For me, mobile gaming has inherently been unappealing for several reasons.
On the one hand, many of the games are both streamlined for smaller screens and heavy on in-app purchases, making them feel hollow. In general, I just don’t enjoy touch controls, either.
But after attending an Apple preview event and getting a better idea of the tech giant’s broader plans for gaming, including mobile, I’ve come away quite impressed. Here’s why.
That all comes down to a platform-agnostic approach. Similar to how Microsoft allows people to play games on Xbox consoles, PCs and mobile, Apple envisions high-quality gaming experiences across iPhone, iPad and Mac. But unlike Microsoft, which requires AAA titles to be streamed to mobile devices, Apple is investing in native big-budget smartphone and tablet games, including this year’s Resident Evil 4 remake and Assassin’s Creed Mirage.
It’s an ambitious plan made possible thanks to the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max‘s beefy new A17 Pro chip and iPads with M1 chips or later. Apple has spent quite a bit of time touting the power of these components, so naturally, I was eager to test them for myself. So, how did they fare? Let’s get into it.
iPhone and iPad
Once I heard about Apple’s grand vision for gaming, I was most intrigued to see how that panned out on iPhone. After all, the idea of playing console/PC games natively on a smartphone is just crazy. Well, it works absolutely marvellously from what I’ve seen.
First, I checked out Resident Evil 4. Being a big fan of the remake on PS5, I was eager to see it on iPhone. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go hands-on myself, but I did get to watch an Apple representative play on iPhone 15 Pro Max for a few minutes. Even with that somewhat awkward second-hand experience, I was amazed at how well it translates to iPhone.The demo began from the very start of RE4 as U.S. special agent Leon S. Kennedy arrives in Spain in search of the president’s daughter, Ashley. It’s a quieter mood-setting section that builds up tension and begins to establish just how messed up Ashley’s kidnappers, the Los Illuminados cult, really are. From the blood-soaked forest path glistening in the haunting moonlight glow to the dimly lit and rotting cabins, Capcom’s gorgeous RE Engine visuals really pop on iPhone, and with minimal aliasing, to boot. Companies often exaggerate when they tout “console-quality” graphics on mobile, but it’s absolutely true here.
It should be noted that while RE4 supports touch controls, the demonstration was with a Backbone gamepad. Just looking at the clunky interface for the touch controls, it’s difficult to imagine playing that way, especially since this is a fast-paced action game (MobileSyrup‘s Patrick O’Rourke echoed similar thoughts in his iPhone 15 Pro Max review). To that point, I also didn’t get a good bearing for how consistent the frame rate would be, given the demonstrator really just walked around these early areas. It remains to be seen how well RE4‘s high-octane moments, like the big village fight or mine cart setpiece, will run on the iPhone 15 Pro.I did, however, get to actually play RE4 on an M1-powered iPad Air and see more for myself. Even on medium graphics settings (1600 x 1118 pixel resolution), the game still looked gorgeous. But I was happiest to see how the oh-so-satisfying third-person combat felt. A key part of RE4 is using well-timed parries with your knife to block melee attacks and projectiles, so it’s essential to have a stutter-free experience. Thankfully, my early fights with the infected cultists were a smooth 30-plus fps, allowing me to fully feel like the badass Leon. Since I was playing with a PS5 DualSense controller, there was honestly no major difference between the iPad and PS5 experience besides the larger screen — it was that tight.
Of course, being in a loud media room also isn’t the ideal environment for something as creepy as RE4; the game would best be experienced in a dark room on a TV or PC with good speakers. But I can definitely see this still being effective on either iPhone or iPad in quieter settings with the proper Bluetooth headphones, especially on an evening commute when the sun’s gone down. So far, though, it looks like an excellent and compromise-free port across both platforms, and I want to play the full experience when it drops on Apple devices on December 20th.
The other big console/PC title I got to see on iPhone was Kojima Productions’ Death Stranding: Director’s Cut. I’ll confess that I really dislike this game, but putting that aside, I can’t deny that it also looked sharp on the 15 Pro Max. This was another early game demo in which protagonist Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus) is traversing a rain-soaked mountainside. The water dripping off Sam’s flapping coat as he runs across the dank, mossy terrain is simply beautiful. Again, this is a game that can have more intense moments, including giant liquid enemies that engulf the whole area, so I’ll need to see how the frame rate holds up later on.
One thing that Kojima Productions has confirmed, though, is that this is the full Death Stranding experience, including the game’s novel asynchronous multiplayer features. These were easily the best part of Death Stranding, allowing players to share ladders, ropes and resources in each others’ game worlds. I’m eager to see how smoothly that integrates into the mobile experience (for what it’s worth, I didn’t get the chance to check it out on iPad.) I’ll learn more when it launches later this year on Apple platforms.On the mobile front, I also was able to play quite a bit of Ubisoft’s The Division Resurgence, a free-to-play third-person multiplayer shooter. It should be noted, though, that this isn’t exclusive to iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max; it’ll come to other iPhones (plus iPads) and even Android, so it’s not really a true showcase for the A17 Pro chips in the same way as RE4 and Death Stranding. Still, I found the game to be a commendable mobile spin on the console Division games. The tight cover-based shooting mechanics are retained here, as are the customizable loadouts including all kinds of guns, throwables and consumables.
The mission I played was also quite intense, tasking me with racing through a building complex to fight through floors of gadget-equipped enemies known as the Freemen to rescue hostages before facing a big brute in the streets. All of this maintains a steady 60fps and visual style comparable to the console games. I will say, though, that it was unplayable on iPhone with touch controls. It’s too frenetic a shooter with too many on-screen commands (rolling, taking cover, vaulting, using gear, etc) to manage. Perhaps someone more used to shooters on touch screens would fare better, but I quickly gave up. Once I used a DualSense on iPad, it was a surprisingly taut and enjoyable experience, even for someone who never played much of the previous The Division titles. I might actually try more of it when it drops sometime next year.
Apple has been slowly pushing gaming on Mac for some time now, including, most recently, at its ‘Scary Fast’ event last month. However, there’s seemingly been a general sentiment that Mac isn’t the place for gaming, especially given the popularity of Valve’s Steam ecosystem or even Microsoft’s PC offering. Last month, Valve even said it ended support for Counter-Strike on Mac because the audience on the platform was so small.
Clearly, then, Apple has a bit of an uphill battle here, but if nothing else, I saw a decent lineup of Mac titles at the event. Besides the aforementioned Death Stranding and Resident Evil 4, other notable titles include Baldur’s Gate 3, Lies of P, Stray and Layers of Fear. Having something like Lies of P, a hardcore Bloodborne-esque action-RPG, alongside Stray, the viral cat simulator that even drew in casual gamers, is a smart way to open up Mac gaming to wider audiences. If I’m being honest, I didn’t spend much time trying out the Mac offerings because you expect them to look and run well on Apple’s high-end computers. Still, I can appreciate the growing lineup at a glance.
In any event, the greater problem with Mac is just getting more games on there in the first place and making sure people know about them. In that sense, I was definitely happy to see some of those bigger titles, especially Baldur’s Gate 3, one of my favourites of the year. The Mac port even came before an Xbox version due to Microsoft’s parity clause between Series X and S. MobileSyrup editor-in-chief Patrick O’Rourke has also been impressed with his time with Baldur’s Gate 3 on Mac.
Of course, the core App Store business centred on the aforementioned smaller, made-for-mobile titles remains an incredibly important part of Apple’s ecosystem, and it’s certainly not going anywhere. That includes regular games that can be downloaded or purchased individually and, more compellingly, one of the 200-plus that are part of the $8.99/month Apple Arcade service. Even after a recent price increase, that latter platform remains an exceptional value, especially since each included title doesn’t have any ads or microtransactions.
Apple will continue to support Arcade as another option for the mobile crowd, and at the event, I got to see some of those new and recent titles. One of these was Hello Kitty Island Adventure, an Animal Crossing-esque social sim. It was a smart move for developer Sunblink to take that increasingly popular genre and mix it with the iconic Hello Kitty brand. Admittedly, I spent little time with Island Adventure since it’s not my cup of tea, but my colleague, Brad Bennett, wrote about it at length earlier this year.
The event’s most interesting Apple Arcade title to me was Sega’s upcoming Sonic Dream Team. While last year’s Frontiers was an open-world title and this year’s Superstars a 2D throwback, Dream Team essentially meets those styles in the middle as a 3D platformer. I played the first stage and came away pretty impressed. Truthfully, I’m not much of a Sonic guy, but it looked and felt authentic and, more importantly, controlled well on a touch screen, even during the high-speed gameplay. The colourful aesthetic and inventive dream worlds should make this a solid mobile adventure for the Blue Blur when it releases on December 5th.
On the whole, Apple Arcade gets new titles every week, as well as game-specific updates for those like Hello Kitty Island Adventure. If you’re someone who enjoys more casual, mobile-optimized experiences, Apple Arcade remains a great option.
The biggest question mark surrounding Apple’s gaming strategy is whether it will receive long-term support. So far, there are only a few AAA games that have been confirmed for Apple devices — months after consoles and PC, no less. Of course, Apple always releases its latest phone lineup in the fall, so there was always going to be a bit of a gap in terms of release timing there. That said, Apple’s vision for gaming can really only succeed if it continues to get big-name titles at a consistent cadence. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a company with a big smartphone line try to invest more heavily into the high-end mobile market and fail to garner much support (see: Google Stadia).
But for now, I’m optimistic. By wisely adopting a cross-platform approach, Apple is opening up its audience to millions of additional people. Whether you’re on iPhone, iPad or Mac, these top-tier gaming experiences will be available to you. What’s more, those with multiple Apple products will further benefit thanks to the company’s Universal Purchase program, allowing you to buy supported games once and play them across all of these devices.
Time will tell how many more games we get across the Apple ecosystem, but based on what I’ve seen and played, I’m sold on the company’s gaming promise.