The most eagerly anticipated Call of Duty game in years is out in only a few weeks, but there's another new CoD game that is available right now - only, it's not where you'd expect to find it.
Call of Duty: Mobile launched globally for Android and iOS devices yesterday, bringing the entertainment juggernaut to our phones and tablets for the first time.
The game's release and its very existence may come as a surprise. For one thing, there hasn't been as much marketing as for the next main entry in the series, CoD: Modern Warfare, which will be released on October 25. But there's also the fact that this is a series that is practically synonymous with console and PC gaming, where the combination of mouse and keyboard or the use of a controller makes it possible to move around, aim and shoot with ease.
How do you translate an experience defined by its precise controls and reaction-critical gameplay to touch screens and the increased latency inherent in mobile gaming?
"Thousands of hours of testing," the publisher Activision's vice president for mobile, Chris Plummer, tells The National in an exclusive interview. "It's a unique challenge, and a lot of the development effort has been spent specifically on this area. CoD fans know control is a huge part of the formula - the feel of the weapons, the way the environment helps accent those controls, and the performance of the game as well. It's something we've spent a tremendous amount of time on.
"If you have never played a touchscreen shooter before, playing CoD: Mobile is going to have an immediate pick-up-and-play aspect to it that's unique among our competitors.
“If you’ve never played this type of game we’ve got controls to kind of learn the systems and learn the maps and the weapons and the controls and so forth and then graduate to more advanced controls over time.”
CoD: Mobile certainly feels easy enough to get to grips with even if you have no prior experience with this type of game. Players who have cut their teeth on PUBG or Fortnite will naturally feel right at home. But with those two titles already so well-established in the mobile sphere and with CoD not an obvious fit for handheld devices, what made Activision and its development partner Tencent's TiMi Studios, decide to enter this market?
“I think the timing is just right now,” Plummer says. “We have a combination of powerful devices, play patterns that are starting to become more familiar to a broader audience, and the fans have really wanted it for a long time.
"So it's a perfect storm of audience behaviour, where the franchise is, where the technology is - and we've been really able to deliver something that does CoD justice and really delivers a true, authentic CoD-calibre experience on to mobile devices for really the first time."
Some franchises have made their way on to mobile with what is in effect nothing but a generic genre game with a famous licence attached for marketing purposes. This is not the case with CoD: Mobile, and it is obvious the developers have put a lot of work into ensuring that it looks, sounds and feels like a real CoD game.
This extends to the game modes and maps on offer. Multiplayer mainstays such as team deathmatch, search and destroy and domination play like their console counterparts, and fan-favourite maps such as Crash, Nuketown and Hijacked will evoke nostalgia in CoD veterans. The use of classic maps is not only for the sake of happy memories, however - Plummer says that these are play spaces that have proven their ability to provide a fun experience.
“These are maps that players who have played the games over the years will recognise and that have been battle-tested over so many years and hours of gameplay,” he says. “We’ve adapted them very faithfully to mobile.
"Battle royale is very popular right now and we have a really awesome battle royale experience that is a unique map compared to any other CoD game, but it features points of interest from across the franchise. So, if you're a CoD fan you'll recognise locations around every corner.
“These are very well-proven set-piece environments that make our battle royale map a lot more engaging, fun and balanced play experience compared to our competitors, who may be learning this stuff for the first time.”
The words "mobile game" immediately conjure thoughts of mobile transactions and pay-to-win scenarios. In-game transactions have become such a normal part of mobile gaming that their inclusion here will probably not raise as many eyebrows as has their introduction in the main series. CoD: Mobile is quite aggressive in promoting the in-game goodies that will cost you real-world money, and a free-to-play game such as CoD: Mobile does of course have to make its money somewhere. But Plummer is insistent this does not have to come at the expense of those who do not want to fork out for sparkly weapons skins or other paid-for content.
"With mobile games, the business models are different," he says. "And in order to reach the largest audience in the world through the largest platform in the world, it is a different model than our traditional CoD games, and most traditional games for that matter. The model is familiar to people who play mobile games.
“With that said, I think it’s important to us that the experience is fair and we do want people to be able to play it for free.
“That’s the model - you download it and play it for free and if you want to continue to play it that way we support it.
“Obviously, we want players to enjoy it enough that they want to engage more deeply and express themselves or engage in some of our purchases so they can express how much they like the game. We want to do both of those things.
“But it’s really important for us that we are a good experience for everybody. Whether you’re paying for a weapon skin or just playing with your friend for free, we want that to be a balanced experience that’s good for everybody.”
A day after release, CoD: Mobile had already been downloaded more than three million times. Most game modes are refreshingly short, perfect for a quick dose of adrenaline when you have a few minutes to spare. But there's more than enough here to make it an experience you can sink a lot of time into, should you so choose.
It's an impressive package that successfully brings what feels like an authentic CoD experience to phones and tablets. Purists may baulk at any CoD game that can't be popped into a PlayStation, but most veterans and newcomers are likely to find themselves pleasantly surprised by the visceral fun on offer.
Call of Duty: Mobile is available for free download now on the App Store and Google Play. The game has been localised for the Middle East and North Africa region and is available in Arabic.