I’m enjoying my time with the new Apex Legends Mobile, a fact that’s partly thanks to my appreciation for great online mobile games like this, and partly because I’ve had a good year obsessing over the release. console.
But I particularly like it because it learned a key thing from the mobile gaming juggernaut Call of Duty Mobile, which has such a useful feature that it’s now the basis I use to judge other similar mobile games .
I’m talking about one small aspect of the control scheme – and while Apex Legends Mobile doesn’t have the most intuitive controls of its rivals, there’s one small thing it does really well.
The one-button approach
Cell phones are a little trickier to use to control games than a typical console controller, because the buttons are all on-screen, so you basically have to rely on your thumbs to do most of the action (except if you have very nimble fingers).
Since shooters like Apex and CoD have the same key features, all mobile shooters ended up having an almost identical control scheme. You can slide your finger on the right half of the screen to look around and on the left half to move around; press a button on the left side to aim your gun, press the right to shoot.
This scheme worked, with PUBG Mobile being a key example in action, but it makes the myriad of other functions a little more cumbersome. If you wanted to duck or stand up, prone, use a healing item, switch weapons, equip a grenade or anything else, you had to move your hands – that meant you couldn’t do them aiming and shooting. Also, if you wanted to move or look around while aiming, you had a hard time in front of you.
Call of Duty has simplified this in a small but essential way – when you press the fire button, you automatically aim too. This reduces the short time it took to press the two separate buttons, which in a frantic shooter can mean the difference between winning and losing.
With this little feature, CoD became my go-to mobile game when I wanted that kind of gameplay – the whole gameplay was just a bit smoother and more intuitive, and it was hard to play PUBG after that.
Fortunately, Apex Legends Mobile copies this feature and makes the gameplay as frenetic and fast as the non-mobile version.
But while Apex is super fun, partly because of this feature, it stumbles on another thing that plagues mobile shooters, that Call of Duty was way better – and that’s the rest of the controls.
too many buttons
While Call of Duty Mobile was inspired by the mainline Call of Duty games, Apex Legends Mobile is a direct port of the console and PC game, which means it should be more faithful to the existing controls and features. The base game has plenty of nuanced tricks, especially for things like swiping and using ultimate abilities, which don’t sit well on a small mobile screen.
The touch controls section of the screen is cluttered, with lots of different icons for different things, and it’s harder to remember what does what. Which button do I press to descend a slope? Can I remember to press the “dodge” button instead of the “reload” button? Most of the time I end up overwriting the wrong icon or having to remember who did what.
The Ping system is a key example. On console and PC, it’s a great way to easily point out features to a teammate – you can ping off distant enemies, useful loot items in boxes, areas to attack or defend. However, with fiddly touch controls on mobile, I always struggle to know what the ping button will do – and sometimes things get pinged off when I don’t even want to.
The same can be said about picking up items – sometimes you pick them up automatically, sometimes not, sometimes you can’t pick up items at all even though you need them and have storage space , and I can’t find a rhyme or reason.
A good example is the boxes that drop when players are killed – these allow you to pick up gear they were carrying, which is often the best way to upgrade your own weapons and replenish ammo. In Apex Mobile, sometimes you automatically collect everything about you from the box as you get closer, but sometimes you have to press a little button on the screen to start the process – and sometimes you have to individually choose the items you want, and this last option is very time consuming.
Keep in mind that I’m not a newbie playing my first mobile game – I’ve been playing a lot because it’s literally part of my job. Apex Mobile can therefore be a bit complicated.
Apex Legends is far from the first mobile game to face the “too many controls” problem, and I faced it recently with PUBG: New State, which put me off playing. Fortunately, the easy fire controls make up for the confusion, but I think a few really easy tweaks would make the game a lot more fun to play.
That’s not to say it’s a bad game – in fact, I’m having a lot of fun with it, and it’s one of the best mobile shooters I’ve played (and have played many). But since I know I’m going to spend hours playing the game, I wish it made a little more sense.