Comment & Opinion

What other mobile shooters should learn from Glu Mobile's Rival Fire

The case for Rival Fire as a best-in-class shooter

What other mobile shooters should learn from Glu Mobile's Rival Fire

For me personally, the military shooter genre is one that holds very little appeal on any platform.

But on mobile, the selection is even more dire.

Most ape console and PC hits so closely that they completely lack any of their own identity.

Their control systems veer wildly between complex configurations unintuitive for touchscreen and those that overcompensate with tedious simplicity.

Repeated errors

Of those I've played (and there's been a few) none had previously held my interest for more than a couple of hours before I deleted them.

My experience is borne out by wider statistics, too, which consistently show a lower retention rate for action games on mobile than those in any other genre.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Rival Fire - a culturalisation of Tencent's third-person shooter WeFire by Glu Mobile - quickly established itself in my daily routine.

It's become not only one of my favourite mobile games of 2016 so far, but is also well on track to be among my most played.

So, how has Rival Fire succeeded where other mobile shooters have failed? What makes it so sticky? Click through below to see how the rest should follow its lead.

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Think broad

    Think broad logo

    Rival Fire doesn't pin its colours to any single mast.

    Consider the other mobile shooters out there: Deer Hunter is for hunting enthusiasts, the Frontline Commando series opts for a hard-bitten military style and Unkilled has you slaughtering waves of zombies.

    Rival Fire, by contrast, offers a much broader appeal.

    Mixing things up

    It's loosely military-themed, but you can also have a female squadmate with neon pink hair. It's mostly set in the real world, but enemies in co-op mode range from zombie dogs to pterodactyl-esque airborne bosses.

    It might feel a little all over the place, but Rival Fire has at least the ambition of being the only mobile shooter players need, rather than settling for niche appeal.

    Going by how popular Zombies mode was as an accompaniment to the ostensibly military-themed Call of Duty, it's a strategy that can work.

  • 2 Better meta

    Better meta logo

    The balance between metagame and active gameplay is precisely why strategy games effortlessly outperform shooters on mobile, but on no other platform.

    The truth is, the actual action of moving around and firing a gun in a mobile shooter is rarely enough on its own. It exposes the platform's limitations, and the fact that a wealth of superior alternatives are available elsewhere.

    But this is well-documented. The real issue is that most mobile shooters have a far less sophisticated approach to free-to-play design than those on even the lowest rung of the strategy genre.

    Gearing up

    Many rely on restrictive energy systems, hoping that the player will be so keen to keep playing that they will cough up to do so.

    This is nowhere near a strong enough impulse to build a game around, and players are more likely to churn than convert to paying users.

    But in Rival Fire, there's always a reason to return.

    Just as every session in a strategy game feels like progress - even if you've only levelled up a tiny piece of wall - gun upgrades are sufficiently complex and granular that improvement is always within reach.

    You can level up entire guns, or individual components. You can even harvest an unwanted gun for its constituent pieces, and use them to strengthen another weapon.

    The complexity is there for those who want to plumb its depths, but straightforward upgrades can be administered quickly and easily - the perfect combination for a compelling metagame.

  • 3 Quick, competitive PvP

    Quick, competitive PvP logo

    No, I don't want to play a version of Counter-Strike's multiplayer on mobile. First off, for the aforementioned reasons, it will inevitably be a lesser version.

    But perhaps more importantly, the whole affair will take far longer than I want it to.

    It's a completely different genre, but Clash Royale is now the gold standard by which all other synchronous PvP mobile games should be judged.

    The Royale standard

    Getting into and completing an online bout should be as quick and simple as it is in Supercell's hit. Otherwise, what's the point?

    Rival Fire is a game that gets this. Matchmaking is quick and easy, and so too are the firefights.

    Facing off directly against your opponent, in either 1v1 or 2v2 formation, you tap left and right to run between cover and the first to 10 kills wins.

    It's quick, it's simple, and it's incredibly satisfying.

    You're encouraged to keep playing, too, as online play comes with no energy cost and you're granted increasing PvP participation bonuses depending on your time investment.

  • 4 Closing thoughts

    Closing thoughts logo

    All this combines to make Rival Fire the best example of free-to-play shooting I've yet seen.

    Unfortunately, early signs show that the game's perfomance in its first month, both in terms of downloads and grossing, has been broadly similar to that of previous Frontline Commando games in the same period.

    However, while Glu Mobile may not be the one to do it, it seems only a matter of time before a developer truly cracks the shooter genre on mobile in a major way.

    And it's my belief that this hypothetical breakthrough game will have a lot in common with - and owe a lot to - Rival Fire.

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.