When you think of playing games on an iPhone 15, the first thing that comes to mind is probably something like Genshin Impact, but starting with the iPhone 15 Pro, Apple is really pushing to put console-quality games on its phones. While these are the first smartphones that support hardware-accelerated ray tracing, the CPU and GPU in an iPhone are way less powerful than what you’ll find in your PS5.
Apple has addressed this somewhat right out of the gate with its Metal upscaling tech which, just like DLSS, uses machine learning to upscale your games to a higher resolution. But, when playing games like Resident Evil 4 and Death Stranding, Apple needs a bit more than just a good algorithm.
Is This the Future?
I was recently invited to get some hands on time with AAA games coming to iPhone, namely Death Stranding and Resident Evil 4. However, it’s clear that both of these games are either very early in the porting process, or they’re just not going to be that great of an experience on your phone.
Resident Evil 4 was a great example of this. While it was impressive that the game was running natively on a phone at all, the actual experience of playing the game was less so. Frame drops were extremely common, especially when aiming my weapon or loading into an area. I’d expect some element of performance drops on such a low-powered device, but when the game essentially comes to a complete stop when a zombie is trying to eat my face, that’s an issue.
What makes it worse is that the game is best played with a controller, rather than natively on a touch screen, so to really get the most out of the game, you’re going to need to pick up an expensive controller or controller adapter on top of paying the full $60 for what is likely to be a worse version of the game. To be clear, the version of Resident Evil 4 I played was an early build, so it could get a lot better, but what made it stand out as especially bad was the wealth of excellent mobile games I played on these devices.
Apple Arcade is the Best Place to Play Mobile Games
There have been “full” versions of console games coming to iOS ever since Square Enix started porting Final Fantasy games to the App Store, but where the iPhone 15 Pro really shines is in games that are, you know, built for the iPhone. The games I had the most fun playing were the new Sonic Dream Team and The Division Resurgence.
Both of these games are part of huge game franchises, but instead of sloppily shoving them onto the iPhone, they’re built from the ground up to be played on a mobile platform. That means a legible UI, usable controls and truly excellent performance.
Neither The Division Resurgence nor Sonic Dream Team feel like watered-down cash grabs either, like many mobile versions of big-name games have in the past. Sonic Dream Team is an incredibly fun 3D platformer that feels better than most of the 3D Sonic games have in the past. Likewise, The Division Resurgence just feels like a fully-fledged Division game, especially when you pull it up on an iPad that’s propped up on a table.
The new chipset behind the iPhone 15 Pro is also giving games like Honkai: Star Rail and Diablo Immortal a visual boost, making them look like the premium gaming experience most people want out of their phone. Because instead of a console game that’s been downscaled and compressed to oblivion with all the aliasing that entails, Sonic Dream Team is a gorgeous platformer that’s fun to play, whether you’re using the touch screen or a controller.
It almost feels like Apple is ashamed of this kind of game, though. Instead of promoting and pushing these incredible games, the thing Apple is pushing with its new hardware is a game that’s just better on your PS5 or Xbox.
The Streaming Elephant in the Room
A game like Resident Evil 4 running on the iPhone, even in its currently weakened state, would have been a hell of a lot more impressive if you couldn’t play the same game a lot better by just opening your Xbox Game Streaming app and playing it that way. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you need a good internet connection to stream games like that, but is playing Resident Evil 4 natively on your phone even worth it if it struggles to run at 30 fps? I’d argue no.
Even looking back to the launch of Google Stadia, the places where game streaming seemed best wasn’t sitting at home on your laptop or in front of your TV, it was playing your games on your phone. Google Stadia is sleeping with the fishes now, but Xbox Game Streaming and, to a lesser extent, PlayStation Remote Play, is the better way to play games like Resident Evil 4 on your phone.
It might even be cheaper in the long run to play games this way, too, thanks to Xbox Games Pass, which is not only available on your phone, but even Samsung TVs support it natively now. I don’t know what Apple can really do about this, but there’s a part of me that suspects that Resident Evil 4 and Death Stranding are meant more as a tech demo for the admittedly impressive A17 Pro chipset, rather than just delivering a great gaming experience. After all, Apple is already delivering excellent games through Apple Arcade, so it clearly knows what makes for a great mobile gaming experience. Resident Evil 4 on your iPhone just isn’t there.
The Handheld Question
It’s probably not in Apple’s best interests that handheld gaming is on the rise again. Because why would I play a down-ressed version of Death Stranding on my iPhone when I can just play the game at decent quality settings on my Steam Deck?
Now that pretty much everyone who wants to play a game like Resident Evil 4 has a way to play that kind of game on the go – whether through the Nintendo Switch or one of the best handheld gaming PCs – paying full price for a version that doesn’t run as well on your phone is a bit harder to swallow. This is especially true if you already own the game in question on Steam, for instance.
As time goes on and the iPhone SoC gets more advanced, gaming is naturally going to improve. But given that we’re already there on so many other devices makes me wonder why Apple is even trying to make AAA gaming happen on the iPhone. It’s probably never going to happen. At least not in the way the Cupertino giant wants it to.
Jackie Thomas is the Hardware and Buying Guides Editor at IGN and the PC components queen. You can follow her @Jackiecobra