This isn't the first time that Activision has tried cramming all of the explosive action of the Call of Duty series into smaller screens, but Call of Duty: Strike Team might be the most interesting attempt. Rather than port the trusty run-and-gun experience of its console brethren, Activision has included some strategic elements to Strike Team that might help it reach the top of the App Store. Did they finally unlock the secret to crafting modern warfare on iOS devices? Or does Strike Team pull a Martyrdom and blow up in its own face?
If you're looking for a straight up port of the console experience, then you're going to be sorely disappointed. If you've got an open mind and want to play a Call of Duty title that feels familiar while offering new ways to play at the same time, then Strike Team is the game for you.
The biggest difference, you'll find out in the second tutorial chapter, is that you can zoom out of the first-person perspective and play the game in third-person from a top-down view. When you're zoomed out like this, you can control the battlefield and play strategically. The addition of this feature is a bit of a gamechanger, since you're able to see hidden enemies, snipers on rooftops and security measures like cameras. This will definitely help you plan out your attacks more carefully, making you think twice about attacking an enemy, just in case he's got a buddy around the corner who'll rush in to help and sound the alarm.
Once you're familiar with how to play and efficiently switch between both perspectives, you'll be downing tangos in no time and completing objectives deftly in the campaign. And, to its credit, Strike Team's story is actually and interesting one and kept me hooked every step of the way. You follow Team Onslaught as they track down a cyber-terrorist group called Cordis Die, a faction that was featured in the Black Ops series. Their mission will have them face off against snipers, clamber atop trucks to infiltrate missile silos and hack into computers to stop launches.
To help you accomplish your tasks, a fully customizable loadout is available for each of your squad members. You can choose their weapons (provided you've unlocked most of them by gaining experience points), special equipment like grenades and even the familiar perks that help beef up players in the console counterparts' multiplayer modes.
Now, this game has in-app purchases that are directly tied to the gear you can buy, but they're non-essential for the most part. You can purchase tokens for real-world cash, which then lets you buy care packages filled with goodies for each playstyle-themed loadout (stealth, balanced, assault and custom). Of course, you don't have to purchase tokens, since you can earn them in-game, but they're there as an option for the impatient.
Once you're loaded up with gear, you can head into the missions in order to accomplish different tasks. Objectives are marked with a little yellow dot on the map, so it's up to you to get there however you want. Will you go into the fray completely in first-person mode, relying on your own accuracy and abilities in a firefight? Or will you view the action from the skies, commanding your squad members like a tactician with the lay of the land revealed to you? Or, if you're a true strategist, will you switch between both modes depending on the situation?
Whatever you decide to do, the ability to zoom out gives you a lot more options. You can have a squad member sneak up behind an enemy and take them out silently in third-person while you line up a shot to take out a sniper in a tower overlooking the field. You can then pick up the bodies and hide them in lockers so that other guards won't be alerted. This level of stealth and planning is definitely welcome in a Call of Duty game, especially one that's on mobile devices, which aren't really suited to the twitchy nature of console shooters.
If you get bored with the campaign (you won't), you can try out the Survival Mode and take on wave after wave of baddies in first-person. Surprisingly, the controls in first-person aren't terrible and actually simulate the feel of playing an FPS on a console. You'll move around via floating thumbstick on the left and aim and shoot using the right side of the screen. Several buttons on the screen allow you to aim down the sights, toggle crouch, use special equipment, reload and switch out your weapons. It's hard to be a crackshot on an iOS device, so Strike Team assists you by letting you snap your crosshairs to an enemy with some buttons on the sides of the screen, lining up headshots automatically. It feels good, man.
Call of Duty: Strike Team is an amazing hybrid of two great gaming styles that just works on the mobile format. It may not fully capture the experience one gets from a console Call of Duty game, but it does pretty damn well on its own. It's got great graphics, excellent gameplay, an interesting narrative and provides a level of immersion that I was not expecting. The price may be steep at $6.99, but you'll find that it's worth every damn penny.