Game Center has had a lot of attention since its release about a month ago. Apple’s foray into social gaming has been viewed with skepticism by some and excitement by others. We still don’t know if this will truly catch on and beat the networks already available, such as OpenFeint and Plus+. However, Game Center definitely has a lot of promise, and its support is growing quickly.
The network launched with only a handful of games; for a few weeks, I had none at all. However, developers are flocking to the system; it currently has over 400 games (up from 350 when this article was begun), well ahead of Plus+’s 120 and closing in on OpenFeint’s approximately 2000. Many of Game Center’s games are poorly-designed apps from no-name developers, due to the fact that the system is built in to iOS and therefore easy for developers to add. However, this is one of the biggest perks of the service, and perhaps it will reveal some games from these indies that really shine. Plenty of high-quality, well-known games are also in the list, and many more are coming soon. (Visit http://bit.ly/9Vk7fr for the App Store’s Game Center page.)
The Game Center app itself is extremely nicely designed, with quite possibly the best-looking interface I have ever seen. (Sadly, it has no landscape support.) It fits in quite nicely with other iPhone apps; the UI elements are essentially the same, only far shinier. The app, however, is somewhat small in terms of content. There are only four buttons in the tab bar along the bottom. The default screen, Me, contains nothing but your information (beautifully presented), editable status, and account settings. Another tab, Requests, was, of course, very useful during setup, but of absolutely no utility now. Everything centers around the Friends and Games tabs.
The Friends list, of course, shows each of your friends. Tapping one brings up their page, showing their status; their name in huge type; numbers of friends, games, and achievements; and lower down, a list of their games. Tapping a game you don’t have will open its App Store page. Selecting one you have in common brings up a side-by-side comparison of Leaderboards and Achievements. Comparing scores in Game Center is extremely fun, and it’s easy to tell if you’ve pulled ahead of someone or fallen behind.
The Games list, in the same manner, lists all your games. Tapping on one brings up a nicely-formatted page with a useful Play button in the upper-right corner. The list also includes a link, titled Find Game Center Games, which takes you to an App Store page presenting featured games with support for the network. (Visiting the App Store on a computer is required for finding all supporting games.) Each game screen shows Leaderboards, Achievements, and Recently Played (which shows all recent opponents in multiplayer matches). The Leaderboards button shows at a glance where you are ranked in terms of friends and the world. Achievements presents the number of achievements completed and how many points you have accumulated. Clicking each one dives into greater detail. However, there is no master score of achievement points from all games, like Plus+ and OpenFeint have.
Game Center’s multiplayer is quite fun, although not all of the games support it. You have the option to auto-match against opponents, which worked well for me, or invite friends. They will receive a push notification with your invitation. Unfortunately, there’s no way to see if your friends are currently online, or whether you’ll have to wait days for them to accept. Rejections, however, are clear.
Altogether, Game Center is a well-designed system, with a lot of promise. It will only get better as more games add support. Also, Apple will hopefully improve the service in future iOS updates. Game Center works well, is nicely designed, and will hopefully solidify the iPhone’s status as a true handheld gaming system.