The sequel to most popular FPS on the App Store tries hard to one-up it’s predecessor, but is it enough?
Ah yes, Modern Combat. The original game was the pinnacle of Gameloft’s ability to create shiny new App Store rip-offs of popular console games. It pulled the wool over many people’s eyes with it’s great graphics and FPS action, but it was ultimately a mediocre and generic experience with buggy multiplayer that wasn’t completed until months after the original release. So how does Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus compare to the original?
It has improved, but still has much room for improvement. MC2 certainly comes with some great additions, and is definitely a better game than the original, but as a game critic, it’s my job to write about both the good and the bad. Let’s start with some of the latter.
The single player campaign suffers from almost all the same issues that the original games suffered from. The story is almost non-existent, and is limited to a few sentences before each mission and some limited in-game dialogue. Speaking of dialogue, it’s just as campy and terrible in this game as it was in the original. I’m beginning to think this is done on purpose, as some of the lines are so bad, they are literally laughable. The problem is,
MC2 doesn’t come across as being a funny game, and tries to deal with serious national issues, which makes these lines seem out of place. Also, I’m not sure what Gameloft has against profanity, but hearing a soldier in the heat of battle say “What the heck!? I need to get this freaking door open!” is just lame. The fact that your enemies say the same few lines in each level is also pretty disappointing. When you’re chasing someone through the streets of a shanty town in South America, and hear someone say “enemy in the base!”, it turns into another laughable moment, which doesn’t exactly work for this kind of game. (“I will cut off your head!” is another one of the many unintentionally funny lines.)
Almost all the missions in MC2 are ripped right out of another Call of Duty game (oil rig raid, snow “stealth” mission”, etc) meaning that if you’ve played the Modern Warfare series, the missions here will seem pretty cut and dry. Many of the missions feel as if they are being drug out to extend the game time, which makes them a tedious task to complete. There are a few unique points, such as defending a hummer from rooftops as it treks through an enemy city, or defending a buddy with a sniper from across a courtyard, but these sections are too few and far between. In a couple missions you are encouraged to be stealthy, but I didn’t play these missions any differently than the rest, and didn’t see any sort of downside to doing so.
From a technical standpoint, MC2 leaves something to be desired. The collision detection for bullets is pretty bad, especially when sniping. About half the time, a direct headshot won’t do anything to an enemy, or will be recorded as a body shot. Grenades and explosions are inconsistent as well. For example, I could be looking completely away from a flash grenade, but still go blind. Calling in an air strike is hilariously bad. I would toss the marker a good distance away, but would get bombed and killed along with my teammates. One time I ran as far away as I could, and still took damage as my closer up teammates all got killed. The funny part about this is the fact that there wasn’t anywhere else to throw the marker, as I had to destroy a tank to complete the area. While the frame rate is generally good, there were several parts where things got pretty laggy. This
especially happened during a couple boss battles (UGH). Why Gameloft felt the need to include boss battles is beyond me. Going for more cheesiness?
Fortunately, the AI in MC2 has been vastly improved over its predecessor, and is one of the high points of the single player. Many of the areas have multiple routes you can take to complete them, and enemies will sometimes use these routes to flank you. It appears that what worked so well in N.O.V.A. has been implemented here just as well. In other words, enemies now spawn and then actually react somewhat to situations. Diving for cover, shooting around a wall, etc. There are still moments where an enemy will simply spawn behind you and knife you in the back, but at least enemy encounters aren’t exactly the same every time now.
The controls are the same as in the original game, with the added ability to full customize the touchscreen buttons and to play with the gryoscope if you choose. I tried playing with the gyroscope for a while, but found it far too inaccurate to play with properly. This is ironic considering N.O.V.A., a previous Gameloft shooter, has fantastic gyroscope control. The ability to customize the button layout on the screen was very handy, and worked well. There are a few other control options as well, such as the ability to use two on-screen joysticks to aim/move.
Another high point for MC2 are the visuals. Modern Combat 2 is a fantastic-looking game, with some of the best graphics I’ve seen in an App Store shooter. You can see the retina display support in the screenshots posted with this review. The game looks crisp and clear in both single player and multiplayer, and is one of those “show your friends” kind of games, for those doubting the graphical power of the A4 processor in the iPhone. There is still no lip-syncing during in-mission dialogue, which sucks, but there is some syncing done during actual cutscenes, which works well enough.
We all know that the bread and butter of the Modern Warfare games is their multiplayer features. Modern Combat pretty much failed in this
respect, as the multiplayer was not released at launch, and when it was, it wasn’t pretty much unplayable. It appears Gameloft has learned from their mistakes, as Modern Combat 2 has a multiplayer mode at out of the box. MC2 multiplayer gameplay is an absolute blast, and feels very solid. There is a good variety of maps to start with, and 4 different modes of play: deathmatch, team deathmatch, CTF, and bomb disarm. These are all very self-explanatory, and are all fun to play. It’s disappointing that the bomb disarm game doesn’t have rounds though, as it’s difficult to get enough players in the game before someone is already disarming the bomb.
MC2 introduces a simple ranking system that unlocks new weapons and kill signatures. Unless you unlock it at higher levels, I didn’t see the ability to save loadouts, but you can choose your weapons, based on what you’ve unlocked, at the beginning or during a match. Kill signatures are simple phrases that are displayed on your opponents screen when you kill them. There is a huge number of these to unlock, some by rank, and others by getting a certain number of kills, headshots, etc. You’ll hear a satisfying Modern Warfare-esque guitar riff when you level up while you’re playing.
The problem with the multiplayer is the complete lack of a friends list or matchmaking system. In order to play with a friend, you have to know they are online, and manually enter their name. Even then, there’s no guarantee you won’t be playing against them rather than with them. Because there’s no friends list, you can’t add a friend, or even add someone to play with you from within a game. This is very disappointing, especially considering N.O.V.A. (also a Gameloft title) was the same way, and came out almost a year ago! The menu system is also pretty bad. Whenever you finish a game, unless you want to continue with that group, you have to quit all the way back to the main title screen, then reconnect to the
multiplayer server and start a new search to find more games. These may seem like small issues, but they are unacceptable for modern multiplayer games, and are pretty frustrating. To be honest, Gameloft Live has never quite been up to par with more popular social networks on the iPhone, so I hope there are plans to improve the experience in the future.
It is well-known that people generally don’t buy this kind of game for the single player experience. It’s a good thing too, as MC2 doesn’t offer a very compelling, original, or interesting single player campaign. However, MC2 takes a big step in the right direction for the series as far as multiplayer is concerned, despite the lack of a friends list or the other oversights. If you’re a fan of online shooters, but don’t mind the clunky menus or inability to easily play with friends, this is the game for you. The 5 vs 5 online matches are intense, and the different gametypes offer a nice variety of gameplay options. The addition of ranking and kill signatures will keep you playing for a while to come, and the gorgeous graphics really give the feel that this is much more than a mobile game. It’s a shame that the lack of many basic features constantly reminds you that it isn’t.
|Second Opinion: Nigel Wood
Forget the single campaign, for me it’s all about the online multiplayer. As Matt says there are many things that could improve, but even stripped down as it is, it’s a great online experience. Capture the flag and five-on-five team deathmatch are highlights of a game that has no intention to hide that it borrows from Activision’s premium FPS. And while it’s nowhere near those giddy heights, it’s certainly flying high over the AppStore competition.