Mobile Strike touts “Nonstop Action’, yet the pace of the game is more of a soldier’s low crawl than that of the jets flying overhead in its commercials. It gets bogged down with the builder elements and sits the player down in front of resource spreadsheets, quest logs, and timers instead of battlefields.
(Mobile Strike ad, prominently featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger its famous spokesperson)
Yet, Mobile Strike has been undeniably successful; which begs the question, how has it been able to achieve success? The answer lies in its portrayal of its gameplay as deep and immersive, when it is in fact merely complex and shallow.
Clash of gameplay
(A PvP battle in Clash of Clans)
Clash of Clans used to serve as the standard for combat builders. The player constantly produced units and took them into battle, returned to their base, upgraded those units, bolstered their base’s defenses, and went back out again.
This core game loop balanced gameplay between combat and builder. The base is a reflection of the player since they can build it and design the layout however they see fit; and the combat was based on the strength of the player’s units against the base design of their enemy.
By eliminating combat from being a direct conflict between units and base design, Mobile Strike has removed the self expression from it’s building mechanics. Since other players don’t need to consider the structure of an enemy’s base or even see it to go to war, the pride in one’s base shifts from the aesthetic reward of its spectacle to the dry, calculated reward of its production capabilities.
In Mobile Strike, buildings are set on a grid with divisions for each building type, while this may make sense for the layout and feel of a military base it would have been nice to have had more control over the player’s area, even if it was just a matter of picking the orientation of the base to provide some variety. As it stands all players essentially build the same base, upgrade them at the same levels, and progress in an identical manner.
(The grid based layout of Mobile Strike)
The game fails to capitalize on what makes builders so fun; the freedom for players to make their space their own. Since combat is very limited, as far as mechanics go, the player ends up spending a lot of time within the base building aspects of game; this is even more reason to include some depth to the building systems.
Combat by numbers
(Screenshot of an attack from ThatVoiceGuy aka James Forestieri’s video “Mobile Strike Tutorial: Attacking During Kill Events” https://youtu.be/B4v2rBShTTw)
Combat is reduced to a numbers game, if the player has more units than their enemy then they should attack. At the end of an attack, whose entire animations are units ant marching from the player’s base to the enemy’s base, the player gets an attack report explaining the player’s success.
(Screenshot of an attack result from ThatVoiceGuy aka James Forestieri’s video “Mobile Strike Tutorial: Attacking During Kill Events” https://youtu.be/B4v2rBShTTw)
Mobile Strike suffers from heavy handed tutorials that drag the player through setting up the base with repetitive building tasks. Within the first five minutes of playing Mobile Strike, the player feels trapped within a pattern of tapping the highlighted areas of the screen to navigate in and out of building segments through scripted tutorials.
(Locked tutorial screen in Mobile Strike)
Each screen features text prompts explaining why each building is important to the player’s progression but falls prey to the classic pitfall of not showing instead of telling.
(Text screen describing a structure in Mobile Strike)
As it stands the game could have set up the player with many of the main structures and allowed the player to meet a requirement naturally, making the process of building an organic choice as opposed to a forced sequence.
(“Free” bypass conditioning in Mobile Strike)
The tutorials condition the player to bypass the construction timers by using “free” passes, which, while free for the tutorial will eventually cost a resource which is sold through IAP. This corruption of the success loop accompanied by rewards for completing every single building, menial task, and forced click makes the game experience one where the developer is clearly trying to overload the reward center of the player’s brain.
(Rewards received after completing the first few tutorial tasks in Mobile Strike)
Too many actions not enough choices
Mobile Strike suffers from having too much complexity, but worse still capitalizes on it. To make up for the fact that players will churn out of the game once they become bored with the experience, they hedge their bets on their ability to hook paying players into the game through their early bypass conditioning.
Without an engaging combat system to connect with, or a building system to want to invest in, Mobile Strike focuses on the short term. It overwhelms the player with information on its complex systems and then carries the player across each threshold with guided gameplay and excessive rewards. It keeps the player occupied with this loop so that the player feels like they are constantly making progress; all of which goes on without actual gameplay. It focuses on making the game so complex that players feel like there is a lot to do, only to find that the myriad of actions to be taken inevitably lack depth.
Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor. You can check out more of his content on Facebook, and Instagram.
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