Call of Duty Mobile Hands-On Preview: A Complete, Freemium Package

Tucked away in the upper floor meeting rooms of the Los Angeles Convention Center, midway between the South and West halls where the action happens, was a small meeting room set up for Activision. Compact and formal, this small room housed all of the media and investors as they traveled to and from one meeting to the next. I was lucky enough to be included in this intimate setting and sat in with a small group of media to get my first hands-on look at Call of Duty Mobile. Only a few doors down held space to get a first look at the PlayStation 4 Pro version of Call of Duty Modern Warfare. However, unlike the Mobile title in development, didn’t have anything hands-on and was little more than a brief run-through of one of the levels (more on that to come).

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Developed in tandem with Timi Studio, a division of Tencent that’s previously focused on other mobile titles such as Arena of Valor, Call of Duty Mobile will feature little presence from Activision to make this multiplayer shooter a reality. In this experience built solely for phones, Call of Duty Mobile will feature three pillars of multiplayer: competitive team games and the usual round-based modes, battle royale, and a third mode yet to be revealed.

The Activision team wanted to stress that they wanted Call of Duty Mobile to be an experience that you could pick up and play on-the-go. Not everyone has time to sit down and enjoy a full twenty minute game of Battle Royale when waiting for the bus or in between classes. Instead, it feels like the focus of Call of Duty Mobile is on those shorter rounds of competitive that made the shooter such a hit during its early days on the Xbox 360.

Despite fitting on a platform that could fit on the palm of your hand, Call of Duty Mobile is already starting to get fleshed out with a great deal of customization to your loadouts. I didn’t manage to dig too deep into all of the menus and options, but there are still a variety of weapon classes for your primary, pistols and free-firing rocket launchers for your secondaries, and both lethal and tactical equipment to deploy. Weapon variants are also back with different rarities and skin themes but I was unable to tell if these had any numerical differences. And yes, scorestreaks are definitely in.

Our appointment for Call of Duty Mobile centered around a couple of rounds of Team Deathmatch set in two fan-favorite maps from the series: Nuketown and Hijacked. They were a little rough graphically around the edges after being transformed down to a mobile version but were otherwise identical to their Black Ops I and II counterparts. Chances are, you've probably memorized Nuketown’s layout over the years that you shouldn’t need me to explain it in any great detail.

For these two maps, we were set up in teams of four to face off against each other with no time to prepare or get used to the controls. Our first match was set on Nuketown with the Simple control scheme. This control variant looks identical to the Pro scheme but with one important difference: when you move the crosshair over towards an enemy combatant, it automatically starts firing your weapon. It’s handy if you aren’t used to operating both virtual sticks at once to move and shoot and lets you keep them in place instead of having to move over to press the fire buttons located on either side of the dual stick setup. I found this to be usable but without the precision I like that came with trying to use a three-round burst assault rifle (my personal favorite weapon type from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and on). Because I could keep both thumbs in place on the two sticks, strafing around an enemy and keeping the crosshair centered on them came naturally towards the end of the round, although I still wound up with just about as many kills and deaths by the round’s end.

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During the second playthrough of Hijacked, I swapped to a sniper rifle with some explosive equipment (laser trip mines and a rocket launcher) and also to the Pro scheme with gyro aiming enabled. When you have all of your aiming dedicated to physically moving the mobile device around (and I was in a spinning office chair, so my aiming was all over the place), that frees up your hands to focus on moving and firing or swapping weapons. For the finer movements of switching into ADS mode and trying to snipe an enemy down one of the two walkways down the boat in Hijacked, the gyroscopic aiming did find its target more often than not, although I didn’t have the sensitivity turned up nearly high enough for any quick spinning headshots.

Within the Call of Duty Mobile option menus are a number of sliders to adjust for the sensitivity when aiming as well as having different speeds when hipfiring or aiming down the scope. I’m sure with enough time, I could find that perfect sweet spot of acceleration and aiming speed that would give me a definitive advantage over players on Simple controls.

The developers did express interest in other control schemes when I brought up the question of bluetooth and MFi controller support. Of course, their biggest concern was in terms of balancing that option. Fortnite’s solution to using a controller is to force the player out of the mobile hopper and into a playlist that includes anyone on a traditional console, leaving mobile players at a huge disadvantage when it comes to performance and control. If Call of Duty Mobile gains enough traction, I would love to see separate playlists for touch and controller modes and maybe then I can dust off the old Gamevice for some battle royale.

I didn’t get a chance to touch upon the battle royale mode in Call of Duty Mobile in the interest of time, but I was given a brief look at the map and the operator setup. Each Operator class can equip two unique pieces of equipment, ala the specialists in Black Ops 3 and 4. Rather than having to find items like the grappling hook as random loot, you’ll be able to bring them along with you into the map. The full Battle Royale map was different than the one used in Blackout in Black Ops 4 but still tried to fit in as many iconic Call of Duty maps into the landscape as possible: Overgrown, Killhouse, Standoff, and Crash to name a few. It might be wide open with little cover, but I’m going to make Sakura my landing spot when I drop in at release.

Activision was rather tight-lipped about the monetization model for Call of Duty Mobile but with the Company Coins on the menu and weapon variants, it’s pretty safe to say that there’s going to be a major focus on randomized loot to incentivize players to keep playing. Iconic Call of Duty characters was also a bullet point for the unlock system, and with Captain Price coming back again in the upcoming Modern Warfare, chances are he’s going to be one of the more sought after characters in the lineup.

Call of Duty Mobile still has quite a bit of time before it’s ready for release. If you’re lucky enough to be in Australia this time of year, a beta test just launched overseas. I certainly wouldn’t recommend VPN’ing your way into getting access to the beta test as the latency to connect to those Australian servers would be unbearable. Activision and Tencent’s Timi studio should have more to share in the coming months and this could be my next mobile addiction when it arrives.

Meanwhile, you can pre-register on the game's official site.

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