Back in the video-game heyday of the ‘90s, it wasn’t uncommon to see high-profile titles get releases on portable systems as well as home consoles. The former ports were invariably watered down — handhelds could at best make a valiant attempt at capturing the spirit of whatever the game was, but the chunky hardware just couldn’t quite get there. Surprisingly, the iOS conversion of well-regarded shoot-'em-up Sine Mora feels like a throwback to those days.
From the Osama bin Laden compound raid to the rescue of hostages from Somali pirates, small military strike teams have grabbed more and more headlines in recent years. It's only fitting that video games, which so regularly imitate soldiers' actions via first-person shooters, would follow suit. Breach & Clear is a celebration of the slow, methodical, and tactical side of combat, with your squad of four soldiers tasked with taking out enemy combatants in a series of engagements. You set their paths and then let them loose, watching as your decisions pay off or get your men killed.
Contra has never been easy. Like many of Konami’s old-school ‘80s arcade games, the punishment in this run-and-gun series is designed to come quickly and often, as you attempt to break through endless hordes of enemies using only your reflexes and aim. Death is only a hit away, so winning means memorizing every attack pattern the game throws at you. If and when you screw up – losing one of the few precious lives given from a finite supply of continues – the loss really hurts. Strip that necessary roughness from Contra’s bones and all that’s left is a sad husk trading on a venerable name. This is essentially what Contra: Evolution does.
It's been 11 years since Max Payne — the perpetually beleaguered detective who brought bullet time, John Woo-inspired acrobatics, and noir monologues to shooters — made his last appearance on Mac, and his overdue return (originally released on PC in 2012) didn't get much build-up or fanfare. No matter; Max Payne 3 is a strong, stylish comeback for the middle-aged Max, who now finds himself battling kidnappers and drug gangs as a bodyguard in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The twist is that he's not particularly good at it.
World War Z for iOS may not feature Brad Pitt or focus on specific events in the upcoming film adaptation of the bestselling novel, but it does create the ideal environment for drawing you into the apocalyptic world envisioned by author Max Brooks. Unlike most movie tie-ins, World War Z is more than interactive propaganda, and will please both fans eagerly awaiting the film and gamers looking for a solid mobile action shooter.
On consoles, The House of the Dead: Overkill took one of the most well-trodden premises imaginable – shooting zombies in first-person, on rails – and used it to create one of the most memorably over-the-top games of all time. Taking tropes from grindhouse horror movies and cranking them to ridiculous levels, HotD:O was gruesome, hectic, and – as its characters awkwardly shoehorned f-bombs into nearly every sentence – so deliberately crass that it was impossible to see it as anything other than a comedy. The iOS version, subtitled The Lost Reels, scales all that back considerably.
It's become increasingly popular to try and shoehorn console-style shooters onto iOS, but there's still something to be said for building a game around a system's limitations, rather than ignoring them. With that in mind, Frontline Commando: D-Day might look like a World War II-themed third-person shooter with (presumably) kludgy controls, but it's actually an arcade-y series of shooting galleries linked by auto-runner sequences. That combination creates a streamlined experience that lets us focus on what really matters: ducking behind cover and popping up just long enough to shoot Nazis in the face.
Getting marooned on a spooky alien world full of creepy crawlies and other unfriendly inhabitants might sound terrifying, but it turns out to be a welcome detour from the dull depths of space in Capsized+ for iPad. Exploration and survival in this beautifully hand-drawn 2D platform shooter make for a satisfying balancing act, one made all the more interesting by the diverse ways you can traverse and interact with the harsh planetscape.
Like other popular games ported to iOS, Minecraft: Pocket Edition has spawned an abundance of "me too" clones attempting to cash in on the game's prolific momentum. Block Fortress certainly looks like just another carbon copy to throw on the pile, but it's a very different experience once you dig beneath the surface. Instead of grand exploration and adventure, this frenetic tower defense game mixes first-person shooter combat, base building, and an addicting RPG progression and unlocking system to create something that feels fresh and fun.
Liberation Maiden has all the makings of a title by Goichi Suda (a.k.a. Suda51), the eccentric creator behind console games like Lollipop Chainsaw and Killer7. In this iOS shooter, you play as a Japanese schoolgirl named Shoko and blast robotic terrorists aboard your flying mech suit; on top of that all, she’s also the president of New Japan, set 100 years in the future. Its bizarre premise brings with it shooter action that’s beautiful to look at and fun to play, but ultimately leaves you hungry for more.