Small Screen, Big Fun: An iPad Gaming Roundup

By: James Cooper
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Recently, I’ve found that my new iPad Mini is serving me very well as an excellent gaming device. Heresy? Probably. Five seconds in the comment section of any iOS game review/news story will reveal that there is a really negative attitude toward phone and tablet gaming, with many gamers flat-out refusing to acknowledge the titles as “real” games, or their users as “real” gamers.
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The fact is, though, that I’ve spent hours upon hours commuting (and at home) playing a ton of really engrossing, fun games on my iPad, and it has taken the sting out of not owning a dedicated portable game system.
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Since a lot of my friends know I’m intensely into gaming, I’ve gotten my fair share of crooked heads in response to the statement that, “I’ve been playing this great game on my iPad lately.” To clear the air, I’ve compiled a short list of some incredible games that I think are worthy of consideration for anyone still on the fence about the iPad’s capability as a gaming device.
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Now you're playing with power.

Now you’re playing with power.

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Without further ado, and in no particular order:.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown ($19.99)

This is the game I’m currently playing, and I’m absolutely in love with it. It’s a tactics/strategy game that puts you in the role of XCOM Commander, with the role of heading up the elite organization that is defending Earth against the first-ever alien attack.
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You don’t play as a specific character, but rather train and acquire squad members that you deploy into missions. In between missions, you research new weapons and items, build facilities for your base, and deal with your superiors.
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The meat and potatoes of the game are the missions. They play in a turn-based style, with your team and the AI alternating. You give orders to each team member during your turn, attempting to either kill all the aliens on the map, rescue hostages, or both. Terrain can be used for your team to hide behind and use for cover, or to offer a strategic advantage (a sniper on a rooftop, for example).
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The game features great graphics, intense music cues during battle, and an expertly realized world. I often find myself suffering from ‘one more mission’ syndrome.
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XCOM comes with what some consider a high price tag, but this isn’t Angry Birds, folks. This is a fully featured port that has been optimized for touch. I’ve already sunk 10+ hours into the game and I’m still loving it. Worth every penny.
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Republique

Republique

Republique ($4.99)

The result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, Republique is set in a near-future dystopian society, where you take on the role of a hacker helping a woman named Hope escape her elaborate prison.
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Like XCOM, you don’t actually take on the role of a character in the game, but rather, the idea is that you are watching events unfold via security cameras that you’ve hacked into. You navigate through the game by hacking cameras, and dictating to Hope when she should move or hide. The game is primarily stealth-based, with some puzzle mechanics thrown in for good measure. Everything is controlled through a very simple, effective UI.
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This is easily one of the most beautiful games on iOS right now. The environments are varied and interesting, the facial animations are stellar, and the game overall has an excellent presence. The voice acting is top notch as well, which goes a long way towards making Hope a character you can connect with and care about.
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The great thing about Republique is that it was built from the ground up for iOS, so it takes advantage of the touchscreen in a very intuitive way. Anyone can figure out how to control it and be off to the races in no time.
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It’s worth noting that Republique is being released episodically, with only the first episode available at the time of writing. Each new episode will require an additional purchase at $4.99 a piece, but given the amount of content in episode one, these extra buy-ins should be well worth it..

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars ($4.99)

The GTA series is no stranger to iOS. GTA 3, Vice City, and San Andreas are all present on the App Store, but it’s really Chinatown Wars that works best with a touchscreen.
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Chinatown Wars is a port of the Nintendo DS/PSP title, and as a result, you control the game using a virtual joystick and virtual buttons. Done poorly, this style of control can make some games unplayable, but thankfully, Rockstar is pretty comfortable with their touchscreen ports, and you should be causing vehicular mayhem in no time. As a return to the top-down view from the classic entries in the franchise, Chinatown Wars doesn’t require the same level of precision in its control that the fully 3D versions do.
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The story is a mostly forgettable rise to power tale that will feel pretty familiar to fans of the series, but it’s solid enough to get you from mission to mission. As per usual, the game is at its most fun when you’re speeding away from cops and generally acting like a lunatic..
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Deus Ex: The Fall - This is tablet gaming.

Deus Ex: The Fall – This is tablet gaming.

Deus Ex: The Fall ($6.99)

This is the game on the list that I was most surprised by. As a huge fan of Deus Ex: Invisible War and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I was certainly skeptical to hear that the series was being brought over to iOS. Luckily, Square Enix knew they had a beloved franchise in their hands, and treated it with the respect it deserves.
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The Fall tells the story of Ben Saxon; an ex-Mercenary who has taken on the unenviable task of exposing a global conspiracy. Ben is an interesting character that I would have loved to spend more time getting to know, as he seems to have a lot of layers to him.
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The game looks and plays very similar to Human Revolution, in that it’s a hybrid shooter/stealth/RPG game. It’s a tall order to make work on a touchscreen, and they did a hell of a job pulling it off. The game controls very smoothly, with the left half of the screen acting as a touch-anywhere type joystick for movement, and the right half of the screen for looking around. It mirrors the typical dual-joystick gameplay of a console game pretty well.
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The control scheme isn’t without limitations, however. If you find yourself in a big firefight, your fire button is on the right side of the screen, so you can’t alter where you’re looking while also shooting. The game does offer the ability to touch enemies to auto-target them, however, which makes things much easier.
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Despite advertising it absolutely no where, The Fall is actually only part one of a much larger story. It’s unknown at this time whether the rest of the story will be released via in-app episodes, or if each piece of the story will be its own game. I wish I had known this going in. I still would have made the buy, but it is so weird to me that not even reviews I have read of the game mention this. That said, the experience still lasts a solid few hours, and multiple ways of playing offer up pretty good replay incentive..
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Star Wars-ing.

Star Wars-ing.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic ($9.99)

Hands down the best game available on iOS right now. This is a complete port of the excellent Xbox game from years ago, and it has aged pretty well, I have to say.
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As a menu-heavy RPG, KOTOR was pretty easy to adapt for touchscreens. Instead of navigating menus and combat options with a joystick, you can now simply touch the item or command of choice. In many ways, it plays better now than it did on Xbox.
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If you haven’t played the game by now, you’re missing out on what is largely considered the best Star Wars game ever made. Packed with some 40+ hours of content, this is easily the best value you’re going to get out of an iOS game.
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The story throws you into the role of a Jedi-in-the-making as you assist your companion Bastila on a quest to stop Darth Malak; the meanest Sith Lord this side of Vader. It features a morality system, offering you several options for solving problems or steering conversations, which earn you Light or Dark Side points accordingly. These choices don’t veer the story too far off of the intended path one way or the other, but the members of your team react to your behavior, and some of the special skills in combat are only available to those on one side of The Force or the other.
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KOTOR was a fan favourite back when it first came out, and it will surely find an entirely new fanbase with this great re-release. If you haven’t played it yet, download it right this instant. If you have played it, you probably loved it, and it’s worth re-visiting..

Honourable Mentions:

I could write forever about a lot of other great games, but I’m sure you have other things to do with your life. I’ll offer a few honourable mentions below, because they’ve provided me with hours of entertainment, and they’re worth checking out:
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What games have you been playing on iOS? Got any recommendations for me?
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