We've played a lot of Fortnite, Modern Combat, Guns of Boom, and PUBG Mobile on our iPhone XS Max (which was replaced recently with an iPhone 11 Pro Max), and even though several of the titles offer quality action entertainment via nice touch mechanics (virtual joysticks, of course) and good graphics - none of them that really got us hooked. Not like when we started playing Rolando, or Clash of Clans.
But now, Call of Duty: Mobile has come along, and changed all that.
Tencent is the developer bringing the shooter franchise to mobile, and we'd say it's among the very best shooters for iOS and Android. This is because Tencent and Activision have made the decision not to scale down the experience too much. They have also succeeded with the basic mechanics to create a touch experience that does not give the feeling that you mostly just flutter around and sometimes "accidentally" hit an enemy, but have worked out a system that requires precision, timing, training, and is constantly rewarding to the ones who really take the time to aim, moving while firing their weapon and using the right weapon at the right time. This is Call of Duty, all the way, without any real compromise.
In theory, the game control is incredibly simple. The left thumbstick (well, on-screen) controls the legs, the right controls the head, just as it works in Call of Duty on any other platform. The difference here is that the player never fires the weapons themselves, as it happens automatically as soon as you have succeeded in placing the target on an oncoming enemy. It might sound automated and stupid, but it works very, very well, because it is absolutely not the case that you don't have to aim or concentrate on where the bullets end up.
Of course, to do the maximum damage, headshots apply, as usual, and to be good at this, you'll of course need to use iron sights. A small bunch of bullets to the skull means that the opponent dies directly, while a magazine fired into the chest (especially against the person wearing a bulletproof vest) is sometimes not even enough to secure the kill.
This is not news to anyone who has ever played an action game from a first-person perspective over the past 20 years, but it works incredibly well in Call of Duty: Mobile. In fact, it works pretty much better than everything else of the same game type for the mobile format that we've tested.
Other parts have been taken directly from, for example, Black Ops 4 (or older versions of the world's most popular game-franchise), including killstreaks, the ability to pick up equipment and weapons that the opponent drops when they die, the ability to use grenades, flashbangs, and airstrikes, and the possibility to send out explosive drones. All this is done via small bright yellow buttons on the screen, just like the ability to jump and duck. Similar to the basic mechanics of moving and shooting, all of this works extremely well. There is a rewarding feeling in this game every time you kill a crowd of opponents with an airstrike, which very few mobile games can compete with.
When Call of Duty: Mobile kicks off, only the 5-vs-5 mode is available, and for each match you level up your character a bit. After reaching level seven, the Battle Royale game mode opens up, and this is just like other parts of this game; borrowed more or less directly from Black Ops 4. The map is a slightly smaller version of what we saw in last year's big game, and the layout is pretty much identical. 100 players parachute down to the ground to as quickly as possible, searching for firearms, and as with any good battle royale game there is a wonderful sense of stress every time we land and scramble for gear.
After three hours with the Battle Royale part, however, we returned to the more traditional 5-vs-5 mode, which we would say is the best part of this fantastic game. There is an intensity here that is difficult to describe, and impossible to resist. The maps are shrunken versions of a number of beloved Call of Duty classics, and there is by no means a single one of them that we consider to be anything but superb. Sure, some offer more verticality and are more fun than others, but overall, the maps are well optimised for 10 players and a very high pace.
One big concern we had going into this game was regarding the microtransactions, and whether we'd have the opportunity to buy better equipment and thus sabotage the balance of the basic game itself. Yes, there are of course micro-purchases here. Most things are related to cosmetic items, such as light green weapons-skins and blood-red grenades, but there is also the opportunity to buy laser sights, larger magazines, silencers, and more. The thing here, though, is that it never feels as greedy, hard-pressed and "necessary" as in, say, Mario Kart Tour or Real Racing 3. Instead, it becomes a bit of a bonus that never gets sent into the player's face with giant, graphic signs.
On top of that, we played Call of Duty: Mobile for just over a week without plugging in a single penny and won as many matches as we did after testing the purchase system and trading XP points (we bought a laser sight and a "faster "magazine). Microtransactions and pay-to-win are an abomination, basically, but here microtransactions have been implemented tastefully and in the background, with most of them applying to cosmetics. Despite that, it's understandable that some will still be worried about paying for in-game elements.
In terms of the visuals and sound, Call of Duty: Mobile is a real treat, and you can even customise shadows, lighting, particles, smoke, and frame-rate, tailoring the experience to your phone of choice. Maps, character models, weapons, and effects really look great, and on both iPhone XS and iPhone 11, Call of Duty: Mobile runs just perfectly with all settings on max. The sound is also really good, with lovely acoustics and a nice speaker voice informing who is doing what and which team is leading the ongoing match.
The presentation is great, too. It's a bit cluttered at first, but not too cluttered, and given how rich this game system really is (skins, perks, badges, upgrades, loadouts, streaks), Tencent has done a brilliant job of putting things in the right place to create as little confusion as humanly possible.
We've never tested a large-scale, fully-fledged action game for mobile platforms that even comes close to Call of Duty: Mobile. It feels like the real thing, rather than a mobile game that has shrunk the experience, and that's why we have to give praise to Tencent and Activision for converting the tried and tested formula so neatly into this new format.