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Apex Legends Mobile isn’t a great fit for small screens

Apex Legends is one of those multiplayer games I love, but am terrible at. When I was invited to a press demo for the game’s limited-time Control mode earlier this year, I was thoroughly embarrassed as my peers routinely downed me with a headshot from across the map. I’ve always wanted to play it more than I do, but I never felt cut out for the twitchy world of PC players.

Apex Legends Mobile solves that issue for me, though it creates some new problems of its own in the process. The standalone mobile version of the battle royale hit more or less feels like a one-to-one adaptation of its bigger counterpart (the most notable difference is the number of pop-up notifications trying to nudge players to the shop). That means I can fully enjoy the shooter in a more casual portable setting, one free from the mouse and keyboard crowd.

While it’s a smooth experience that I’m enjoying my time with already, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Apex Legends isn’t exactly the best fit for small screens.

A clean adaptation

Like its console and PC counterpart, Apex Legends Mobile is a faced-paced battle royale where one squad tries to outlast the rest. While developer Respawn continually emphasized that the mobile version was an entire standalone experience from the original, it’s shockingly not very different. You’ll still drop into Kings Canyon with a squad of heroes, each of which has its own ability. There are fewer modes and characters at launch, but nothing about the experience feels fundamentally different.

Apex Legends Mobile: Gameplay Launch Trailer

That’s for better and worse. On one hand, it’s a classic case of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Apex Legends is still one of the best battle royale games on the market today, if not one of the finest shooters period. Its quick mobility is immediately fun on any device, and the character focus can make each round feel slightly different. All of that holds true here; it feels exactly like Apex Legends, just running on a phone.

What’s most surprising is how clean the experience is. While it’s not as technically demanding as its older brother, it’s still beefy for a mobile title. Graphical hitches are minor and I’ve found that the game runs at a stable framerate. For those who love Apex Legends and simply want to be able to play it no matter what devices they have on hand at any given time, it’ll scratch that itch.

Squinting to victory

Though Apex Legends runs quite well on mobile devices, I’m not convinced it’s an ideal fit in its current implementation. That has less to do with what Respawn has accomplished here and more with the general industry push to cram everything onto a portable device without building with a smaller screen in mind.

Even playing with my iPhone 12 smashed right up to my face, I really have to squint to see what’s going on. When enemies are at mid-range and beyond, they’re a blip on my screen. On-screen text is minuscule, making it tough to even read what weapons I have equipped or what’s happening in the kill feed. On top of that, the game’s several touch controls appear on-screen too, further cluttering the UI.

A player shoots an enemy while on a zipline.

Speaking of touch controls, Apex Legends isn’t really a game that’s easy without a controller or keyboard. Because of its ability-based gameplay, players won’t just run, shoot, and reload. They’ll also need to use character skills and perform executions, in addition to sliding, pinging, looting, and more. It’s already hard enough trying to aim and shoot at the same time in a mobile shooter (which seems to be why the game includes an “auto-shoot” option).

I’m exclusively playing with a Backbone controller attached to my phone rather than fussing with touch inputs. It feels fantastic, but it’s almost like I’m cheating. It feels like I have a clear advantage considering that anyone using touch controls can’t really aim and shoot at the same time without enabling auto-shoot. I notice that when I’m going one-on-one with another player, I’m able to hit them way more than they hit me. I can sense that they’re forced to make start-and-stop movements to adjust their aim while I can move and shoot freely (or maybe I’m just playing bots).

Apex Legends Mobile underscores how tricky it can be to simply bring an established game to mobile. Even with its control considerations, it still feels like a PC game crammed onto a small screen. Though I’m having fun with it so far, I’m not sure why I’d choose to play the mobile version over PC, or even Switch, considering how similar the versions are.

Wraith steps out of a portal in Apex Legends.

Part of me wishes the mobile version did more to differentiate itself as a portable-exclusive title. Rocket League Sideswipe, for instance, smartly adapts the basic Rocket League experience into a simplified 2D game that’s easy to control with touch inputs. The two versions are notably different, but fun for their own reasons. I had wondered if Apex Legends Mobile was taking a similar approach considering that it wouldn’t feature cross-play, but that’s not the case. It’s just Apex Legends for people who don’t own a gaming device.

Ultimately, that’s fine. Considering I own every modern console, Apex Legends Mobile doesn’t need to be for me. It’ll be more useful for casual players and kids who deserve to play one of the best shooters on the market today regardless of what devices they have. The portable version is still an excellent game, just not an excellent mobile game.

Apex Legends Mobile is free to download right now on iOS and Android devices.

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