Mobile gaming is quickly closing in on console-like quality

Published: October 15, 2012

Let the naysayers say what they will, but mobile gaming is really starting to come around. I can think back to a time where mobile gaming was nothing more than taking some generic PC card games – Solitaire, Spider Solitaire, Hearts, etc. – on the go. Oh, and there was Brick Breaker. Lots of Brick Breaker.

I played a lifetime's worth of Spider Solitaire and Brick Breaker on my BlackBerry through high school. And that was as good as it got back then. But between dedicated portable gaming consoles, like the Nintendo 3DS or PS Vita, and a horde of powerful mobile tablets and smartphones, mobile gaming has come a very long way in a comparatively short time.

Look back just three years ago. Games like Angry Birds and the thousands of side-scrollers were the most you could expect out of mobile gaming. The devices weren't capable of handling intense graphics or anything even close to modern day consoles.

The few games that tried to emulate console-like play then were lacking storyline depth, fine polish and overall smooth gameplay. The best you could hope for was a solid PlayStation 2 port, or even PS2, original Xbox or N64 game ROMs running through emulators. Don't get me wrong, emulators are fun. And I have had many great times with tablets and smartphones running through some of my old favorites like the original Syphon Filter series, Twisted Metals and Splinter Cell.

But back in April, I wrote a piece titled By 2014, your smartphone will be capable of console-like gaming. Responses to this type of article, ones about mobile gaming gaining traction and authority, are always the same. Gaming fans come together and refute the inevitable, claiming mobile devices will never catch or surpass their dedicated gaming consoles, that their expensive gaming rigs will never be subjected to normalcy.

There may be several years left before any smartphone or tablet can rival the graphics of your expensive, customized, specialty rig. But Gameloft's Lead Game Designer for the Modern Combat Series, Alex Charbonneau, said something many mobile game enthusiasts will agree with, "I think the gap between phones, tablets and consoles is getting smaller every day."

A video Developer Diary detailing the improvements in Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour was uploaded to Gameloft's YouTube channel this morning. The video shows some in-game footage and shows some very promising enhancements fans of the series will welcome, such as ragdoll effects, smoother gameplay and animations and enhanced physics, thanks to the Havok engine. Most importantly, the graphics and gameplay are beginning to look more and more like a console game.

I played Modern Combat 3, and while I can't commend it for its originality, it was a great game, especially for a mobile device. I paired a Sixaxis controller via Bluetooth and blew through a dozen levels in no time. If Modern Combat 4 is an improvement on that, there will be few complaints on my end. Either way, Modern Combat 4 will be out in a few week's time and we will know firsthand.

Rather than just speculating about future games, though, there is at least one game out now that should be commended for how great it is, FIFA Soccer 13. David Beren of TmoNews recommended it a few days ago on Twitter. FIFA 12 wasn't bad, and being a long-time fan of the franchise, I had to try it out.

In short, I spent the better part of my weekend playing through a Barclays Premier League season with Manchester United, switching between using the on-screen controls and using the iPhone 5 as a gamepad. Aside from the controls, it plays remarkably similar to its console counterpart. I would actually go as far to say it is easily the best money I have spent on any application for the iPad/iPhone.

For more reasons than one, I would rather play FIFA on my iPad than on the PS3 or 360 hooked to my 40-inch television. For one, it's closer to my face. But it's also easier (and quicker) to pick up and put down. I can pause, run some errands, and pick up exactly where I left off from anywhere. And while using the iPhone as a gamepad is a bit tricky at first, it comes easier with practice.

As time goes on and hardware advances, mobile gaming will only get better, become more polished and, hopefully, more console-like. And with products like OUYA on the drawing board, we can only hope mobile gaming will begin to attract more AAA game developers.

Have you found any mobile games you would rather play on your phone or tablet over your console? Or have you found any mobile games that are strikingly console-like? Or are you a non-believer, the type that condemns mobile gaming?

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