Want some great games for your iPhone 4S? That A5 microprocessor of the iPhone 4S is the same chip that’s used to power the iPad 2. At twice the speed and with seven times the graphics power compared to the iPhone 4’s A4, there’s a lot of resource room. Developers can now make games - real games - to compete with the likes of the Nintendo 3DS and Sony’s upcoming PlayStation Vita.
The A5’s horsepower and the iOS’ increasingly always-in-your-pocket presence compared to these rival portable game devices is only going to give developers more incentive to create lifelike environments for you to get lost in. In time, expect to see more than Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and Fruit Ninja populating best-selling lists in the App Store Here's our list of the ten best games for your iPhone 4S.
Infinity Blade II: Optimized for the A5 Chip
You have to look no further than Infinity Blade II, the Epic Games-produced, Chair Entertainment-developed sequel to 2010’s groundbreaking iOS game. It was the first iOS title to use the Unreal 3 engine, and with stunning results. Just as stunning are its sales figures. “We delighted millions of players and booked almost $20 million in revenue,” said Epic Games President Mike Capps before joking, “which is a pretty good share of that $3 billion number [that Apple has paid out to app developers].”
The two companies hope to continue that trend on December 1 when Infinity Blade IIlaunches. You’re bound to forget that you’re playing this action RPG on a phone as your journey to find the creator of the Infinity Blade and team up to destroy the Deathless. That’s exactly how the first Infinity Blade felt and this sequel is optimizing the graphics using the A5 chip to improve that immersive level of detail, right down to the coy in the pond. That’s right - not only will the water look real, the fish that swim in it will too.
“Some graphics techniques aren’t even seen on high-end gaming consoles,” boasted Chair Entertainment creative director Donald Mustard. The Unreal 3 engine lighting effects technique called dynamic light rays, for example, has only recently shown up inGears of War 3. Appropriately, the nickname for this shimmering lighting effect is dubbed “God Rays.”
Infinity Blade II’s graphics are its main selling point, but the gameplay has been enhanced too. It allows you to forge customizable weapons this time around and whip out two swords to take on the giant enemies that await. This is combined with something else I liked about the first game: its touchscreen controls. Blocking, dodging and parrying takes its cues from quick time events, while sword slashing is akin to the screen-swiping of Fruit Ninja. The combination of intuitive combat controls and a richer-looking gameplay environment should make this inevitably just-as-high-priced sequel (currently Infinity Blade I sits at $5.99) worth every iTunes penny.
Real Racing 2: The Forza of iPhone
Switching gears, Real Racing 2 from developer Firemint gives you just as much detail sans the fantasy environment. Plain and simple, motion-controlled racing games tend not to work well. Cro-Mag Rally from the first-generation of apps proved that to millions of hungry mobile gamers - racing via an iPhone could be fun for in short bursts, but precision driving took a back seat. When too many wrong-way mistakes added up, you’d get frustrated, press the home button and move on to another app. Luckily, Firemint developed a better-handling, true-to-life racing sim and includes a half-dozen control options to let you tweak the handling to your heart’s content. The company even added a steering sensitivity slider. As a result, it’s playable for the long haul.
This Forza Motorsport of iOS features over 40 miles of tracks and 15 locations for the current iTunes price of $4.99. That’s reasonable enough for iOS’ most sophisticated GT racing game. I get more worried about the 425 MB app size on a 16 GB iPhone than anything else. The sweet temptation of 16-player online races (eight via local WiFi if you happen to be in a room with that many people who have the game) dispels those file size fears and keeps Real Racing 2 on my app sync list. That and the desire to one day try this console-like racer on an HDTV via AirPlay, which is now supported by iOS 5. I can’t wait for the question, “Are you playing GT5 on PS3 again?” and my response, “Nah, just a $5 iPhone game.”
Dead Space: A Survival Horror Game That Isn’t a Horror
Console-to-iPhone conversions tend to end in horror. That’s why I figured survival horror game Dead Space would ironically be a double dose of horror on the iPhone. However, it turned out to be one of the best iOS games in EA’s 100-plus iTunes game collection. That’s because this third-person shooter’s graphics successfully capture the eerie nature of the 2008 console game, complete with dark corridors and a clean HUD. Makeshift weapons and creatively designed enemies do their part in playing into this nightmare scenario, the former being used to make the latter very, very bloody. In fact, this may be the goriest game for iPhone to date. Mature-rating achievement unlocked.
The graphics may intimidate you into easing up on the controls, but so will the limited screen space. It’s always a 3.5-inch battle between the iPhone being a graphics display and controller. The larger touchscreen that was rumored to be a part of the dubiously predicted iPhone 5 never came to fruition, so iPhone 4S doesn’t help alleviate this ever-present problem. That’s why the expanded real estate of an iPad remains the most suitable option for a game like this. It’s manageable for the dozen levels on the iPhone, so you should experience this new engineer's original story on the iPhone and, one day, use the app’s cross-compatibility to play it on an iPad or iPhone 5.
Archetype: The Halo Multiplayer of iPhone
Yes, online multiplayer FPS games are possible on the iPhone and Archetype is the Halo-like frag-fest among them. That’s because Munkyfun, the developer behind this $.99 alien-set shooter, focuses on online gameplay, eschewing a single-player mode altogether. So while Dead Space should be your single-player shooter of choice, this game rounds out the FPS package with classic modes like FFA, TDM and CTF for its nearly 20 futuristic-looking maps.
The great thing about Archetype is how easy it is to get into a match. You load up the app, you click “Play” and immediately you’re thrown into a server lobby with other players. And while the game came out over 15 months ago, it’s still populated at all times day and night. What goes a long way is the developer’s commitment to eliminating cheaters from its lobbies. Yes, you probably didn’t know quality online FPS games existed on the iPhone and you’re likely even more astonished that people would waste their time cheating at a 91 MB pint-sized game like this. Game Center achievements, while just getting underway, apparently mean a lot to people. Luckily, while the genre and cheap tactics found their way to the iPhone, whinny and obnoxious players did not. This game contains no headset banter, which is okay as far as I’m concerned. It’s one less button to press - the mute button.
Scribblenauts Remix - Solves the Derth of Family-Friendly iOS Games
Getting away from the bleakness of shooter games for a little bit, Scribblenauts' Maxwell solves your boredom with family-friendly iOS games with a five-letter word: Remix. This puzzle-solving game “challenges” you to input words to solve its 50 levels just like the acclaimed Nintendo DS titles. In fact, it’s so much like Scribblenauts and Super Scribblenauts that 40 of the levels are the same, hence the name Remix. Luckily, this version contains 10 iOS exclusive stages. That’s a little steep for the asking price of $5, but if you haven’t played a Scribblenauts game before, there’s only one three-letter word to solve that problem: “B-U-Y.”
None of the 50 levels in Scribblenauts Remix are immensely difficult, but the imagination you can put into solving Maxwell’s puzzles are part of the game’s unique charm. The other part is its colorful graphics. They’re so bright and cheery on an iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S display that you may be forced to tone down the brightness in the settings menu. The cuteness of the game cannot be toned down, however. It’s kid-appropriate, adult-friendly and a little bit educational. Best of all, this version doesn’t contain any inappropriate words.
Grand Theft Auto 3 - The Game that Redefined Open-World on the Phone that Redefined the Smartphone
There’s nothing family-friendly about Grand Theft Auto 3, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. One of the ways that Rockstar Games is celebrating GTA 3’s 10th Anniversaryis by releasing a mobile version of the groundbreaking open-world game. iOS and Android have been tapped for this October 22-bound game. Remarkably, of the iOS devices, only the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 will be able to play the game - iPhone 4 owners must be having a big WTF moment right now.
In a sense it's good news because it means that Rockstar isn’t sacrificing visuals for profits by supporting the more readily-carried older iPhones models. Our hands-on time with GTA 3 at New York Comic Con proves it. So, even though we’ve been playing this game for almost ten years now and know the gameplay down to the last pimp, being able to own this enhanced classic may warrant a second visit to Liberty City (or third visit if you played GTA: Liberty City Storeis). We’ll have to see how the game that redefined the sandbox subgenre a decade ago holds up on the phone that redfined the word smartphone. Considering the A5 chip exclusivity, the expectations are high.
Captain America - You And the Cap'n Can Make It Happen
If there’s one superhero and one movie tie-in game I had to pick for iOS, they’d both beCaptain America: Sentinel of Liberty. Maybe the fact that it happens to be both cancels out what should be a $5 licensed cash-in. Maybe it’s the fact that this game does something different from the two other big Marvel superhero titles out there. That’s to say that it isn’t a 3D brawler like Spider-Man: Total Mayhem or Thor: Son of Asgard. Both of those are fun games and Spidey is only $.99, but it’s the First Avenger that delivers because the game is a bit of an on-rails action title. You can travel in one direction by swiping left and the other direction by, you guessed it, swiping right.
The semi-guided nature of this 2D Cap title means that the gameplay is fluid; your fingers can focus on the action that automatically comes your way on the touchscreen. That focus translates into shield throwing, enemy bashing, wall jumping and hopping over or ducking under obstacles that impede your running on the two-dimensional plane. There may be too many cheesy one-liners (one-liners meaning a short joke, not that it’s repeated once. Trust me.) and the gameplay can get repetitive. But as the console versions of Captain America: Super Solider were surprisingly good, this iOS game is worth its $5 app fee.
StarFront: Collision - Somehow Not a Collision In the Courts
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty in the App Store is about as likely as a resurrection ofStarCraft: Ghost. Boldly, developer Gameloft decided to make “its own RTS game,” one that’s so similar to the Blizzard franchise that the names are almost identical. StarFront: Collision is simply “Star” plus a capitalized first letter in the second word minus a space in-between. Somehow, the Paris-based mobile games company got away with it. Maybe it’s because this is a free game in the App Store, so they’re not making any money off the copycat title.
Whatever reason is for the legal leeway, gamers are the ones who benefit because Gameloft has translated StarFront: Collision into a solid RTS on the iPhone. The space age story that’s set on a planet with rare minerals and three warring races is skippable. What isn’t forgettable are the controls. The touchscreen interface and well-placed shortcuts on the HUD make everything manageable, from resource management to sending troops into combat. Like Dead Space, this game is easier to control when gaming on an iPad. However, having a pocket-sized version of StarCraft on a tiny 3.5-inch screen is priceless - and not just because it’s free.
Fight Night Champion - Bruised, Beaten, Beautiful
Fight Night Champion looks pretty on my iPhone, but my bruised and beaten boxer doesn’t look so hot anymore. This iOS game takes a stripped-down version of the console boxing game and adds touchscreen controls. Everything is second-nature for mobile gamers. Swipe up and down for uppercuts on the head and body, and left and right for executing hooks in those directions. Holding two fingers against the left and right sides of the screen performs a block, while shifting two fingers in any direction initiates a lean.
EA’s boxing simulators have always looked top-notch on consoles and this iOS version is no different, especially on a Retina Display like the iPhone 4S, iPhone 4 and iPad 2. Visually, there’s no crowd reaction (unless you count seeing the occasional silhouettes), so part of the atmosphere that makes watching boxing matches so electric is missing. But what’s happening in the ring looks great and the sounds, from the darkened crowd and the punch-by-punch announcer, capture the console bouts enough to justify the $.99 splurge.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 - Facebook Integration For Compeition, Making Tiger Woods Jokes
Putting from the crisp grass on Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12’s green makes this the other good-looking EA Sports title to own for just $.99. That’s partly because the graphics found at all eight of the championship course are spot-on. This year, it’s to the point that the iPhone version contains birds majestically flying in the clear-blue sky while you are focusing on the touchscreen swinging mechanics. Hitting them isn’t possible, but I’d imagine if you could, it’d be an automatic birdie.
Besides this game’s Retina Display-enhanced visuals, it contains a Facebook-connected mini-game called Closest to the Pin. As the name suggests, it’s a competition to see which one of your friends can land closest to the flag. It’s well-integrated into the game, displaying their photo on the screen as you attempt to hack away at the ball, hoping to beat their measurement. Passive, not real-time, multiplayer options like this are what really makes gaming with friends on the iPhone a lot of fun.
Just 10 of Thousands
Nintendo and Sony beware. These are just ten of the thousands of games in the App Store. With the always-increasing specs for devices like iPhone 4S, the number of “real” games is only going to increase too. That’s why I find it difficult to carry around a bulky Nintendo 3DS in my pocket everywhere I go. I suspect that the same will apply to the PlayStation Vita. Game companies and admirable start-ups are wise to this trend, which is why I suspect two things. First, there’ll be more and more mature-looking and playing games in the App Store over time thanks to the power of the A5. Two, I’ll probably spend more in the iTunes App Store than on handheld games at my local GameStop this year. When that happens, Apple may have to rename my microtransactions to macrotransactions.