From Angry Birds to Infinity Blade: Is iOS good enough for hardcore gaming?
Without a hint of doubt, thanks to the global rise of smartphones, portable gaming has taken a massive turn towards the casual market. Games like Angry Birds or Cut The Rope are insanely popular, proving that these simple yet addictive time killers are perfectly suited for gaming on the go.
The short pick-up and play nature of these games is designed to yield almost immediate rewards to the player, but what about those longer commutes when we have extra bit of time to invest? Can hardcore games be enjoyed on our phones and tablets, or is this strictly a dedicated console territory? Well…Let’s find out!
The easiest way of describing it would be saying it’s the Gran Turismo for iOS. This title was released back in 2011 yet it still manages to outshine virtually every competitor in the App Store. The game saw numerous updates since its release so it runs and looks especially nice on the latest generation iOS hardware (tested on iPhone 4S). Players are offered a surprising amount of flexibility to customize the controls, and various assists can be enabled or disabled to make Real Racing 2 slightly more realistic. With plenty of championships and tracks to complete, there’s also the option of online multi-player to dive into. If you had to choose just one racer for your iOS mobile device, Real Racing 2 should be your top pick.
What makes Dead Space for iOS such a technical and noteworthy achievement is that it manages to successfully replicate the frantic yet at the same time methodical limb-cutting of the original survival horror game on consoles and PC. The reason why it works so well with touch controls is closely related to the style of combat in Dead Space. You don’t have to move and shoot at the same time – instead, the player in most cases sticks to a single defensive position and deals with crowd control from there. There’re a lot of elements in the game that fans of Dead Space games should be familiar with – mining weapons like the signature plasma cutter as well everybody’s favourite necropmorhps make a welcome return here. But above all, Dead Space on iOS stands out with a hauntingly effective sound design that manages to deliver some legitimate scares along the journey, especially if you play with your headphones plugged in.
When a long awaited sequel to one of the most critically acclaimed iOS games comes out, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that the production values will go through the roof. Even so, Infinity Blade 2 is poised to leave you nothing short but impressed, provided, you have the latest gen hardware to run it on. While it could easily be just a visually stunning tech demo, Infinity Blade 2 goes above and beyond to capture the player with an engaging, adrenaline infused gameplay that is based on interesting and very appropriate touch-screen mechanics. Think Fruit Ninja, where the played also has to dodge and parry enemy attacks. Mix in some traditional RPG elements like loot drops and XP grinding, and you’ll get a game with a ton of replay value. This is touchscreen gaming at its finest.
Originally released for SNES in 1995, Chrono Trigger has since become a shining example of JRPG’s. While this masterpiece by Square (now Square Enix) has seen a re-release on Sony PlayStation 1 and subsequently on Nintendo DS, chances are that Chrono Trigger went under the radar for many younger generations of gamers. Well, those excuses should be no more – Chrono Trigger on iOS is a very solid and fully functional port of the original ready to be enjoyed on the go. Thankfully, the addition of touch-screen controls doesn’t take focus away from enjoying the immersive storyline, the charming 16-bit graphics and memorable music that this timeless classic has to offer to genre’s veterans and newcomers alike.
While still staying on the topic of classics, I think this granddaddy of all FPS games also deserves some attention. True, first person shooters is a genre that doesn’t quite mix with touchscreen devices. Luckily, the winning formula of Doom – almost 20 years since the game’s first appearance on PC – is extremely straightforward. After a bit of tweaking, you can make the virtual controls quite playable – left thumb controls the movement while the direction of the camera is handled with the right thumb – as you’d expect. The only other thing left to worry about is when to pull the trigger on the next sprite-based baddie hiding around the corner. Smooth and extremely satisfying, this game is bound to bring many nostalgic moments to the hearts of veteran FPS gamers.
Some games can be truly explained only as an experience, and to break them down into individual components would mean a disservice to the game. Sword & Sworcery is exactly that kind of game (and yes, it’s spelled “Sworcery”). It’s not just the visual representation or gameplay that makes this game so special. To truly appreciate its underlying magic, you have to breathe it in as a whole. The game connects with the player on so many different levels – the moments when the award winning soundtrack kicks in, the witty character dialogue, the clever use of touchscreen – these are just some of the reasons why Swords and Sworcery shouldn’t be missed by anyone looking for a truly exquisite iOS gaming experience.
Another lengthy title that just begs to be included in this list. Down to its core formula, Galaxy on Fire 2 is an expansive space sim that is very reminiscent to a PC cult classic ‘Freelancer’. While the plot is somewhat weak in comparison, the gameplay and controls are top notch, and you can literally lose hours just trading, mining and doing various other side-quests across numerous different solar systems. The HD version of the game also sports extra nice visuals catered towards the beefier iOS devices like the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S.
Arguments can be made that some in-depth titles are just not cut to work on touchscreen-only devices. True, it’s definitely not the best way to enjoy this classic that brought an entirely new meaning to freedom in 3D games. But the fact alone that this revolutionary game can now be played and enjoyed on our mobile phones is an astonishing feat nevertheless. You get pretty much the whole package with GTA3 – the spawning city, the ensuing mayhem, the hilarious radio station commercials. Despite its obvious issues with controls, for mere 3 pounds, I think this one is a steal.
So while this list is far from being comprehensive, I hope it illustrates well enough that iOS has a pretty diverse selection of in-depth titles on offer. From racing games to RPGs and shooters, all popular genres seem to be represented to a certain extent among the more hardcore iOS titles.
A curios trend for these hardcore titles is the growing number of ports. As iOS popularity grows among game developers, will we see even more notable ports coming to this platform? Since many game solely on their mobile devices, this is a prime opportunity to introduce wider audience to the older generation of games.
The list also shows that quality wise iOS games have made a massive leap forward, coming relatively close to the dedicated gaming handhelds. How long will it take for our phones to match the graphical prowess of the latest handheld consoles like the PlayStation Vita? With quad-core smartphones and tablets ready to hit the market, perhaps this is no longer a question of years, like it was the case with DS or PSP portable gaming consoles.
With quality steadily improving, the costs is another obvious reason why mobile games are so successful. Most titles we looked at can be purchased for less than 5 pounds, which is an incredible value for games that are 5-10 hours long. There are also some great bargains to be had during the frequent App Store sales, where games like GTA3 can be downloaded for as little as 1 pound. That is sweet impulse buy territory right there.
The biggest stumbling point of iOS as a serious gaming platform remains, of course, the lack of physical controls. Ignoring the silly 3rd party gaming peripherals for a moment, can there truly be a way around this? Instead of slapping as many virtual buttons on the screen as possible, some developers are smartly focusing on exploiting the unique strengths of the platform. Chair Entertainment in particular, the developers behind Infinity Blade games, has shown that an in-depth experience can be successfully built around the clever use of touch screen – an area where iOS as a gaming platform has always been the strongest.
The bottom line: while I don’t think iOS can quite match the in-depth experiences found on dedicated handheld consoles, I also think smartphone gaming in general is competent enough to compete at a level where only the most die-hard gamers will have complaints.
Do you think iOS can prosper a serious portable gaming platform? Or is it, perhaps, doomed to breed only casual titles? Let us know in the comments section!