Galaxy on Fire 2 HD
Last year's starship combat epic got a fresh coat of paint and shinier graphics in October, specifically targeted at the iPhone 4S/iPad 2. Vast nebulas and the gritty details of asteroids pop off the screen. The added explosion and fire-effect detail make a big impact in a game that has so much dark, empty space. It's also a universal app, which could help justify the high price.
Epic Games has become the poster child for next-gen iOS gaming, thanks to last year's jaw-dropping combat game. Yes, it's really just D&D meets Punch-Out, but what a fantastic marriage that is. Infinity Blade 2 is just around the corner, but until then, the original's been updated with new weapons and items to collect, a new enemy, and a brilliant-looking graphical upgrade just for iPhone 4S and iPad 2 owners. On a tiny screen, this is as console-quality as it gets.
Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation
Clever, clever Gameloft: between the releases of Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 has come the next chapter of the iPhone's successful me-too military shooter. Online and local multiplayer and a solid campaign only need a physical control stick to achieve perfection. The iPhone doesn't have that, but this cutting-edge game will shock you otherwise. Avoid the blue-credit in-game purchases; you don't need them, just earn the credits the good old-fashioned way.
Real Racing 2
Multiplayer, online racing, a deep career mode, and easy-to-learn controls have made Firemint's Real Racing series the best driving games in the App Store. Real Racing 2 on the iPhone 4S finally looks as good as it does on the iPad 2: car interiors, lighting, and road textures have all been upgraded. For those with an Apple TV, this game also supports AirPlay mirroring for big-screen play. I had mixed results in my casual tests with mirroring (I prefer playing on my personal screen), but it's a fun extra. Sadly, the iPhone and iPad versions of this game are separate purchases. Boo.
Here's the budget shopper's show-off-your-4S game, but it's not just eye candy. Tons of levels put you behind projectile weapons fending off orcs and other oncoming creatures--consider this Angry Birds meets tower defense. The expansive, PC-game-quality levels are almost too finely detailed on the 4S' screen (iPad owners can use the universal app to better effect), but it's certain to impress onlookers.