visit. This really gives you a focus on each level other than just surviving.

The more artifacts you recover the more you can upgrade your squad with the latest high tech equipment to help you take the fight to the aliens. As the commander, you guide your squad through turn-based combat mission across the globe. The gameplay is tight and responsive but it takes time to get used to the mechanics, how they work and what they mean.

For the first few hours of the game, I constantly kept my squad moving instead of hunkering down or setting my sniper to overwatch mode when I knew I had the upper hand. This comes from me being new to strategy games but I soon learned my lesson when I lost two soldiers in quick succession due to my trying to rush. I cannot stress enough to you about using cover effectively in this game.

The longer the game goes on the less you want to hide behind a car or a park bench as your easy pickings as the AI gets more intuitive. You will find that you have moved into an area without adequate cover and all you can find is say a trash can to hide behind and find yourself praying to the Xcom gods that you are just about in enough cover to make it difficult for alien(s) to hit you. It’s a great way of building tension, especially if it’s a character you have invested a lot of time and resources into.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Mac games

By mentioning resources I mean XCOM allows you to fully customize each character within your squad adding some RPG type elements into the mix, such as name changes, load outs, and character skins. This makes you really care your squad mates. I know it sounds sad but you’ll find yourself restarting missions if your character with your best friends name dies. Trust me. Resources can, however, be taken away from you if you chose to neglect certain country’s cries for help. Basically, your actions have consequences. If you neglect country’s enough they will pull their funding and you’re left with less currency coming to spend on research and upgrades. It really is a fine balancing act between doing what’s right and what is fair.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Mac games

Cutscenes play there part without ever being spectacular, some of the voice actings leave a lot to be desired but they do their job in flushing out the story and characters for you. Xcom offers masses of replay-ability much in the way that StarCraft does by being able to play through the game again using different tactics whilst playing at higher difficulty levels. This really is the testing ground before you decide to pit your wits against your friends in multiplayer.


The game is aesthetically pleasing with its stylised but bright art style. The sound design is of top quality also, each weapon has its own distinctive sound which makes it seem unique. Music in the game is very subtle but is forever present in everything you do. At times it can really add to the tension levels.

The character models are fantastic, especially the aliens. I personally enjoy the classic Sectoid & Thin Men just due to their creepy look and awesome animations. In fairness though all the character models and animations sequences are well designed across the board. The UI and options menu(s) are slick and easy to navigate. It’s nice to see them in-game and not in a pre-launch menu like with Arkham City.


The multiplayer aspect of the game is solid but never spectacular I can’t help but think Game Centre MP would have been a better option as appose to Game Ranger which is used here. I say this because Game Ranger does not currently support Xcom for the PC and why should it when Steam would be the preferred option for PC players, right?

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Mac games

You can still play multiplayer on your local LAN or set up a V-LAN to play with a distant friend. If you do plan to purchase the game via the App Store you will need to install an enabler utility to allow you to use the Game Ranger matchmaking service. This is easy enough to find on Feral’s website or the Xcom FAQ page. If you purchase from other digital stores or the Feral store you need not worry.


The game has been optimized beautifully for the Mac platform, allowing for lower end machines running only a 256MB card to run the game at a smooth frame rate. I played the game at 1080p with everything set to high on my Mid 2011 iMac running an AMD Radeon HD 6750M and didn’t experience any issues. Feral, really are becoming masters at optimizing games for OSX. Now as always Feral have done an outstanding job supporting the game with a selection of gamepads but the only way to play this game is the traditional way with a keyboard and mouse.

Minimum Requirements:

  • OS X 10.7.5
  •  2.0Ghz CPU
  •  4GB RAM
  •  256MB GPU
  •  15GB HDD available storage

My 2011 iMac:

  • OS X 10.8.3
  • Intel i5 Quad Core 2.5GHz
  • AMD Radeon HD 6750M (512MB)
  • 16GB RAM
  •  1920 x 1080 resolution

The Verdict

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Mac games

The Good

  • Replay-ability
  • Engaging gameplay
  • Your decisions matter

The Bad

  • Difficult to control at times
  • Very difficult for players new to strategy games

Final Word

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is not for the faint of heart. You WILL get your ass handed to you time and time again, but this is all part of its charm. This is a must own for anyone who fancies themselves as a master strategist. Take your time whilst playing this game and become immersed in this conflict between man and alien. Make this your experience by tailoring the game you to your play style. Good luck Commanders.

Mac and PC players may be better off playing XCOM 2 these days, but XCOM is now an excellent choice on iOS and Android!

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  1. D

    It would be nice if you wrote a bit about why you think the controls are bad.

    • Mark Gregory

      D, it was just a minor gripe, not something I felt worthy of putting in the review as this is a great game. The controls are never fully explained to you in the tutorials.

      • Phil

        I played this on the pc first, and I feel like the intro mission explained everything well enough… There was a bit of trial and error, but I like it when a game treats me like I have enough brain cells to intuit certain things.
        I’m waiting for this to go down in price before I mac-buy it, but I plan to eventually.

        • Mark Gregory

          I agree, Phil. A lot of error and my behalf :-). Thanks for the comment.

          • Phil

            Don’t get me wrong, it’s easily one of the most unforgiving games I’ve played since Zork. Especially when you are reloading until you do well, I’m sure it autocorrects the difficulty based on how well you perform. I just recently had to reload back to like the second mission because three countries left the project. And that faceless guy was disappointed in me. That’s the part that hurts the most.

  2. anon

    Er, it’s not a reboot of Apocalypse, that game was crap. It’s a reboot of X-Com:UFO Defense (US Title. UK Title: UFO:Enemy Unknown), one of the best computer games of all time. Just saying.

    • Mac Gamer Ric

      Right you are, thanks for the heads up. It is now corrected.

  3. Th3taJ

    This is currently one of my favorite RTS games on the Mac so I really enjoyed reading the review.

    I have a question: Is The Bureau XCOM: Declassified related to this series? I know they came out at the same time, but their gameplay is just so different and they appear to take place in two completely different timelines. I want to know since it’s been released for OS X.

    If there is a relationship I’ll have to play that one too!

    • Mac Gamer Ric

      Well, it takes place in the same universe but it was developed by another studio and the gameplay is more like Specs Ops The Line than the original XCOMs. Honestly the reviews are not that positive so unless you LOVE the XCOM universe, pick Spec Ops instead or Tomb Raider if you’re looking for a third person adventure game fix!

      • Th3taJ

        Okay. I mean, I’d like to try it either way so long as it’s related, though I’m not a huge fan of shooters. I’ll have to wait until Mac Gamer HQ reviews it I guess. 😛

        • Mac Gamer Ric

          My to-do list is way to long… Unless you know some good reviewers that play on Macs? 😉

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