Android gaming has been growing and growing non-stop, as has all smartphone gaming. Half of smartphone users spend almost 200 hours every year playing on their handset, be it shooting birds at pigs or bullets at aliens; and almost a third of the time people spend on their phones is on gaming – which accounts 46 percent of all gaming time taking place in countries like the US and the UK.
So the mobile industry is thriving in the gaming department. But that doesn’t necessarily reflect into game quality, however. All you’ve got to do is look at the “Trending” section of the Playstore to find lots of simple time-killer games, fake or misleadingly advertised titles, rip-offs of other titles from both mobile and consoles, the obligatory Minecraft clone, and there’s also a “Dead Call Shooter Duty Trigger”… None of these match “real” videogames in scope, production values, nor in how much meaningful play-time and content they offer to the player.
What’s more, the “freemium” model has been severely irritating the gamers who do want the mobile platform to be on par with actual gaming devices. Developers, some big some small, have been pushing micro-transactions down players’ throats, sometimes establishing pay-walls that almost every mobile gamer would instantly recognize. The problem could lay in the fundamental use-case of a mobile game as opposed to a fleshed console or PC title: mobile games are seemingly designed to kill time, be it waiting on the bus stop or procrastinating on your couch. As a result, you see game-makers put their effort not in creating a worthwhile, enriching or cohesive experience… but creating little addicting and repetitive games to try and hook the user in their sporadic sessions during their breaks.
So the approach of mobile gamers towards mobile games isn’t the same as platform gamers towards platform games, which causes developers to create ever-increasingly simplified and dumbed-down games that can be picked up and be obsessively enjoyed. But, like it happens in every other market, there are some developers who cater to the small – but strong – demand of quality titles of more significance and substance than the rest of the mobile ecosystem. And within these quality games, there’s “console (or PC) quality” games, those which could pass off as a decent platform title. To enter this category you don’t necessarily need the best graphics or the best story (although both help tremendously), but to offer an overall experience that feels like something belonging to a bigger screen and a joystick or keyboard. And while gameplay is severely limited due to touch-screen controls, the increasingly powerful chipsets in our phones make for iteratively superior-looking titles each year, some capable of blowing the mind of anyone that remembers playing 8-bit games on old voluminous consoles.
Without further ado, here’s a list of what I think represent some of the best exponents of Android Gaming today, for each popular genre. These are not to be taken as reviews, mind you, but as explanations as to why they are reminiscent of console/PC videogames.
This is a sequel to the Deus Ex: Human Revolution that came out on consoles and eventually PC a few years ago. It presents the player with a dystopian future, where you control an ex-mercenary in search for answers behind a vicious conspiracy. The scope is huge and shoots for a feeling of ominous epicness in its stroytelling and lore. The tale is fantastically told through e-mail notes, voice-recordings, or other sorts of messages scattered around the game world. It is up to the player to give these attention or not, which makes for a modular story that is rich but only bothers the ones who want to delve into it.
As for the game itself, the graphics are phenomenal – not so much in a technical sense, but in the environmental aesthetics. Everything is properly detailed, and the lighting and post-processing effects give it a mood and immersion that you simply do not find in most mobile games. If you’ve got headphones, it’s a great title to lose yourself into. The game controls a little awkwardly, mostly due to the touch-controls that don’t translate all that well into a shooter. Controller support is limited to touch-emulation, as well. The combat system is a mix between shooter and stealth, with some RPG added in. This trend translates very well into the mobile Deus-Ex and coupled with the exploration and immersive atmosphere, there’s a lot of fun to be had.
Any mobile gamer that knows his salt must have expected this game on the list. This title is probably one of the best looking games on the platform, period. The tremendous feeling of velocity and carnage is decorated with flying car parts, sparks and dust, great lighting and reflection with realistic sun flares, detailed environments of various imposing landscapes and cities, and the star of the show – gorgeously rendered luxurious cars for you to fulfil your fantasy of wrecking an expensive Lamborghini at insane speeds.
The game controls great, and with all the tracks, multiplayer (local and online) options, game modes and cars, you’ll have plenty of time to squeeze out of this. The music fits the extreme and stylish nature of the bump-filled races and in technical terms the game is an absolute merit, as it is known to run rather well even on older devices (it runs very well on my S3, for example). It is more than a simple time-waster, specially if you’ve got friends to join you in your high-speed adventures.
This game took over 5 years to make, and you’ll see why the moment you boot up the first in-game scene. The game is a technical marble, with shadows and lighting that feel truly dynamic, many subtle little effects here and there, and the best facial animations of any Android game to date.
The world of République is not just believable because of the graphics: the episodic story has been called one of the best on Android, and it isn’t a claim without foundation. You control Hope, a mysterious woman trapped in a dystopian totalitarian state. That’s as much as you should know about before jumping in, because the rich character development (told through high-quality voice-acting) is something to experience first hand. The game itself features stealth action with simple touch-and-go controls, and a lot of puzzles, like the typical hacking mini-games found in most videogames of today.
A popular entry in a popular series, Modern Combat 5 takes the first-person shooter formula of console franchises like Call of Duty or Battlefield and translates it to a mobile game. And the result is surprisingly effective. The game controls well enough for a touchscreen, and with a good joystick you’ll feel right at home. There’s plenty of content for you to enjoy, from a campaign that is surprisingly lengthy for a mobile game, to a fleshed out multiplayer with all the right modes and enough maps to keep you busy.
The game looks very good too, and at a distance (or after some alcohol) it could pass off as an actual console shooter. There’s debris shooting off walls and columns, blood spattering off bad guys, bullet trails and muzzle flashes lighting up the battlefield, and meaty gun sounds to make you feel right in battle. There’s some (unoriginal) set-pieces that will make you doubt you are playing it on a phone. But don’t expect a good story out of this game, or the insane amounts of customizations found in console shooters. You’ll find the skeleton of your favorite FPS, and some neat extras. It’s not a replacement for any of your favourite killing-simulators, but if you adjust the scale to a mobile game you’ll walk out impressed that such a package can be offered on a 8.5mm thick phone.
This game is a personal favourite on all platforms. If you want a well made game, that is fun, interesting, deep, and offers content for weeks, Terraria has you covered. The essence could be summarized as a “2D Minecraft”, but it goes beyond that. Its got RPG elements, not in the form of levels but gear progress. You make or find increasingly superior weapons and items, and these can get crazy as well. If you ever wanted to kill Cthulhu’s eyeball by shooting it down with bees, you can do so. Or shoot rockets at a wall of flesh while escaping through hell by grappling with hooks or flying with rocket-boots.
The game runs fantastically and looks very sharp. Pixel graphics are by no means a technical stress test to today’s phones, but the aesthetics deserve merit for being very consistent and strangely appealing after a while. The game can sink you in like only these sorts of games can, and with local multiplayer you can double, triple or quadruple the fun and craft your own town with your buddies. Keep in mind, this game is available on other platforms, and it is most certainly a more pleasant experience on PC due to some extra content and better controls. But considering this behemoth of content can fit within your phone, it deserves a spot on this list for one-upping the typical Android game.
There’s many more titles that give you a quality experience on Android, so any list explaining all of them would be too large to fit on this article. The Grand Theft Auto ported games deserve a mention for offering loads of content and endless shenanigans in relatively realistic and immersive game-worlds. Games like Dead Trigger 2 have great graphics, and while the content is repetitive, you could play it for a long while. Dead Space is a thrilling and scary horror ride with very good atmosphere and a campaign that will keep you busy for enough hours to warrant the price. Godfire features some amazing graphics and a good combat system to take on the more complex action focused RPGs. Dungeon Hunter 4 will satisfy those of you hungry for Diablo-like repetitive gear grinding, but the IAP severely limit the game.
Hopefully Android games can keep improving at the rate we’ve seen them evolve. The newer processors in the latest phones could, in theory, push the limits of graphics and game physics higher for increasingly realistic or technically-impressive games. The constant jumps in resolution mitigate the performance boosts, however, and with the middle-range phone becoming more prominent, we might see graphics in Android decelerate in their evolution (but most likely never stop improving, and certainly not soon) as developers choose to cater to the bigger market.
But the better graphics are only an aspect of what separates mobile gaming with its more mature cousins. The experience also encompasses gameplay, story, scope, quality, complexity or depth, and content or replayability. And many of these other factors are not focused on by those who just want to create the modern day slot-machine to keep everyone hooked into feeding the app more and more transactions.
These games show that there is not only a market and demand for these games, but that they can also be legitimately entertaining and successful products. There’s room in the mobile industry for all sorts of games, and with the millions of smartphone users around the globe, there is a spreading platform to deliver games to. Hopefully we’ll see a rich and diverse ecosystem of games, and consumers show that a neatly made or inspired game can still be a successful endeavour, even if more of a gamble than putting out another one named something like “Angry Call of Trigger Duty in Modern Asphalt Racing 4″.