Call of Duty: Strike Team Review – A bad FPS, but a great portable RTS
Completely out of the blue, Activision released a new Call of Duty mobile game on the iOS App Store last Thursday. The fact that the said title, Call of Duty: Strike Team is not a pure-blooded first-person shooter is almost as surprising, so we did our best to finish the game as soon as possible and post our detailed impressions of it. So, let’s start, shall we?
First of all, I’m happy to report that Call of Duty: Strike Team is an original, fully-fledged CoD mobile game. Though its formula is not identical to the one of the series’ console and PC installments, unlike Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies, this portable FPS-slash-strategy game is not a port of a gameplay mode from any other CoD game and was obviously built from the ground up for the iPhone and iPad. With that said, strictly as a first-person shooter, Call of Duty: Strike Team still suffers from all of the common genre illnesses on the platform; even though many developers found clever ways to make FPS mobile games playable on a touch screen, Activision decided to take the “traditional route” with plenty of virtual buttons and a joystick, making the aiming, moving, and shooting in Strike Team incredibly awkward due to a huge lack of precision, so as a result, most in-game firefights will turn into epic and intense battles between your fingers and the game’s UI. The only “novelty” Activision introduced is the ability to quickly switch the first-person viewpoint between enemies by tapping the left and right side of the iPhone/iPad at once, but in reality, using this feature more than once in quick succession will disorient most people and possibly even cause nausea.
Luckily, there’s a remedy to Call of Duty: Strike Team’s clunky first-person shooting, and that’s to avoid it altogether. How do you do that? Well, at any moment during the gameplay, a single tap will send the camera from the protagonist’s viewpoint to a UAV flying above the battlefield, and from this third-person perspective Call of Duty: Strike Team turns into an incredibly fun real-time strategy. From a birds-eye view on the action you can control both of your units on the field with great precision, ordering them, among other things, to walk, run, pick up intel, hack turrets, disable alarms, utilize stealth infiltration techniques, cover each other, knock down doors, shoot, flank, and retreat from enemy’s fire. Besides controlling the small strike team together, all of the available commands can also be given to each unit separately. Though the evil terrorists aren’t really the pinnacle of artificial intelligence, they’re competent enough to challenge your (UI-fighting) abilities from a first-person perspective, and are usually a match for your spec ops combatants from third-person.
Of course, all is still not perfect from the birds-eye perspective and your units will sometimes ignore simple shooting orders due to standing too close to a corner of some structure, or being in the “wrong” cover, and looking at them spinning around in circles trying to complete a move order is just sad. Luckily, these unfortunate events aren’t a common occurrence, but you’ll almost certainly witness them if you play Call of Duty: Strike Team for more than a couple of hours. Hopefully, most of these small bugs and minor graphical glitches will be fixed in one of the game’s future updates. What’s not likely to get fixed, however, are the uninspired and often similar layouts of most maps, which sometimes unnecessarily limits the player’s tactical options, making the game more boring as a result. Of course, when you’re aiming to design short missions due to the whole “playing on the go” philosophy that tends to go hand-in-hand with mobile and portable games in general, creating dozens of compelling, varied, and non-linear levels that can still be finished relatively fast is a hard task. Still, it’s not an impossible one and there’s plenty of room for improvement on that front.
Narrative-wise, Call of Duty: Strike Team is rather naive and uninteresting, so I guess the game managed to uphold the “high” storytelling standards of its more recent console and PC predecessors. However, while you don’t have to worry about paying attention to the storyline, planning squad load-outs and deciding in which weapons, armor, equipment, and perks to invest your hard-earned experience points will require some thinking on your part, and all of these elements add a lot of depth and variety to the gameplay of this genre hybrid, in addition to significantly increasing its replay value. Speaking of which, the mobile game’s main campaign has a fair amount of missions spanning across Afghanistan, Arctic, and Kowloon, all of which feature optional objectives, a lot of (relatively) unique maps in the Survival Mode, and various gameplay challenges taken directly from the online multiplayer of recent Call of Duty games. Unfortunately, Call of Duty: Strike Team doesn’t have a multiplayer component, but given the amount of single player content, most players won’t miss it a lot.
Before I wrap this up, a word on IAPs: they’re here, and there’s quite a few of them, but luckily – they all only offer the game’s secondary currency (Tokens) which is required for purchasing and improving a lot of weapons, armor, equipment, and perks, but is also pretty easy to earn by simply playing the game like you normally would. Frankly, given the game’s upfront price of $6.99, I expected nothing less from Activision. So, even though completing the game 100% takes up a lot of time, these IAPs are basically just cheats that aren’t shoved down the players’ throats and are here solely because of the unfortunate trend in the (portable) gaming industry.
Call of Duty: Strike Team is a relatively bad mobile FPS, but it’s also a great, unique, and visually impressive RTS that’s entertaining to play and filled with content. Though even its strategy aspect is somewhat flawed, this unconventional Call of Duty portable game offers a significantly different take on the worn-out franchise and I would even go as far as to tell that its ennobled gameplay mechanics completely beat their PC and console counterparts. Once iPhone and iPad finally get their licensed iOS 7-supported controllers by the end of the year we’ll forget all about the bad FPS touch screen controls and there’ll be little reason to choose the single player experience of Call of Duty: Strike Team over any other Call of Duty game in existence, and that’s saying something.
Score: 7.3 - Call of Duty: Strike Team is a bad FPS, a great RTS, and an unconventional Call of Duty mobile game worth playing that will definitely thrive once the iOS 7 controllers roll out
Release date: September 5, 2013 (iOS)
In-app purchases: Yes, completely optional packs of the secondary in-game currency