iPhone Life magazine

Combat Action for your iPhone or Touch!

I have played my share of video games, starting with the original Pong. I remember when Space Invaders was housed inside a cabinet that was bigger than I was. Over the years, video games have not only become faster and more realistic, but the hardware that they run on can be held in your hand! I now mostly play mobile games and have a growing number of titles installed on my iPod touch. I especially love first-person shooters (FPS) and 3-D action games (usually involving combat of some type). I am amazed how handheld hardware has evolved in order to run the latest modern games. However, porting games to the iPhone has its challenges.

The iPhone's Unique Gaming Hardware

Games designed for a PC are controlled by using a full keyboard, a joystick game controller, etc. There’s only one control button on the iPhone/touch, and its only function is to take you to the Home screen. However, the built-in accelerometer does allow you to tilt the device to control game action. It’s a mobile milestone that may signal the eventual end of hardware buttons and direction pads. The “no buttons” concept is very clean in terms of design, but it has some drawbacks.

Games developed for, or ported over to the iPhone must make intelligent use of the accelerometer and other iPhone features. Poor control options can turn a great game into a disaster. For example, some games require you to pan or turn quickly around a corner to find an enemy, which can be a challenge to do on a device with no buttons or control pad (or via a touchy accelerometer). Soft buttons are often used instead, but provide no tactile feedback and eat up valuable screen space, resulting in pressing a button off-center, or worse, the wrong button (when positioned too close together). Navigating through fast action sequences on a 3-D shooter can be especially frustrating due to these problems—a moment’s hesitation and you might end up dead meat.

I picked the following titles because they are all combat-oriented shooters (my favorite), and they do a pretty good job of making use of the iPhone’s control features and unique configuration. In all of these games, the action is great, the graphics are mostly good, and the gameplay is challenging. In one case, the action and graphics are amazing. If you like shooting things and blowing stuff up, and if zooming over an enemy target with a load of bombs is your idea of fun, you might want to give these titles a try. They sure beat Pong.

A few game selection tips

Although I seem to be observing a positive trend in the overall quality of iPhone games, I haven’t been all that impressed with many of the titles I’ve tried. A big part of the problem may be the iPhone/touch itself. For example, I’ve found that the touch screen is sometimes not fully responsive to taps, which can be disastrous in the middle of game action. Neither device has a physical keyboard or navigation buttons, which as I previously pointed out, provide your senses with tactile feedback to help ground your fingers (no tapping a little off-center, etc.). To help you avoid similar frustrations, I offer these tips:

  • Take App Store reviews with a grain of salt
    App Store user ratings can be a mixed bag of bias as well as honest feedback. Obvious gushing over an app should be taken with a grain of salt.
  • Check out game reviews on blogs and Web sites
    There are a ton of great blogs dedicated to reviewing games and other apps. Check out our Best Sites Web page (iphonelife.com/bestsites) for a list of some of the best.
  • Visit YouTube
    If you’re interested in a specific title, do a YouTube search on it. Many vendors and users are now posting videos of iPhone games in action.
  • If you can, try a game before you buy it.
    Many developers offer “Lite” versions of their games for free. Check them out first. (Unfortunately, none of the titles reviewed in this article do.)
  • Not satisfied? Contact the developer
    Sometimes, you have to buy an app and try it out before you know if you will like it. If you find that it was not what you expected, try e-mailing the developer—not Apple! Most vendors I have worked with will at least give you credit for the price of the game and allow you to use it to purchase another one.

Brothers in Arms: Hour of Heroes

Brothers in Arms: Hour of HeroesHour of Heroes begins with an awesome preview sequence of the game. When the scenes first rolled, I thought I was watching a movie. The game itself is not quite as vivid as the promo, but it’s close. 

The animated actions and effects are smooth, and the shading is quite realistic. From plumes of smoke to an enemy being shot, the game graphics are simply amazing—the highest quality I have seen thus far on the iPhone or Touch. In addition, the sound is very realistic. You can hear your squad buddies and German Army units shouting amidst the crack of small arms fire and the rumble of armor and artillery.

Brothers in Arms: Hour of Heroes image 2

Hour of Heroes: Street-to-street fighting in Tunisia (left), and a deadly vehicle chase in France (right).

The game has the usual minor proximity issues that apply to this genre: Your guy is standing next to a building or large object, for instance, and when you turn his field of view, you rotate through the wall or object, completely obscuring the screen. There is also a problem in the game that manifests by your character getting stuck in certain spots. This happens especially when you’re close to multiple barriers or objects that you must go around, and will hang up a game level until you get unstuck. You can fix it by moving back and forth in various directions until you find the exact direction that the game logic thinks is a totally clear path (provided you don’t get shot dead first).

Moving, running, and shooting is difficult at first, but practice and familiarization will help over time. The game has plenty of control options. At times, the on-screen buttons were not responsive enough for the challenges of the gameplay. BIA takes advantage of the accelerometer which allows you to tilt to move laterally. It’s very effective for sweeping fire across a line of enemies, but it’s often too sensitive. For example, say your shooter is crouching behind a barrier for cover. A minor accidental tilt of the iPhone will cause him to stand up and start sliding right or left. This makes him an easy (and dead) target.

Overall, BIA is a fast-paced game with amazing graphics, features, and immersive gameplay, but I found it a challenge to control—kind of like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. You move by sliding a thumb, look around by swiping, and shoot by pressing a soft button (there are configurable variations of this). It’s not easy to do all of this simultaneously and also pay attention to on-screen prompts, even when you set the game to average difficulty. It sure is fun to try, though.


Brothers in Arms: Hour of Heroes


HellfireHellfire takes you back to the cold war era, when the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. were locked in an escalating race for military supremacy. The original Hellfire game for the Windows Mobile platform came out around 2004, and was dubbed Hellfire: Apache vs. Hind. The title is misleading—it makes it sound like an air-to-air combat game between two helicopters. It’s listed in the category of strategy games by the vendor, but most of the game involves direct combat between a helicopter you control and “bogies” controlled by the computer. (You choose to pilot either the Apache or Hind.) The original game was nicely executed and fun to play, and so is the newer version.

Hellfire runs smoothly on the iPhone and the graphics are sharp, but the control options were better with traditional buttons. The control of the helicopter is managed via the accelerometer: tilt the iPhone/touch left, right, forward, or back to move in that direction. You can adjust the sensitivity of the game tilt; I found that higher sensitivity is better for advanced gameplay, when you have to maneuver a lot. No matter what settings I used, I still found it difficult to keep the chopper from moving forward, unless I practically tilted the game up to where I could barely see it. I looked for a tilt calibration capability, which similar games I have played include, but found none. This allows you to set the relative starting angle of the unit. It can be very dicey landing accurately because of the touchiness and viewing angle (i.e. when you need to land on a small ship to drop off rescued prisoners). I crashed at least a couple of times at the end of a mission because I was low on life and smacked the side of the ship.

Hellfire image 2

The iPhone version of this game adds the ability to raise and lower the altitude during flight (or they have at least added it since the original version). This is useful in some terrain or around target areas—it lets you sneak in below the terrain and do some recon before committing to your attack run. The scenery is well drawn, and the sky looks like photographs of real cloud decks. The game logic is not super sophisticated, but a good mix of mission types and challenges will keep you engaged through the levels. The controls are also pretty easy to master, but the weapons selector and the firing stud could use a little more separation. 

Hellfire: Strafing an enemy compound to free prisoners (left), and dodging an incoming missile (right).



Armageddon Squadron

ArmageddonArmageddonI saw some decent reviews for this one in the App Store, and the price was low, so I figured I’d check it out. Armageddon Squadron is a decent game overall, and I warmed to it more with time. It offers a lot of play options and scenarios that are engaging. For example, gameplay is not restricted to a front aerial view. Some of the missions require you to switch to a top-down bomber view so that you can accurately place bombs on targets below.

Armageddon Squadron: Bogie at 12 o’clock (left), and bombing a supply factory (right).

The plane’s steering is touchy, but this can be adjusted very effectively. The flight simulation graphics are decent and the dog fight sequences are the game’s best moments. The game also wins points for creating challenging scenarios—like trying to bomb a moving train before it arrives at a distant depot. Some of Armageddon’s game physics could use some improvement. For example, you can’t really bounce an airplane off of a mountain in real life (most of the time, anyway). The controls are well-spaced and firing and bombing is easy to control in this game. Because of the price and the good points of the game I’ve mentioned above, I recommend it.

Armageddon Squadron