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 ( 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.
Reviews of Brothers in Arms, Hellfire, and Armageddon Squadron.
Summer 2009
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