The Call of Duty franchise is no stranger to mobile gaming, but the succinctly titled Call of Duty: Mobile is different. While I’ve already fought Call of Duty zombies on a phone and even used a Nintendo DS stylus to aim down sights (I don’t recommend it) in unambitious games designed for the limitations of their platforms, this new entry represents a concerted effort from Activision to make a mark on the notoriously difficult-to-crack and overcrowded mobile market – and it clearly wants to bring in people for the long term. You won’t find a campaign, but the multiplayer modes are substantial and even include a full battle royale. What’s put forth is impressive, but the controls are iffy and its free-to-play nature has it reminding you about its microtransactions often, even if they are thankfully easy to ignore.
Using a touch screen to control a shooter will never be on par with a controller, much less a keyboard and mouse, and you simply cannot avoid that. Aside from the inherent relative lack of speed and precision, you’re also covering up part of the screen with your fingers. With those understandings in place, however, I can say I had a decent time moving and firing in Call of Duty: Mobile. Movement can be somewhat inconsistent with the virtual left control stick, but aiming and firing feels generally okay. Sneaking up on someone and lining up the reticle works, and in the reverse scenario I was able to get my gun up and fire back quickly and in a reliable way. More detailed movement, like vaulting through a window, crouching behind cover, and tossing off a grenade are trickier, thanks to the density of on-screen icons, but standard shooting is satisfying. It exceeded my admittedly low expectations, but that’s not saying much.
That overabundance of icons is arguably the biggest barrier to comfortably controlling your soldier. There are 20 buttons hovering around at all times in standard multiplayer (not including the virtual control sticks), and even more in battle royale. It makes the interface ugly, busy, and hard to get a handle on, but I’m also not really sure there is a better way when using a controller isn’t an option. And, bizarrely, it’s not: despite both Android and iOS now being capable of using standard Bluetooth controllers (like PS4 controllers or a newer Xbox One controller), neither version of Call of Duty: Mobile officially offers support, which is just confusing.
Looking past the sea of icons, though, Call of Duty: Mobile looks great – again, relatively speaking. The environments, guns, and soldiers are all full of surprising detail with character models that don’t look pared down for mobile, and plenty of bits of debris all over the environment. Naturally, it doesn’t hold up placed side-by-side with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 running on an Xbox One X, but it is impressively close on my iPhone XR.
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The battle royale mode is definitely the most impressive element of Call of Duty: Mobile’s package. It plays like a condensed version of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s Blackout mode with various class options, vehicles, and other bells and whistles. You can play in third or first-person (the two styles have seperate matchmaking to ensure third-person players don’t have an unfair advantage), and I rarely, if ever, ran into slowdown or game-breaking bugs. I went in alone in first-person and had familiar, intense moments of crouching in a house with my gun aimed at the door while the safe zone closed around me. But I also had the fun, absurd moments of getting in a helicopter with a group of three strangers and crashing it into the side of a mountain. This battle royale may have a smaller map with shorter matches compared to its peers, but still produces the exciting stories I expect from the genre despite that, which impressed me.
Call of Duty: Mobile Screenshots
The other more traditional Call of Duty multiplayer modes are fun, but familiar. Team Deathmatch is straightforward, Domination is all about capturing specific zones, Search and Destroy is the most tactical as it has you setting and disarming bombs – all of which all you to practice against A.I. opponents. I had the most fun with Frontline, which is a variation on Team Deathmatch that has you spawning from your team’s base after every death. It plays like comfortable, familiar Call of Duty and having it available on my phone to dive into a match every now and then has been enough to convince me I should keep the game installed.
Call of Duty: Mobile is free to play, but outside of a handful of typical annoyances related to the model (like reminders that the store exists and interesting gun colors being locked behind paywalls), I have not found the microtransactions themselves to be overbearing or obnoxious. Starting it up prompts you with multiple reminders that you can use real money that must be annoyingly dismissed, and unlocking new items shows additional items you would have gotten if you had bought the $10 premium or $25 elite pass. You can also spend money on points to exchange for guns and items, but otherwise spending money is pushed to the side just for those who want to do it. Playing normally nets frequent upgrades and unlocks, and though the pace of those rewards slows as you progress, I remained happy with what I received without monetary investment even after dozens of matches.
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You earn credits to buy specific weapons just by playing, and you can periodically elect to watch ads for small unlocks without spending a dime. Alternatively, you can purchase COD Points with real money to spend on upgrades, guns, and various cosmetic items. Upgrades unlock new attachments for your guns that incrementally improve things like damage or accuracy, but most of it just comes down to personal preference, like which kind of gun sight you prefer. Because most of the attachments upgrade your guns in small ways and matchmaking is effective at grouping you with similarly skilled opponents, I never encountered phenomenally overpowered players that had an unfair advantage simply by paying their way to victory, which is extremely important.