We’ve had access to console-quality games on Apple devices for years now, but they often come with caveats. Our iPhones can render immersive worlds that rival those of dedicated gaming systems, but swiping around on a touchscreen rarely feels as good as using a controller. And while the latest Mac computers have enough graphical muscle to function as legit gaming PCs, they don’t have the game library to match.
Fortunately, things seem to be moving in the right direction on both fronts. I recently got a chance to play some of the biggest video games coming to iOS, Apple TV and Mac this year — including a new Call of Duty title and the follow-up to the hugely popular Genshin Impact — while also sitting down with their developers for a deeper dive. My big takeaway? 2023 is looking like a great time to be an Apple gamer.
Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile
When Call of Duty Mobile arrived in 2019, it successfully brought the mega-popular franchise’s tight, thrilling multiplayer shootouts to the small screen with surprisingly intuitive touch controls and nearly console-like graphics. And now that Call of Duty Warzone — a last-man-standing spin on the classic formula — has taken the world by storm, it too is getting a dedicated mobile version, one that delivers an even more impressive approach to making the shooter genre work on a phone.
For the uninitiated, Warzone is basically Call of Duty with a Fortnite twist. Up to 120 players (either solo or in three-person squads) drop onto an ever-shrinking battlefield, scavenging for weapons while battling to be the last player or crew standing. The mobile version I played retains the same core gameplay, weapons, characters and arenas you’ll find on console and PC, but with controls that are built from the ground up for phone screens.
As someone who’s played Call of Duty Mobile, the new Warzone adaptation felt familiar, with simple, customizable controls that can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. For example, you can tap a single button to aim at your enemy while your gun fires automatically, or sprint down the battlefield with a quick tap rather than having to hold down a button. Warzone takes that concept even further, with a series of automated controls that allowed me to, say, hop over a barricade by simply running toward it or traversing an entire flight of stairs with a single tap of the screen. It all felt smooth, and removed a lot of the clunkiness that can come with trying to perform complex action game maneuvers on a touchscreen.
“In some areas of Verdansk, you have skyscrapers and stuff, so you might not want to manually pilot your guy up and down the stairs,” says Chris Plummer, senior vice president and co-head of mobile at Activision. “These are just quality-of-life improvements, and we did that because there are a lot of mechanics. So if you’re trying it for the first time, and we want people to invite their friends and invite people that maybe haven’t [played] it before, those automations are a big thing we focused on.”
Those automations went a long way toward helping me focus on the goal of the game: staying alive in heated firefights. Taking down an entire squad of enemies — as the last member of my team left alive, no less — was a thrill, and I never had to think too hard or perform any awkward on-screen maneuvers to pick off the opposition. As with Call of Duty Mobile, you’ll be able to fine-tune exactly how much automation and in-game assistance you want, and there will also be Bluetooth controller support for those who want a more traditional experience.
Activision’s latest bite-size Call of Duty game looked great and ran at a fluid 120 frames per second (fps) on an iPhone 14 Pro Max — Apple’s current top-end phone — though it’s optimized to run well on the last few generations of iPhone. I did notice that the handset got warm during my playtime, and even more concerning, the game fully crashed near the end of an intense match. Activision was quick to point out that we were playing prerelease software, so hopefully these bugs get ironed out to avoid any accidental trips to the gulag.
Warzone Mobile looks and plays great on its own, but perhaps the most exciting thing about the game is the way it synergizes with the rest of the Call of Duty franchise. You’ll be able to use the same account across Warzone Mobile, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Warzone 2.0, meaning that you’ll make progress on your Battle Pass and unlock new weapons and perks regardless of whether you’re playing on your phone, console or PC. Warzone Mobile will also allow iOS and Android users to play with one another, so your green bubble friends won’t be left out of the action.
Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile is set to release later this year as a free-to-play game, and you can preregister to get in as early as possible on iOS and Android right now. I was very impressed by the game’s smooth approach to touch controls — especially as someone who reaches for a gamepad like the Backbone One any chance he gets — and am looking forward to spending more time on the battlefield.
Honkai: Star Rail
If Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile exemplifies how great iOS games can feel, Honkai: Star Rail is a prime showcase of just how gorgeous they can look. An upcoming role-playing game by the folks behind the massively popular Genshin Impact, Honkai: Star Rail’s striking anime art style makes it look like a living animated film — one that you can freely explore across a galaxy of gorgeous interstellar locales.
Star Rail trades the real-time action of Genshin Impact for turn-based combat (think Pokémon or classic Final Fantasy), and while that may sound less exciting, it’s anything but once you see it in motion. Each of your characters’ attacks are gorgeously animated, something that made activating the game’s tide-turning ultimate moves all the more satisfying. Again, it felt more like watching an animated movie than commanding a bunch of cartoon characters to beat up a robot. It doesn’t hurt that I was playing the game on the latest iPad Pro, which allowed the vibrant sci-fi worlds to really pop while every cinematic attack sequence played out at an immersive 120 fps. But you won’t need to run out and buy a $1,000 tablet to enjoy this game — developer HoYoverse noted that it’s optimized for most recent iPads and iPhones.
Honkai: Star Rail is launching later this year for iOS, Android and PC, and you’ll be able to retain your progress across all three platforms. You can preregister for the free-to-play game right now.
One of my favorite games of 2021, The Medium is a unique psychological horror romp that has you traverse both the real and spirit worlds — sometimes on the same screen — in order to solve puzzles and conquer demons. The game’s ability to render two distinct realms at once made it a great technical showpiece for next-gen consoles and souped-up PCs, and now that it’s coming to Mac, it should do the same for Apple’s latest arsenal of blazing-fast computers.
I demoed The Medium on a new Mac Mini M2, and it looked just about as good as I remember it on my fully loaded PC back home — one that sports a high-end Nvidia RTX 3080 graphics card, mind you. The game’s moody cinematic action ran at an immersive 4K resolution and what looked at least 60 fps (i.e., it was nice and smooth), and while I noticed the occasional stutter once we got into some dual-reality gameplay, it still held up impressively well during cutscenes and intensive split-screen action sequences alike. While developer Bloober Team couldn’t speak to specific performance numbers, the company noted that the game has been tested on both M1- and M2-powered Macs, and should run well on even the basic 2020 MacBook Air. That can be chalked up in part to Apple’s Metal technology, which uses software smarts to optimize games for Mac devices on the fly.
While The Medium performed great in my short hands-on time, I’m far more excited about what its arrival means for the future of Mac gaming as a whole. I’ve long criticized the lack of big blockbuster games on Apple’s computers, but the recent port of Resident Evil Village — which runs like a dream — as well as upcoming Mac versions of big games like No Man’s Sky and The Medium seem to indicate that developers are starting to take Mac a bit more seriously. That could be a very good thing for folks who want to enjoy the best that PC gaming has to offer without splurging for a separate Windows machine.
The Medium is coming to the Mac App Store this summer, and you’ll be able to play it on Mac Mini, iMac, Mac Studio and MacBook. I can’t wait to get spooked all over again, this time with the power of Apple Silicon behind every jump scare.