Discover new gaming experiences by blurring the line between your imagination and the real world
Apple states it has the world’s largest AR (augmented reality) platform. It has a point. Every device back to the iPhone 6s is capable of running AR apps that fuse the real world and virtual objects. And if you’ve an iPhone 12 Pro or iPad Pro, the LiDAR scanner takes AR to the next level in responsiveness and accuracy.
Games are a great way to get into AR, through immersing yourself in interactive 3D worlds – and all without having to wear a bulky VR helmet. We’ve scoured the App Store to find the best ones – titles that utilize AR in a manner that meaningfully improves gameplay, rather than being a gimmick.
Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs (free or $4/£4)
Arguably the first iPhone mega-game, Angry Birds found you firing miffed avians at ramshackle constructions concealing egg-stealing pigs. Isle of Pigs is more of the same, but in 3D. In being able to walk around the structures, examining them from every angle, you get a better understanding about how you can unsportingly destroy them by way of a well-aimed feathery missile. It’s great stuff and reinvigorates what had become a tired series.
ARcade Plane (free or $1/£1)
We’re in one-thumb territory with this game, which features a plane circling a town, trying to scoop up all the gold stars. Hold a button and it dives. The key is to time such maneuvers so you get your bling (which builds up the town) and don’t subsequently and violently crash into inconveniently placed mountains. This work without the AR component (and, indeed, the app provides such an option), but when played on a (tidy) desk, the game looks great – like a tiny interactive diorama.
AR Tanks ($2/£2)
An evolved take on Atari classic Combat, AR Tanks has you blow up enemy tanks before they can do the same to you. At first, you might question the AR component as you blaze about a very flat landscape atop a carefully placed virtual table (which can be scaled from tiny to standard sized to colossal). A few levels in, barricades are erected and you end up moving yourself about to peek around corners, strategizing when to hide and when to make a break for it.
Conduct AR! ($5/£5)
The aim in this one is to get passengers to their stations. Simple enough, you might think – the train even changes color to help. The snag is the railways become increasingly complex and your train has a habit of exploding if it hits something it shouldn’t. Passengers aren’t fond of that. You’ll need to move about to explore the vibrant dioramas, perfecting pausing your train and triggering switches to attain high scores.
Five Nights at Freddy’s AR (free + IAP)
The original Five Nights at Freddy’s finds you as a night watchman, attempting to fend off deadly animatronic robots. This AR incarnation reimagines said robots as terrifying ‘deliveries’ that pursue you in your own home. Environmental immersion is basic, but that doesn’t matter when there are jump scares aplenty as a psychotic, murderous droid that once resembled a cute (if huge) animal chases you around your own home.
Flat Pack (free + IAP)
This platform game’s standard mode has you traverse geometric shapes, approaching its component cubes from different sides to mess around with gravity and grab each level’s jewels. In AR, these levels float in front of your face. Be mindful you need plenty of space around you so you can easily access each plane. Once set, though, this is intriguing stuff as you physically peak around a corner to see if you should head that way – or whether doing so means certain doom.
This 3D puzzler features a selection of vibrantly colored toy-like boxes. You fiddle about with switches and buttons to make things happen, gradually unlocking the object’s many secrets. On an iPad’s large display, it’s particularly engaging. But in AR, these virtual toys escape your screen’s confines to resemble real-world pieces of plastic on a table or floor. This newfound physicality successfully brings a new added dimension to what was already a mobile classic.
Kings of Pool (free + IAP)
It won’t come as a shock to find this game’s all about pool – smacking balls into pockets using a long and thin stick. If you fancy, it can be played in a traditional overhead manner – but that’s boring. Instead, fire up the AR mode and you get a full pool table in your home – without any expense nor having to dispense with your furniture to make room for it. It’s just the ticket for nailing those tricky shots.
Lightstream Racer (free or $3/£3)
For all its claims about futuristic anti-gravity racing, Lightstream Racer most brings to mind Scalextric. The two-thumb controls involve blazing along at full speed and using a button to get you around corners without crashing. In AR, the circuits are huge, so you stand ‘within’ them, moving around to keep track of your neon car. This new angle on racing proves compelling – although you’ll need the one-off IAP to eradicate intrusive and regular ads.
Mammoth Mini Golf ($3/£3)
You can barely smack a golf ball at the App Store without smashing a few mini-golf app icons. Mammoth Mini Golf AR, though, gets a hole in one by allowing its imaginative and animated courses to move beyond the screen into the real world. Like Kings of Pool, being able to check out shots from any angle is a boon – and unlike the real thing, there’s no chance of smacking your ball into a pond and losing your deposit.
Pokémon GO (free + IAP)
This hugely famous game is really more location-based than a full AR title. Still, when you chance upon a little critter, having accordingly roamed local streets, the AR battle finds you lobbing Pokéballs at them. The cartoonish nature of Pokémon makes these tiny monsters not so much integrate with the real world as conspicuously stand out from it. Still, that’s probably better than you accidentally trying to capture a duck.
RC Club (free + IAP)
There’s a lot of freemium junk welded to RC Club, but it’s worth sticking with to get to the good bits – controlling virtual radio-controlled cars. In the sandbox, you can dump objects on the floor and drive about. Time Trial has you define points to create a custom track. All the while, the app attempts to integrate real-world objects into the virtual realm, meaning you can, entertainingly, smash your AR car into an actual tree.
Smash Tanks! ($2/£2)
A decidedly more strategic effort than the other tanks game listed elsewhere, Smash Tanks finds two players (or one versus AI) attempting to obliterate the opposition in turn-based fashion. Tanks are pinged around like the heroes in Angry Birds, making use of power-ups and taking out nearby skyscrapers, like a surreal take on pool. It’s grin-inducing stuff – and flexible, since you can scale it up from tabletop to garden size.
Spitter Critters ($3/£3)
In its 2D incarnation, Splitter Critters has you slice up the screen and slide the resulting pieces around, aiming to direct doddering auto-walking aliens back to their spacecraft. Fire up the AR mode and a white box sits before you, containing a layered scene that enables the aliens to move about in the third dimension. Like GNOG, this brings new physicality to an already top-notch puzzler.
The Birdcage 1/2 (free + IAP)
Room escape games seem an obvious application for AR – and there are even room-sized options, most notably ARia’s Legacy. The Birdcage games are a mite more manageable and easy to place, though, since they’re based around the titular birdcages. The aim is to free imprisoned birds by unlocking their absurdly elaborate cages, which can involve triggering switches, drawing spells, and even pulling faces at the screen.