What do Assassin's Creed, Batman, Dead Space, Final Fantasy and Hitman have in common? All the games have versions for mobile devices.
Mobile games do not have a good reputation.
At best, they serve as a casual distraction, something to pass the time away with while at the dentist or to stave off boredom while commuting. At worst, they are lazy cash-ins by established franchises and have poor production values.
Casual gamers may be satisfied with a round of 2048 or a battle in Clash Of Clans, but people used to more substantial gaming experiences on consoles and the PC will find it hard to get their fix on mobiles.
Luckily, established game developers are beginning to see mobile devices as legitimate platforms for gaming. Final Fantasy's publisher, Square Enix, has re-released many classic games and created new games, such as Chaos Rings, Song Summoners and Bloodmasque, for mobile devices.
Industry heavyweights such as Electronic Arts and Capcom have also jumped in, with mobile games related to Resident Evil, Megaman, Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises.
With so many to choose from, here are some recently licensed games worth playing on your mobile device.
Civilization Revolution 2
Civilization is a unique strategy series. What other game lets you control the empires of history's stars, such as Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar and Catherine the Great, from 4000BC to modern times?
Along the way, cities will be founded, new technologies researched and war declared.
The series was originally conceived for the PC, but it showed up on consoles as Civilization Revolution. The spin-off featured simplified gameplay and lacked the depth of the PC versions. However, the core structure remained intact and the game was still thoroughly enjoyable.
When it was first ported to iOS and Windows Phone, the heavily downgraded graphics were disappointing.
Civilization Revolution 2, designed specifically for mobile devices, promises to fix that. The sequel's graphics have been overhauled and the game now looks as good as it did on the console version, no mean feat for a mobile game.
There is also fresh content - world leaders such as former British prime minister Winston Churchill and former United States president John F. Kennedy as well as new technologies, units and buildings have been added.
As always, the game is insanely addictive. The satisfaction of colonising new lands and attacking your rivals with missiles while they are still using spears is hard to describe.
Very little of the core gameplay is changed, however. The new units and buildings add a bit of variety but do not affect the game too much.
The game also now lacks the multiplayer mode that its predecessor had. One hopes an update will include this feature.
If you already have Civilization Revolution, the graphics overhaul and minor additions may not justify you buying this version, but those new to the series will find the game an excellent starting point.
US$5.98 or S$7.50 (Android and iOS)
The gameplay of Hitman GO is a dramatic departure from the real-time action of the Hitman series. It is a puzzle game presented in the style of a board game.
For lack of a better word, it looks elegant. The board resembles a minimalist diorama, the sort of game you expect to see played in chic cafes in between sips of chai latte.
This minimalism permeates every part of the game. There is no tutorial, no story and no dialogue between characters.
In each level, there is only a target and a handful of guards who stand in Agent 47's way. Even death is handled gracefully. No gruesome events occur. The figurine just gets knocked on its side and removed from the board.
A player moves the hitman around the board, changing boards as he progresses to the next level. The aim is usually to get past enemy figures to reach a specific spot on the board.
The hitman kills his enemies when he is placed by their side or back. If he approaches an enemy from the front, the enemy will move into the hitman's space, thus killing him.
It is a simple concept to grasp, but the difficulty ramps up quickly as new layers of complexity are added in each new board. A player will encounter patrolling enemies and he has to decide when to distract them, for example by tossing rocks. The hitman will eventually gain the ability to shoot enemies with his signature weapons - two silenced pistols.
In-app purchases in the form of hints and new levels are available. However, there is no need to spend cash as all the levels are eventually unlocked and a player has five hints to start with.
The developers do a nice job of supporting the game. They recently updated its content and added levels for free.
This is a welcome spin-off that will charm even those unfamiliar with the series.
Free (Android and iOS)
Electronic Arts is no stranger to mobile games, but most of its games, usually hampered by energy bars, timers and sly practices designed to make players reach for their wallets, have been hit-or-miss.
So it came as a surprise that most of the content, such as online matches, penalty shoot-outs and Ultimate Team mode, of this year's Fifa game is free from the get-go. Just $5.98 unlocks Tournaments, Manager mode and Exhibition mode.
The game's focus is Ultimate Team, which lets a player put together a team to participate in leagues and tournaments. As in the console version of the game, an in-game auction house lets you buy Ultimate Team packs, that contain players, uniforms and ability boosts.
Packs can be purchased using Fifa points, the game's premium currency, which you buy with real money. Thankfully, players can also use coins earned from playing in-game matches as an alternative.
The models and animations look like they were lifted from Fifa 13 for the mobile, but the graphics are not too shabby and still hold up well. Apart from the graphics, Fifa 14 feels just like the older console version.
The biggest difference is in the availability of touch controls, a nice option to have in addition to virtual controls. The touch controls work elegantly, as a tap, hold or swipe of a single finger controls passing, shooting and player movement.
Online matches work well, but can be quite laggy at times, depending on the location of the other player.
The in-game soundtrack is stellar, but gamers who prefer in-game commentary instead of music can download a free content pack.
For football fans on-the-go, this game is a must-have.
Assassin's Creed Pirates
$5.98 (Android and iOS)
The naval exploration feature, which puts a player at the helm of a ship to explore the seas or attack other ships, is one of the best additions to the Assassin's Creed series. Ubisoft has created a spin-off that focuses solely on pirates.
Do not expect the usual assassination business. The storyline has little to do with the titular assassins of the series and feels more like an excuse to shuttle players from one mission to the next.
But the game looks very pretty. Ubisoft has nailed the water effects and created a realistic ocean. The sound effects - the ship's creaking noises, waves crashing and cannons firing - are perfect and all work to make the game feel authentic.
The naval battles are fun but unrealistic. Combat boils down to firing your cannons before dodging the enemy's return fire. To dodge fire, you drag a finger to the left or right of the screen, which makes the ship accelerate or reverse in a burst of speed.
Other missions - sneaking, racing and treasure hunting - provide variety. Short and designed to be completed quickly, they are ideal for short bursts of play.
Through exploring the sea, a player fills in the game's map gradually, finding treasure and new quests to undertake. You get a sense of progression as you seize new ships, take on more crew and upgrade your weapons.
There are in-app purchases, but these are not essential to progress.
There are few games out there that let you play as a pirate. This is a well-designed mobile game that is worth trying.
Deus Ex: The Fall
$8.98 (Android and iOS)
Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a great game. A stealth-action blend of role-playing elements and competent gunplay, it was backed by a haunting soundtrack and unique cyberpunk setting.
For a mobile game, Deus Ex: The Fall does a surprisingly decent job of living up to the series' high standards.
It is a prequel to the console game in which you control Ben Saxon, a former member of the Tyrants, the antagonists in the console game. The premise works well, fleshing out the Tyrants and their motivation, which was never satisfactorily explained in Human Revolution.
The graphics are impressive for a mobile game. Its character models and animation look antiquated, but the environments look gorgeous, capturing the futuristic cityscape perfectly. The music and voice acting also work well, helping to sell the game's cyberpunk setting.
The best parts of Deus Ex are here - every level is large and open-ended, encouraging players to explore and think creatively to reach their destinations. Players can choose what to say in conversation, influencing the story. They can also choose from distinct playstyles: go in with guns blazing or stealthily infiltrate areas.
The controls work well - you can use a virtual analogue stick to move, or simply tap on the screen. The stealth mechanics, simple and efficient, are unchanged from the console version. Gunplay is a bit finicky but there is an aim-assist option to make combat easier.
The story is not as good as that of Human Revolution but it is passable. It lasts about five hours.
This is a good introduction to the Deus Ex series for novices and a nice side story for fans.
This article was published on Aug 13 in Digital Life, The Straits Times.
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