Call of Duty: Mobile gives series veterans the edge in battle royale mode

Call of Duty: Mobile
Image credit: Activision (Image credit: Activision)

Call of Duty Mobile is a pretty good adaptation that preserves the tension and flow of its console counterparts, we found when trying out the game at E3 2019. That’s the simple news: when it officially launches (it’s currently in closed beta testing outside the US), the free-to-play title is worth a download for any fan of the shooter franchise. 

But the real news is that its battle royale mode is hands-down the easiest to get into of any in the genre... so long as you’re a Call of Duty fan, that is.

Much like the Blackout battle royale mode in late 2018’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, the mobile game created its massive playing field by stitching together maps from past games. But the console version only had access to prior Black Ops titles; the mobile game can pick from the entire franchise catalog reaching back to 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. 

Image credit: Activision

Image credit: Activision (Image credit: Activision)

So if you’ve played any Call of Duty over the last decade and put time into multiplayer, chances are you’ll find a slice of the mobile game’s battle royale map that you know, from Nuketown to Launch to Shipment and more. Unlike Fortnite’s constantly-shifting terrain, you’ll be able to find familiar area to get your bearings as you learn the ropes in CoD: Mobile.

Ditto for the classes, attachments, and guns that transition over from the console games. There are six entirely new classes introduced for the battle royale mode, true, but many of their abilities are carried over from perks and equipment in older CoD titles.

In short, battle royale newbies and veterans alike should find it easier to try out CoD than any other new BR game. The brand familiarity is strong.

There are other reasons to find CoD: Mobile appealing over other mobile shooters - more modes, customization and newbie-friendly features, in summary. Heck, just including a standard multiplayer mode makes the game deeper than the competition. And yes, we did see an icon for a Zombies mode in the Early Look UI (the team didn’t officially confirm whether it’s coming to the game, though they admitted there have been hints). 

But specs on paper is one thing; playing is another.

Image credit: Activision

Image credit: Activision (Image credit: Activision)

 How does it play? 

If you’ve picked up a mobile shooter before, you’ll find CoD: Mobile laid out similarly, with a movement pad overlaid on the left half of the screen and a cluster of buttons on the right. The biggest one, a bullet, fires your gun; others perform various actions, like crouching, jumping, or switching to grenade. One activates a special ability, if the mode allows.

And there are other buttons - one to text chat and one to ‘ping’ objects, a system seemingly lifted from Apex Legends, and an entire row in the bottom-center housing buttons for ‘scorestreaks’ and weapons. It’s definitely cluttered and potentially confusing, though no more than other mobile shooters, and a member of the team told TechRadar that “we don’t think our UI is as good as it can be,” suggesting it might be changed before launch.

But if you want, you can move around any of the buttons, or even turn them transparent to clear out your visual space. Mobile gaming still requires a compromise giving up screen real estate to situate controls, but at least this flexibility softens the blow. 

There are several of these little innovations that help onboard newbies. Initially, players will have their guns auto-fire when their reticle hovers over enemies, leaving them to focus on movement until they’re ready for more complex controls. And initially, they won’t even be able to access battle royale mode - they’ll have to put a little time into multiplayer until they’ve learned the ropes.

Other refinements simply make the mobile gaming experience less jagged. For instance, level/weapon/scorestreak progression carries over between both regular multiplayer and battle royale mode. It’s the first battle royale game with clans, the team proudly stated. If you just want to play with friends, you can set up private matches. 

Aside from the familiar Frankenstein of its base map, the battle royale mode sounds a little more developed than others. Classes are appropriately in-universe, from the macho-aggro Ninja whose silent footsteps and grappling hook work great for ambushes to the Clown, which throws loud toys that summon zombies from the ground (seriously). There are air, ground, and sea vehicles to scoot you along.

Image credit: Call of Duty

Image credit: Call of Duty (Image credit: Activision)

 A global phenomenon? 

Activision has been testing CoD: Mobile in beta in markets outside the US (specifically, China and Australia), partially to field-test before a big launch in CoD-friendly markets, but also to test global waters. It’s no secret that mobile gaming markets in Asia are far bigger than in the US and Europe, and CoD: Mobile might be able to make a bigger impact there than other mobile titles from western developers.

And CoD: Mobile could have the right DNA to connect with Asian players. Not just its IP, but who made the actual game: Tencent’s TiMi studio, which previously crafted one of the mobile PUBG versions available in China (not the one eventually released worldwide as ‘PUBG Mobile’). 

Tencent isn’t just a partner to help get the game in other markets, according to the Malaysian-based publication The Star: CoD: Mobile is part of the tech giant’s bid to expand into the international market while it’s still feeling the Chinese government’s freeze on the games industry.

In any case, the CoD: Mobile team didn’t reveal any big content adjustments to appeal to gamers in all markets, aside from tweaks for countries more sensitive to blood. Instead, all the changes are under the hood, increasing efficiency so players in areas with lower-bandwidth mobile networks can still enjoy the game. In the process, they also whittled down the system requirements: by launch time, CoD: Mobile should run on iPhone 6 and anything with Android 1.5 (“Cupcake”) or newer.

This is all to ensure a good mobile experience, and we’ll have to see how the game actually plays when it publicly launches at an unspecified date in the future. But when it does, you’ll be able to try it out for free - and see if your Call of Duty skills transfer to playing your smartphone.

E3 2019 is the biggest gaming event of the year. TechRadar is reporting live from LA, telling you all about the biggest announcements of the week, from epic game trailers to shocking release date reveals. Follow our expert analysis of the keynotes and what we see on the E3 show floor. 

David Lumb

David is now a mobile reporter at Cnet. Formerly Mobile Editor, US for TechRadar, he covered phones, tablets, and wearables. He still thinks the iPhone 4 is the best-looking smartphone ever made. He's most interested in technology, gaming and culture – and where they overlap and change our lives. His current beat explores how our on-the-go existence is affected by new gadgets, carrier coverage expansions, and corporate strategy shifts.