There’s something odd about Falling Skies: the Game. Unlike most tie-in games, it’s surprisingly not soul-crushingly terrible. There’s a reason for that though – it’s a near-identical clone of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. If you’re going to copy from one of the finest action-strategy games in recent memory, you really have to try to make it worse. Unfortunately, Torus Games seem to have really tried.
This follows the premise of the sci-fi TV series it’s based on – a relatively enjoyable survivalist drama following the 2nd Mass, a scrappy band of resistance fighters, in the wake of the invasion of Earth by the alien Espheni – and wraps it around XCOM’s combat mechanic. Missions play out on grid based maps, the area revealed as you move each unit, represented as an individual character, across it. Enemies taken from the show appear – multi-legged insectoid Skitters, abducted and modified humans, bipedal mechs – and it turns into a turn-based shooting match. Complete some directive, mission over, return to base. Repeat, if not stultifyingly bored.
Although Falling Skies is a shameless copy, its edges are far rougher than its inspiration’s. Enemy AI is pathetic, the camera rarely gives you a clear view of the battlefield no matter how you position it, and environmental detail – bushes, long grass, debris – often obscures where you’re positioning the cursor to direct characters. Playable characters themselves have problems, particularly those taken from the show, such as the group’s leader Tom Mason. Unlike randomly created units (which, borrowing another trick from XCOM can be named and customised by the player), show-accurate members have restricted growth paths as they level up.
Weirdly, Falling Skies even seems to expect its players to be familiar with XCOM. Try to explore its other modes – researching medical or technological upgrades, or sending characters on resource harvesting remote missions – and you’ll receive no explanation of how or why you’d want to do so. Rewards for doing so are minimal at best, at any rate.
The ultimate impression is that of a garage band doing a cover version of a classic song. It sounds roughly the same, they may be proficient enough at performing, but it’s never as good as the original. Falling Skies is a bad cover of XCOM. It’s playable, it’s not terrible, but it’s nowhere near as good.