Say what you want about Gameloft, but there's no denying that they make several of the best games on mobile platforms. Period. Their varied portfolio continues to push the boundaries of what the iPhone, Android handsets and tablets can do (though imitation is sometimes the sincerest form of flattery)... and after having the opportunity to sample the majority of their 2011 lineup first hand, I'm convinced that we're going to be in for one hell of a year.
First on the agenda is March Of Heroes: a gritty cold war FPS that leverages the power of Epic's Unreal Engine. As you might imagine, it looks the business - and I was soon made aware of quite how impressive the visuals are shaping up by a stunning underwater level running on the iPad 2. As well as detailed texture work and fluid (beg pardon) animations, the aquatic surroundings teemed and thronged with life; from shoals of brightly coloured fish to turtles and resplendent jellyfish. Special mention needs to be made of the ambient lighting effects, which the Unreal Engine typically does very well indeed. Don't take my word for it though - as you can click here for the trailer.
Of course, this restful scuba dive was just the precursor to boarding a submarine, killing loads of bad guys and embarking of a trail of destruction throughout Vietnam and other Cold War hotspots. Licensed period music should help to set the scene, and Gameloft's tried-and-tested control scheme handles very nicely indeed. The action is as hectic, brutal and fairly punishing... which is exactly how we like it.
Consider this one to watch, shooter fans.
Psyched and twitchy after my earlier exertions, it was time to relax and unwind with a few rounds of golf. Gameloft's Let's Golf series is fairly well known on the app store, and they'd brought along both Let's Golf 3 on the iPad and Let's Golf 2 running on the Nintendo 3DS.
The iOS sequel is shaping up to be as sharp, responsive and nuanced as you could hope for in a mobile golf game, while its downloadable 3DS counterpart has been significantly overhauled with crisper visuals and a pleasingly understated 3D effect.
Then it was time for BackStab on the iPad, which literally blew my mind. Okay, figuratively. Metaphorically. Whatever. We'll have a full review shortly (since it has now been released), but all I know is that this original wall-climbing, swash-buckling, free-roaming masterpiece is an absolute corker.
And for less than a fiver, it's games like this that might well make traditional handhelds obsolete within the decade.
Gameloft are also going to be bringing out two third person shooters this year. 9mm is a crass, ballsy and unrepentantly OTT experience that casts players as Jack "Loose" Kannon (really): a hard-nosed detective who's willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Which usually results in shooting, punching or otherwise brutalising the criminal element.
Slow-motion combat and Sam Fisher-esque interrogations will also play a major role in the gameplay, which is fine by us. Check out the trailer here.
Silent Ops, on the other hand, is taking the opposite approach. Players choose from one of three spies and use their unique abilities to sneak, hack, sweet-talk or shoot their way through the levels. A range of gadgets, routes and branching storylines should add serious replay value.
From what I can tell, it's shaping up to be a mobile version of Alpha Protocol that's more focused and less buggy. Trailer here, if you're interested.
And finally, Gameloft will be bringing out their take on the popular Breakout genre this Thursday. Block Breaker 3 is graphically gorgeous and contains a few interesting additions to the familar formula. Look out for my review later this week.
Guns, glory and golf. Prepare yourself, folks, because 2011 has barely gotten started.