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5 best free iPhone games of 2018

1. The Battle of Polytopia

At the start of The Battle of Polytopia, you find yourself in a little town, surrounded by the unknown, with a single warrior unit under your command. The game gives you 30 turns to explore, locate and ally with or attack other miniature empires, research technologies, and advance your civilisation.

Much of the game is based around strategising, making the best use of limited resource allowances. Would it be beneficial this turn to research hunting and utilise nearby (and tasty) wildlife? Or would the smart move be getting the technology to forge huge swords, subsequently enabling you to gleefully conquer rival cities?

In essence, then, this is Civilization in microcosm – a brilliantly conceived mobile take on 4X gaming (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) that betters actual Civ games that have appeared on iPhone. In limiting your turns and giving you a score at the end, the game also feels puzzlish, since you must figure out how to better your lot with very limited resources and time.

For more bloodthirsty players, there’s also a ‘domination’ mode, where you play until only one tribe remains standing. However you play, it’s an astonishing achievement, huge fun, and the best freebie game on iPhone.

2. Disc Drivin’ 2

When you imagine a racing game, turn-based play probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But Disc Drivin’ 2 mashes shove ha’penny into futuristic racing fare like Wipeout, somehow creating something that’s furiously compelling rather than ridiculous.

OK, it is a little bit ridiculous, but, most importantly, the game is huge fun. You select a track, kick off a race against a randomly selected online opponent, and flick your little disc onwards. Your aim is to hit speed-up pads and build boost, and to not end up hurling your disc into the abyss or getting it impaled.

Naturally, just as in traditional racing fare, a solid grasp of the tracks helps. Fortunately, you can spend as much time on them as you like in the speedrun mode, mastering every turn, and committing to memory jump and trap locations. But the actual racing bit is pleasingly unique, with its mix of snooker-like aiming, speed, and split-second decision making.

With 15 tracks, up to ten online races on the go at once, and a slew of unlockables to collect, Disc Drivin’ 2 should keep you flicking for months. Moreover, it cements itself as being the best freebie iPhone racer, despite omitting many of the conventions you’d expect from the genre.

3. Data Wing

First impressions of Data Wing are essentially ‘this is a quite nice top-down racer’. You guide a little triangular ship about a minimal track, battling inertia in a manner similar to controlling the spaceship in classic arcade blaster Asteroids. But, unusually, your ship doesn’t explode when it hits something; instead, Data Wing encourages you to grind track edges for boost, which flings you along at sometimes irrational speeds.

If that was all you got, Data Wing would still impress, but this game is far more than a basic racer. Sure, there are time trials, races where you must hit checkpoints before the clock runs out, and skirmishes against opponents. But some levels flip the game on its side and have you battle gravity. In these adventure-oriented mini-quests, you explore caverns, find keys, and figure out how to use the environment to clamber towards a distant – and very high-up – exit.

While all this is going on, there’s a narrative playing out on the level-select screen, involving your job as a ‘data wing’, working for Mother, the AI at the heart of a machine. This becomes almost as engaging as the arcade action, delving into hacking, and affording you glimpses of life beyond the screen.

On paper, it’s a strange mash-up that probably shouldn’t work, and yet it does. In short, Data Wing’s an iOS classic that’s not to be missed.

4. Shadowgun Legends

In this first-person shooter, stone-cold killers are treated like rockstars. There’s a confidence and swagger here that’s rare for this genre on mobile; but this isn’t misplaced, because with its dazzling visuals, accessibility and depth, Shadowgun Legends is a first-rate mobile title.

It controls well, with your left and right thumbs, respectively, moving and aiming. Autofire takes care of any aliens dumb enough to get in front of your sights. Buttons then trigger special kit you’re lucky enough to own, such as sentry guns.

The fast-paced missions are linear in nature, but have a sense of pace and rhythm that’s invigorating and compelling. And because progression happens rapidly, it feels like the game rewards you for your time, even when you only dip into it for a few minutes.

There are downsides. The storyline is forgettable, and you’ll eventually need to splash out on at least one IAP to unlock enough inventory slots for upgrades, without you otherwise having to be mired in busywork after missions. But other than those niggles, Shadowgun Legends has all you need from a solid mobile FPS: loads of shooty action; visuals to coo at; smartly conceived multiplayer; and adoring fans clamouring to build a massive statue of you in the game’s central hub. (OK, so that last one’s a bit odd, but do you really want to say no to them?)

5. PinOut!

The iPhone has seen radical reworkings of pinball, from Zen’s highly animated tables through to puzzle-like precision flipper INKS. PinOut!, though, rethinks pinball as an endless runner of sorts. You face off against a single massive table, with the aim of getting as far as possible before the timer runs out.

This is a gorgeous game. The visuals are all glowing neon, like what we imagine the Tron bikers play during their downtime. Throughout, your ears are bathed in a fantastic synth-pop soundtrack. But this would all be for nothing if the game disappointed – but it’s one of the best pinball titles on the iPhone.

Like the aforementioned INKS, PinOut! is best thought of as a precision shooter. Whereas a lot of classic pinball tables are all about combos and speed, PinOut! demands you figure out the most efficient route to the next miniature table, which usually involves hitting a specific ramp. If you can grab dots along the way, to replenish the clock, that’s a bonus.

It sounds simple – reductive, even, compared to ‘proper’ pinball – but PinOut! proves a frequently exciting, tense game, not least when you’re running low on time and your ball hits a wall at precisely the wrong angle, costing you precious seconds. However, eight varied themes and a small selection of mini-games keep you interested and boost replay value. And the varied tables and slightly simplified physics make PinOut! very suitable for iPhone – unlike traditional pinball titles, which feel fiddly on a smaller screen.