Fun and mature, this is mobile CoD at its finest
We’d imagine that gamers accustomed to the increasing quality of this console generation attempting to play toned-down iOS versions of today’s most popular games might feel a bit like PC gamers back when the paradigm shifted and television play became more commonplace. It’s hard to blame them, as far too often in this industry there are publishers attempting to cash in on the popularity of a franchise by throwing together a ramshackle version of a game and tossing it onto the App Store with little regard to quality or experience. It’s sad alright, but the tide may very well be turning thanks to the efforts of—deep breath here—mega-publisher Activision and the release of Call of Duty: Strike Team.
Before anyone calls for blood or retreats into the “Call of Duty is the same game again and again and again,” defense, you may want to actually check the game out. Set within the Black Ops 2 microcosm (a not-too distant future where weapons are totally slightly cooler than they are now), Strike Team shines despite the obvious limitations the iOS platform presents for a first-person-shooter.
Strike Team does not stick to FPS convention, and is actually more of a hybrid title. You’ll certainly spend much of your time running about with the genre’s trademarked “here’s your gun” view, but where things really get interesting is in its tactical, RTS-ish capability. Curious about what’s around that corner? Want to check the layout and plan strategically? No problem. A simple tap of the screen puts you in control of the MQ27 Dragonfire quadrotor drone for an eye-in-the-sky view of the proceedings. From here, you can drag and place your squad behind cover, search for sneaky enemies, and map out your course of action. Another quick tap puts you back in the boots of any squad member, each of whom boasts a fully customizable loadout. Call of Duty fans will recognize these concepts from the Strikeforce missions found in Black Ops 2.
Whereas Strike Team could have been a simple, toned-down repackaging of the Strikeforce missions, developer Blast Furnace was faced with building an iOS experience that remained true to the CoD universe, while actually being playable without the control options to which many have grown accustomed. This was done masterfully. You’ll move and look with virtual joysticks that may be par for the course, but one thing Strike Team really gets right is its snap-to-enemy mechanic and honest-to-goodness iron sights scoping ability. On each side of the screen are arrows which light up red when an enemy strays close enough to be fired upon. A tap on the left or right arrow will snap to the enemy allowing you to either fire from the hip or aim closer for headshots. It’s chaotic at first, but is graciously forgiving in the breadth and scope of aiming possibility. Even if an enemy is straight up behind you, you can still snap to him. This may sound too forgiving or lacking in challenge, but you’ll be glad for it when the time comes. Other familiar options such as crouching are a tad hard to use with any sort of frequency. It isn’t that they aren’t effective, it’s just that touch gaming doesn’t always provide the same ease of play that actual buttons or keyboard strokes afford. This is a bit of a hassle during stealthy missions, but not an issue enough to be a deal-breaker.
As with bigger brother, Black Ops 2, Strike Team awards points for the many ways in which you’ll take down your enemies. These points are then converted into XP which, in turn, provides unlock tokens which can be used to outfit your soldier. Many familiar weapons from Black Ops 2 find their way into the game and, surprisingly enough, remain true to form both in mechanics and sound. Obviously, unlocking as many weapons as possible is the way to go as certain missions are loads more fun once you’re decked out to suit your playing style. It’s all about options, and whether you’re a stealth master or more of a guns-blazing type, you’ll eventually be able to tweak your loadout to your heart’s content.
Strike Team‘s story is every bit as vapid as we’ve come to expect from CoD with those awful Cordis Die terrorists making a return to form. These jerks are out to realize the world as they see fit for… some reason. And you’re going to stop them because… the headless voice on the radio said so. Oh sure, nobody wants innocents to die, but when motivation amounts to little more than, “They’re bad guys, soldier!” it’s hard to become fully engaged. As games have grown more and more refined—particularly in the story department—so have gamers. We do and should expect more from our games these days. This is, however, a minimal complaint seeing as we’re mostly here to shoot people in the face in short, iOS-sized bursts. It’s just that with all the leaps and bounds made within the industry, a little more juice would have been appreciated.
Still, we can forgive the shortcomings in the story department thanks to fleshed out survival and challenge modes. These pit you against wave after wave of enemy in increasingly difficult numbers. This is where the snap-to function becomes your best friend. Integrated GameCenter achievements, online leaderboards, and the ability to track and challenge your friends are all amazingly cool and almost make up for the lack of traditional deathmatch modes.
Rest assured, Call of Duty: Strike Team can actually hold its own, not only in the iOS gaming ecosystem, but in the world of handheld FPS titles as well. Hell, this title even bests that awful PS Vita CoD that launched not too long ago with ease. And while this probably won’t usher in a glorious new era of mobile shooters or even provide the type of experience gamers just can’t put down, it does represent a turning point for the genre/platform. From FPS mode to the brilliantly executed overhead tactical gameplay, Blast Furnace has put together a seamless and entertaining offshoot of the popular series, and actually made a worthwhile grownup iOS game while they were at it. If you’re counting the seconds til the release of Call of Duty: Ghosts on console, or just want to jump back into the fray, this is an excellent and cost-effective way to do so.