The world of The Walking Dead is brutal and tragic, and not just because it's swarming with zombies. Half the survivors are remorseless bandits, and the other half are paranoid and distrustful because of the first half. Everything goes wrong, good people die in agonizing ways, and something horrific and sad waits around seemingly every corner. It's certainly no place for a child—so of course, that's the role Season Two of Telltale's acclaimed adventure series casts you into.
Known simply as XCOM when it was first unveiled in 2010, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is a strange creature. Now on Mac (following a late summer launch on other platforms), the 1960s-set adventure — loosely related to the more strategic XCOM: Enemy Unknown — is at once an attempt to do something new and interesting with the franchise and a bid to capture mainstream success with a focus on action. It doesn't quite succeed at either of these, but it tries hard, and patient players will find that battling an alien invasion during the height of the Cold War can be immensely fun. It just takes a while to get to that point.
Somewhere in 1980s New York lives a hidden community of fairy-tale refugees, called Fables, who fled their homes centuries ago when they were invaded by the monstrous armies of a being called The Adversary. They've been living in the Big Apple since it was New Amsterdam, and in that time their old rivalries and grudges (as well as the stresses of day-to-day city life) have made them more than a little dysfunctional. The only creature tough enough to keep everyone in line (and safe from detection) is the Big Bad Wolf, who walks the streets in human form as Fabletown's sheriff, Bigby Wolf.
Over its last two iterations, the Assassin's Creed series – primarily known for letting players climb on historically significant landmarks and get stabby in different time periods – has increasingly become known for something unexpected: 18th century sailing and naval combat. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, with its focus on Caribbean piracy, embraced wooden ships to the point of making them central to gameplay and plot — and now we have spinoff Assassin's Creed Pirates, which is set entirely aboard them.
Our monthly recap looks back at the games we reviewed during November, with a total of 25 iOS and Mac games presented here in bite-sized, to-the-point encapsulations. And if you want to read more, simply click the link on each slide to read the full, scored critique and find the link to purchase each game. We covered a great array of entries this month, including big-name affairs like Star Wars: Tiny Death Star and Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies — plus Mac add-ons/expansions for BioShock Infinite and XCOM: Enemy Unknown — along with under-the-radar gems like The Shivah and Pathogen.
With Thanksgiving taking over Thursday this week, Apple opted to loosen the floodgates a day early, and we’ve got several intriguing new iOS games to pull you away from mundane family encounters — such as the super charming Icycle: On Thin Ice, the surely absorbing Skulls of the Shogun and Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, and quicker-hit entries like Darklings and Skateboard Slam.
Despite its 3D graphics, physics engine, and any marketing material you may have seen, Touchgrind Skate 2 is not a realistic skateboarding game. For one, there is no rider, only a pair of fingers spectrally guiding a deck through a series of blunt stalls, 50-50 grinds, and kickflips — it’s skateboarding by marionette. If there’s one aspect of Touchgrind Skate 2 that comes across as completely authentic, it’s that skateboarding is difficult and requires practice. Amazingly, that proves a pretty effective hook.
Spec Ops: The Line thrives on colorful, deliberate level design; its self-conscious take on the shooter genre (by way of Apocalypse Now), and its reversal of traditional player incentives. Originally released in June 2012 on other platforms, Spec Ops' recent release on Mac captures every concept from the original for better and worse. It's as well-built a package as any modern AAA shooter — crisp, quick, and brutal — albeit saddled with some stop-and-pop repetition and decrepit multiplayer modes. However, for all the game does well, the Mac port unfortunately limps along with sluggish and inconsistent performance.
Strike Force Heroes: Extraction is a noble – if uneven – attempt to replicate the classic side-scrolling console shooter. Likely due to the complexity of its control scheme, the genre hasn’t often been particularly well served on iOS devices, but Strike Force Heroes (HD iPad version reviewed; also available separately on iPhone) has found a few clever shortcuts. The result is fun to play in short bursts, even if the smoothness of some controls makes some of the weaker spots more glaring.
Running a clandestine agency devoted to fighting diabolical alien invaders is tough, but as XCOM: Enemy Unknown taught us, it gets a lot easier if you can steal things out of the enemy's playbook. And when those things include extreme genetic modifications and hulking robot exoskeletons — two of the biggest features introduced by the Enemy Within expansion — the fight doesn't necessarily get easier, but it does get a lot more interesting.