2011 has been a huge year for gaming on the iOS platform. It began with the release of the iPad 2 back in March, which introduced Apple’s dual-core A5 processor, boasting twice the speed of its predecessor, with nine times the graphics performance.
That spawned a whole new generation of console-quality games that further stretched the boundaries defining what’s achievable on a mobile device. Titles like Infinity Blade II, Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation, and Real Racing 2 all boast cutting-edge visuals that you’d usually expect only from dedicated consoles, with terrific gameplay to match.
In fact, we’ve seen so many terrific games this year that I found it a little difficult to pick my top 11, but here’s what I’ve been playing most during 2011:
Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies
You’ll know from my previous posts that I’m a huge Call of Duty fan, so I was delighted when Treyarch brought a Call of Duty: Zombies successor to the App Store for iPhone and iPad. Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies is a must-have for any fan of the zombie game modes on consoles, offering maps and weapons never before seen on a mobile device. You can choose either to play the game alone; or team up with three friends in multiplayer mode, which offers voice chat that allows you to communicate with your teammates while you slay zombies in real-time.
And if that wasn’t enough, Black Ops Zombies also introduces the Dead-Ops Arcade, a fantastic top-down arcade shooter with 50 levels, that was hidden within the Black Ops release on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. In my opinion, Dead-Ops Arcade alone is worth the title’s $6.99 price tag.
Grand Theft Auto 3
This was by far my most anticipated game for 2011. Since the day Rockstar announced that Grand Theft Auto 3 was coming to iOS, I was itching to get my hands on it. And I have to say that it was well worth the wait. The title takes you back to Liberty City, where it all began, with one of the most influential games of all time. It’s the same Grand Theft Auto 3 that launched on the PlayStation 2, but despite its age, it’s just outstanding as it was ten years ago.
Rockstar has developed a control system perfectly suited to touch screen devices — which is very simple to learn — and introduced sharper graphics, characters, and vehicle models. Even after an entire decade, I cannot get enough of this game.
Halfbrick Studios maintained its run of popular iOS releases with Jetpack Joyride, which brings back the lovable Barry Steakfries for one of his most exciting missions yet. Packing an experimental jetpack commandeered from mischievous scientists, Barry must avoid lasers, electricity fields, and guided missiles in his bid to outrun evil.
Like Monster Dash, another Halfbrick hit, the aim of the game is to travel as far as you can for the highest possible score. Jetpack Joyride is incredibly addictive, with gameplay that’s perfect for both quick subway journeys and long-haul stints. It boasts terrific visuals, and it’s an utter joy to play.
Infinity Blade II
Chair’s award-winning Infinity Blade became one of the most popular iOS games when it launched back in 2010, largely thanks to its superb graphics and intense gameplay that demonstrated to developers what they could achieve on mobile devices with the cutting-edge Unreal Engine 3 technology.
However, the company has raised the bar even higher with Infinity Blade II, which takes mobile gaming to new heights. It features the same adrenaline-fueled sword-fighting gameplay that we fell in love with in the first release, coupled with new styles of combat and even more impressive visuals that you never expected to see on a smartphone. Infinity Blade II is one of those apps that you open up to demonstrate to your friends what your iPhone or iPad is really capable of — and I guarantee they’ll be impressed.
Nintendo refuses to bring Super Mario to our iOS devices, but fortunately we do have the porky plumber’s biggest rival. Labeled one of the best Sonic the Hedgehog games of all time, Sonic CD first made its debut in 1993 on the Sega CD, introducing the world to Amy Rose, and Dr. Eggman’s most evil creation, Metal Sonic.
But now it’s back and better than ever. If you’re a fan of retro platformers — particularly Sonic — it really doesn’t get better than Sonic CD, which has been revitalized with Retina display graphics and gameplay optimized for iOS devices. Help Sonic beat his arch-nemesis, Dr. Eggman, by traveling through time and breaking his hold over the future, destroying his machines and recovering the missing Time Stones.
Sonic CD is just $1.99 and it supports the iPhone and iPad, which is fantastic value for such a great game.
Football Manager Handheld 2012
While Grand Theft Auto 3 was my most-anticipated game from 2011, Football Manager Handheld 2012 wasn’t far behind. As a soccer fan I spent months playing FM 2011, which allows you to become a manager and take control of your favorite team; deciding who plays, who warms the bench, the formation your team plays, and the players you sign.
This year’s release introduces a magnificent Challenge Mode, which places you in certain scenarios with clear goals to achieve. Rather than starting at the beginning of the season, you can be thrown in halfway through to save your team from a relegation battle, or attempt to survive a full season without being beaten.
I’ve put more time into Football Manager since its release a few weeks ago than I have any other iOS game, and I’m certainly not getting bored of it. This is by far one of the most enjoyable simulators I’ve ever played.
Real Racing 2
Firemint’s Real Racing 2 was actually released in late 2010, but it received a major update this year that made it incredibly popular. It was the first game to take advantage of Apple’s AirPlay streaming feature, allowing you to stream your gameplay to your HDTV and enjoy racing in high-definition on the big screen — using your iPad as a controller.
The game features 15 beautiful locations that pack over 40 miles of highly detailed race tracks, 30 officially-licensed cars — such as the Ford Shelby Mustang GT500, the Nissan GT-R, and the McLaren MP4-12C — all of which are meticulously designed, over 10 hours of gameplay in an extensive career mode, and 16-player online multiplayer.
While this isn’t the only great racing game for iOS, it’s by far the best in my opinion.
Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation
While we may have Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies, Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation is the closest you’ll get to regular Call of Duty gameplay on iOS. In fact, it seems many of the title’s features were inspired by the console hit. It features an epic single-player campaign that includes 13 missions from Los Angeles to Pakistan. But the best thing about this game for me is its awesome online multiplayer mode.
It claims to be “the best multiplayer on smartphones,” and I certainly cannot disagree with that. You can enter online battles with up to 12 players over 6 thoughtfully designed maps, with 7 different game modes. You can customize your weapons, advance through the ranks, and climb your way up the online leaderboard. Like Real Racing 2, this game allows you to hook your device up to your HDTV and play on the big screen.
Modern Combat 3 should be installed on your iOS device if you’re a fan of first-person shooters — there’s no doubt about it. And if you enjoyed any of its predecessors, you’ll be blown away by this release.
EA Sports really cracked the mobile soccer simulator with FIFA 12, which is a significant improvement over its predecessors and way ahead of rival soccer games. It’s visuals are really impressive — especially on the iPhone 4S — and it features more gameplay than ever before, with a new manager mode that allows you to trade players between clubs, upgrade your staff, scout for new talent, and choose the best tactics to win you those trophies.
FIFA 12 features over 22 officially licensed leagues, 500 licensed teams, and more than 15,000 licensed players — more than any other soccer game on iOS. If you find yourself pining for more FIFA action while you’re away from your console, then you won’t regret purchasing FIFA 12 on iOS.
Once again, if you enjoyed Dead Space on your console or PC, you’ll love having it in your pocket on your iOS device. This release has received heaps of critical acclaim, labeled by some as the “best mobile game of the year,” and it’s very much deserved. It set the stage for Dead Space 2 with a terrifying story designed exclusively for iOS, boasting hardcore, immersive gameplay that’s coupled with chilling audio.
My favorite game mode is survival, which allows you to bring in weapons, suits, and ammo from story mode to help you fight off as many Necromorphs as possible.
You won’t find a better third-person shooter in the App Store, just be sure you play Dead Space with the lights on.
If you’re looking for light-hearted gameplay that’s fun for all the family, then the wonderful Tiny Wings should be at the top of your wish-list. When I want to pass the time with something simple and entertaining, then I always pickup this game, and I’m not at all surprised it was chosen as Apple’s “iPhone Game of the Year” in Europe.
As a bird with wings too tiny to fly, your aim is to slide down hillsides and take advantage of your momentum to travel as far as possible. But if you’re too slow, the night will catch up with you and your dream of flying will slip away. What’s unique about Tiny Wings is that it features “procedural generated graphics” which alters the game’s landscape each and every day, so that it always looks different.
Tiny Wings will be one of the most enjoyable dollars you’ll ever spend — it’s a game that you just never get bored of.
What Have You Been Playing This Year?
So that’s my top 11 iOS games from the past year — a mix of shooters, racers, simulators, and more, all with one thing in common: they’re fantastic games. Do you agree with my list, or do you think there’s something I’ve missed? Tell me what you’ve been playing this year in the comments below.
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