The best games like XCOM to play right now

The best games like XCOM to play right now

The XCOM franchise is pretty synonymous with turn-based tactics games. It’s a beloved franchise for good reason, and has spawned many, many imitators. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, XCOM is an almost overwhelmingly flattered series.

Here are our staff’s favorite XCOM-likes and where to play them. Some were directly inspired by XCOM; some weren’t. Some are also sci-fi humans-versus-aliens games, while others take the structure and move it to a fantasy realm or an established IP setting. All of them are fun, tactical times, and we hope you find one you’ll dig.

Invisible, Inc.

In Invisible Inc., one spy takes out an opponent while another sneaks up on a security guard Image: Klei Entertainment

Where to play: iOS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC

Invisible, Inc. is a gloriously crisp 2015 tactical stealth game from Klei Entertainment, the Canadian indie studio behind Don’t Starve. It’s a dashing, cartoony cyberpunk heist caper in which a team of augmented agents fly around the globe, stealing things from the high-security facilities of sinister corporations with the support of a powerful hacking AI. Procedurally generated levels and an exquisitely designed network of interconnected rules work together to create dynamic sneaking scenarios that seem to exist on a permanent knife edge of tension; unlike many games in the tactics genre, Invisible, Inc. is impossible to overpower or be overpowered by, and rewards playing with just the right amount of heart-in-mouth risk. In this game, using a gun is a last resort, and remembering to close a door behind you can mean the difference between success and failure. A near-perfect hidden gem of a tactics game. —Oli Welsh

Into the Breach

An eight-by-eight grid where Into the Breach’s battles play out will include flat tiles, cities and water features as well as mountains Image: Subset Games

Where to play: Android, iOS, Mac, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC

Into the Breach is basically Lo-Fi Beats to Tactics To. Whereas games like XCOM go large with expensive production values, Into the Breach is refreshingly minimalist. Your team of just three mechs is tasked with fighting back kaiju-sized insects. You can see the entire battlefield, in all its pixel-art glory, from an isometric view. Every level is randomized, too — a little bit roguelike — so you never fully know what you’re getting into, but you’ll still need to lean on strategic expertise and understanding of your team. Into the Breach is pure tactical bliss distilled to its essence. —Ari Notis


In an image from Xenonauts, a squad gets into position against an alien threat in an urban area Image: Goldhawk Interactive

Where to play: Mac, Windows PC

While XCOM: Enemy Unknown and its sequel are certainly fitting successors to the original 1994 X-COM: UFO Defense, they sacrificed a certain level of complexity for the sake of accessibility. Xenonauts and its sequel (currently in early access) carry the spirit of the original X-COM into the modern era, complete with dense tactical systems and brutal difficulty.

Xenonauts reads like X-COM 1994 with a fresh coat of paint and will feel immediately familiar to fans of the original. While many of the systems from the strategic and tactical layers have been untouched, Xenonauts does introduce some small improvements and quality-of-life features, like a more robust air combat system and a more complex funding system. —Alice Jovanée

Fights in Tight Spaces

Fights In Tight Spaces gameplay, as the protagonist suplexes an opponent Image: Ground Shatter/Mode 7

Where to play: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X

Whereas many XCOM-style games focus on military operations across big battlefields, Fights in Tight Spaces focuses entirely on small-scale encounters. Fights in Tight Spaces pits the player against goons, prisoners, brawlers, and assassins in small environments. I take up the role of Agent 11, and I have to kick ass through a series of bars, mess halls, and other contained spaces. I play cards to duck, dodge, and brawl my way out of each fight, and with each victory, I earn new cards. This turn-based deck-building game excels at making these small situations stressful, and it takes a tactical mind to play your cards right and John Wick your way out of each scuffle. —Cass Marshall

Marvel’s Midnight Suns

An in-game screenshot of Marvel’s midnight suns, showing four heroes on the game’s battlefield — a downtown New York intersection with damaged vehicles and debris blocking the road Image: Firaxis Games/2K Games

Where to play: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X

Marvel’s Midnight Suns could’ve easily just been XCOM with a superhero paint job (Spandexcom, if you will). But it’s so much more. Literally made by the people who made XCOM, Marvel’s Midnight Suns ostensibly features XCOM-style tactics gameplay. That’s merely the vehicle for a deck-building metagame that allows you to further customize your roster’s (awesome) powers. And while an absence of permadeath minimizes the combat tension you’d get in XCOM, it allows room for one of the most compelling Marvel stories in years. Midnight Suns underperformed at launch, but if any tactics game deserves a second lease on life, it’s this one. —AN

Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus

A shot from Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus 2, showing the active war map over a Necron tomb war, with battles playing out between Necrons and Adeptus Mechanicus. Image: Bulwark Studios/Kasedo Games

Where to play: Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox One

My personal favorite faction of the 40K universe finally got its due with Warhammer 40K: Mechanicus. Centered around the tech-obsessed Adeptus Mechanicus, you’ll command a cadre of Tech-Priests outfitted with forgotten and occasionally heretical technology, scouring Necron tombs for knowledge and loot.

While some elements are borrowed from other popular turn-based strategy titles, Mechanicus still manages to bring some interesting wrinkles to the genre and gets high marks for its score and sound design. It also has the added benefit of being available on multiple platforms. —AJ

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars

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Where to play: Nintendo 3DS

When searching for a good XCOM-like, why not go to the source? Original X-COM designer Julian Gollop produced this spinoff of the Ghost Recon tactical shooter series for Ubisoft, delivering a smartly designed isometric strategy game with the Tom Clancy brand’s modern military styling.

Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars’ campaign sends players to Eastern Europe and Russia, where they must survey battlefields, carefully move and position their six-person squad, and engage in turn-based skirmishes where one wrong move can spell disaster. You know, real XCOM stuff. Shadow Wars is challenging and sometimes grueling — missions can take upward of 45 minutes each — but the game features a smooth learning curve and difficulty options for players who prefer not to struggle.

Originally released in 2011 as a Nintendo 3DS launch title, your best option for securing a copy of Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is secondhand (now that the 3DS eShop is closed) on places like eBay where loose cartridges go for $10 or less. —Michael McWhertor

The Banner Saga

Warriors on tiles in The Banner Saga Image: Stoic/Versus Evil

Where to play: Android, iOS, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox One

The Banner Saga is a trilogy of titles that plays like a mix of XCOM and Oregon Trail with the narrative style of the Mass Effect trilogy. Set against a backdrop of Norse mythology, The Banner Saga has you leading a band of warriors and refugees attempting to survive Armageddon, forcing you to frequently choose between empathy or pragmatism. The trilogy is full of meaningful tactical and narrative choices that carry over from one game to the next and can have a profound impact on your characters or how story beats progress.

The Banner Saga features beautifully hand-drawn characters, animations, and environments that highlight the remarkable level of passion that went into this title. The game also includes a score by the incomparable Austin Wintory, the composer responsible for the soundtracks to Journey, Abzu, and other excellent works. —AJ


Combat from the game Capes, showing a character using Chain Lightning on a bunch of opponents Image: Spitfire Interactive/Daedalic Entertainment

Where to play: Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X

A superhero variant on the XCOM formula, Capes is a relatively new release (May 2024) and puts you in control of a team of superpower crime fighters looking to take on the nefarious Company, which is imprisoning superpowered individuals and experimenting on them. It has fun character design and mechanics that encourage repeated use of powers in combat and unique play patterns for each of the heroes.

Some caveats: The writing is intentionally hokey, which I feel matches the expressive art style, but might be a turnoff to some players. And the stages lack the tactical depth of many of the other games on this list, sometimes lacking multiple solutions and forcing you to retry the same stage until you figure out the right path. But I’ve still had a fun time. If, like me, you have fond memories of Freedom Force but wish it played like a more modern tactics game, this one’s for you. —Pete Volk

Fallout Tactics

Combat in Fallout Tactics, as one character yells “Would someone please kill this waste of flesh!” Image: Micro Forté, 14° East/Bethesda Softworks

Where to play: Windows PC

Published in 2001, Fallout Tactics is the only game of its kind in the history of the franchise. It’s a combat-focused title, but with a surprisingly meaty narrative that plays out over 22 distinct missions that can be experienced in a variable order. It also features full voice-over, including a substantial role by the late R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket).

Rendered from the classic isometric perspective, it features three different game modes, including an odd hybrid real-time setting that I’m not particularly fond of. But the most authentic way to play, called Individual Turn-Based, is the most reminiscent of the original Fallout games, Fallout (1997) and Fallout 2 (1998). Basically, it takes the gritty combat of the original CRPGs and blows it out into its own version of XCOM. You can even move and fight from inside vehicles.

Fallout Tactics polishes off a lot of the rough edges found in the combat from the first two games, while also introducing a few more of its own devising. Line of sight, in particular, can be a bit hard to suss out at times. I actually prefer its combat to later interpretations of the formula, including Wasteland 2. But the real reason that it’s on my personal all-time-favorites list is that it’s the only entry in the series that takes place in the Midwest, allowing you to blaze a trail from Springfield, Illinois, to Kansas City, Missouri, and beyond to the West Coast.

Does Fallout Tactics play in Peoria? You bet your ass it does. Just watch out for the radscorpions. —Charlie Hall

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

In this screenshot from Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Mario is aiming an arm cannon gun and shooting at a nearby rabbid with face paint. Both Mario and the Rabbid are standing next to waist-high blocks that they’re using as cover. An objective in the up Image: Ubisoft Paris, Ubisoft Milan/Ubisoft

Where to play: Nintendo Switch

If you’re looking for a cutesier, simpler, easier XCOM-like, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is a great place to start. Players use a variety of Mario and Rabbids characters as pawns on preset stages filled with enemies and obstacles.

Each turn, you can boost up your pawns with special powers that heal, hurt, or move your own pawn and others nearby. The pawns also move a set number of spaces in a set pattern each turn, just like chess (or XCOM) — that means it’s just as satisfying when you check an enemy off the stage, bounce off your other pawns to traverse the board in one move, or make it to the goalposts on the other side safely.

Mario + Rabbids games are certainly easier than your average level of XCOM, but that’s not to say they aren’t challenging at times. I’ve gotten well stuck on a few different levels, which is humbling considering these games are technically for kids — which brings me to maybe the best part of these games, which is how adorable and fun the cinematics are.

Watching a Rabbid version of Luigi fly across the board and cartoonishly bonk your enemy on the head is massively engaging, and the sounds are just as enjoyable. It’s practically designed for parents to play with their kids (I say, childless). The stages are reminiscent of 3D Super Mario levels, piquing my nostalgia, but with plenty of new elements that make it exciting to see each stage unveiled.

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope, the sequel to Kingdom Battle, is reportedly just as excellent, with a few tweaks that make the gameplay even more engaging. —Zoë Hannah