Heed the Call?
So what makes this a Call of Duty game? Luckily, some of the familiar series flavor comes into play. For example, you can summon flying drones and other futuristic vehicles from the main games, and the unit classes are all based on the kinds of soldiers you'll fight alongside in the Modern Warfare and Black Ops entries. The menus and UI also feel suitably grounded in the Call of Duty universe.
Memorable Modern Warfare characters like Price and Soap lead the pack of heroes available to summon into battle, and they're slightly more interactive than the average grunt: you can redirect them to particular locations, although they'll still attack on their own. Furthermore, each has "killstreak" skills like those seen in the main games' multiplayer offerings, such as briefly manning a helicopter machine gun turret to spray some bullets down onto an enemy base below.
And Survival mode is a nice little addition that recalls the cooperative modes seen in the shooter entries. You'll still face off against waves of increasingly powerful enemy battalions, only here you're simply testing out the strength of your existing base--rather than, say, blasting soldiers in the face with the click of a trigger. Still, it's something. Those additions do the smallest bit to separate Call of Duty Heroes from Clash of Clans, but not dramatically so: the drudgery remains intact, and merely seeing portraits of fictional heroes doesn't really help overcome the bouts of tedium.
What's disappointing is that Call of Duty: Heroes seems content to be another rehash with a big-name brand attached. With the resources of Activision, Heroes could have elevated the genre, adding some much-needed excitement or moving away from such a transparent push towards in-app purchases. Instead, the boring resource gathering is still boring, your soldiers seem to actively seek out death, and the visuals and animations are very underwhelming.
The recent Star Wars: Commander is a better example of taking this genre and making it fit well with an established brand. With two opposing sides to choose from, decent narrative hooks, and nice use of the series aesthetic, it avoided feeling like a quick cash-in.
What could have made the difference here--besides an emphasis on more active gameplay, even if it broke from Clash of Clans design tenets--is some kind of connection to the series heroes, through story segments or even simple dialogue exchanges. Or maybe a tie back into current console entry, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, like unlocking exclusive content or temporary XP boosts for online play. Anything to add extra layers of motivation to the mundane micromanagement would have been an upgrade.
Call of Duty: Heroes isn't a miserable experience; it's a fair time-waster and a slight alternative to Clash of Clans. But it adheres closely to a flat, unexciting formula that isn't compatible with the shooter series' frenetic pace or consistent feeling of being the star in a Hollywood action epic. The brand might make this kind of game more appealing to some players, but extending the series into a trendy genre for the least Call of Duty-like Call of Duty game ever--without majorly improving on the familiar design--doesn't say a whole lot for the franchise or its mobile future.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.