Gameloft once again delivers the best in class for FPS on iOS.
Has it really been that long since we took up arms in Gameloft’s third outing of its Modern Combat series? Well, apparently so. Because, like a sly and stealthy ninja fox, Modern Combat 4 (MC4) has crept up on us and taken up sniping positions on the AppStore.
It’s no secret that Gameloft gets its inspiration each year from the latest and greatest Modern Warfare/ Black Ops entries (which ever comes first), striving to bring us hardcore iOS gaming fans a worthy FPS experience of our own. Each year they’ve come closer and closer, specifically when it comes to presentation – such as cinematics, graphics; and features, such as online multiplayer. Well, for once it doesn’t feel like its trying to be like a AAA game, this is one!
First up to delivering this AAA experience is the gripping story in the campaign mode. It involves the kidnapping of the president of the USA by a rogue Green Beret psychopath named Edward Page, hell-bent on destroying the major powers of the world. It does takes place after the last game (MC3), but that was such a convoluted mess in terms of story that I really don’t remember who-was-who or what-was-what. This time though, it’s a much leaner and meaner story, allowing you to sit back and enjoy the non-stop action.
The campaign is broken up into 12 missions, each taking around 20-30 minutes depending on difficulty. I found the normal difficulty to be ramped up this time around, with less hand holding and more intense fire fights than previous Modern Combats. I certainly died more. So depending on your experience with touch screen FPS’s, expect around 6-8 hours of play, which is great value for a fiver ($6.99) – of course that time doesn’t include the endless hours of multiplayer!
For once you are not simply dropped into the shoes of the generic Jarhead protagonist, and in a nice twist you get to play on both sides. Missions alternate between playing the evil Green Beret Page, and the special forces troops trying to stop him.
I particularly liked one instance where as Page you witness three special forces abseiling into your compound, and must make your way to the escape route with the captured president – all the while taking out other special forces. Once the level is complete, you then become one of the abseiling special forces guys and must chase the same Page you were just playing, to try and save the President. It’s a nice touch to the usual, linear, proceedings.
Previous MCs have always included some on-rails vehicular sections. In the past some of these have been too long, acting as filler of sorts, when all you really want is to stay on foot with your trusty AK. There is one on-rails jeep section, but thankfully it is short and sweet. The drones I talked about in my hands-on impressions a few weeks back, are more enjoyable than they look, despite also being on rails. But by far the best bit is a Modern Combat-esque gun-ship section, where you must support your ground troops by firing a hail of death from above in the form of bullets and missiles.
Gameplay is only marginally let down when it comes to the enemy AI routines. The enemy is generally pretty stupid, particularly if you come at them at an angle not expected by the game’s coding. They’ll sometimes happily jump out of cover into a hail of your bullets, run right past you, or look and shoot in the opposite direction. While this might sound like a cause for concern, the enemy can still be challenging particularly in large groups where they can be formidable on harder difficulties.
Overall the campaign is the best yet. The final showdown is all-out action, leading to a satisfying end to the main villain – and a small twist in the tail leaves the door open for this continuing saga (rumoured to be called Modern Combat 5: Last War).
Controlling the game is pretty much the same as previous games, which is to say that it’s great. Gameloft once again delivers the best FPS touch-screen set-up out there, offering up highly customisable options for many play-styles. This time they’ve made it a bit slicker too, by making the shoot button automatically switch to melee attack when you are very close to an enemy.
However, the game does once again feature a few quicktime events (or QTEs) where you must perform a touch screen gesture to perform an action – generally when you encounter a slow-mo scuffle with an enemy. For me these are jarring to the flow of the game. They also come too quickly for you to reposition your hands on the iPad to be one-handed, and then swipe in the correct direction, resulting in a quick death and having to re-play it until you get it right. I just don’t really see the point in them to be honest. Any shoehorned-in touch-based gimmick just feels so antiquated now.
Sound is also top notch for the most part, especially the music, which keeps your heart pumping as you mow down foe after foe. That said, it has become somewhat of a running joke in my reviews with Gameloft’s bad voice acting in their games. And I’m afraid to say things haven’t exactly improved. It is mostly tolerable for once, but it’s still weak and poorly executed. For example the line ‘Aloha bitches!’ in a scene with Page is all a bit Duke Nukem-esque for my liking. It’s a bit jarring and takes you out of the realism and seriousness of his violence and extreme ideology. Yes, he’s a psychopath, but to hear his constant chatter about fascist pigs and stomach gutting, while you are deep in a fire fight, can be intolerable. Sometime ‘less is more’ Gameloft!
Still, as a Villain he’s one of Gameloft’s best, and when you are playing him, the action in the game is at its strongest.
Next up is the fantastic presentation that wraps up the whole experience into a gorgeous looking package. It’s easily the best looking FPS on iOS no matter what device you play it on (I tested it on iPad 3, iPad Mini and iPhone 5). From the well designed and easy to use interface, to the highly detailed and large environments, it’s a real eye pleaser.
Thanks to the Havok engine, environments are more destructible than before, and that includes your enemies. Limbs fly off when shot, and their deaths are almost balletic, due in part to their new soft bodies and rag-doll physics. Great motion capture ensures that while the voice acting is average, at least the physical acting is top notch. There’s even lip syncing throughout!
The aforementioned user interface is even more impressive once you get to the multiplayer offering. And nowhere is this more prominent than in the new armory. Here you can view each weapon in your load-out in gorgeous ‘spin-able’ 3D (I almost wanted to wrap rope around them!!!) and then select directly the upgradable parts of each weapon and browser though the available attachments. It’s almost as fun as playing!
This then brings me onto the Multiplayer. MC3 offered such a great experience last time out that it’s hard to see where they could improve it. They add far more customisation this time around (including many purchasable items with credits available through purchase or slowly ranking up) to your load-outs, such as weapons upgrades, specialisations and perks (drones etc), but for me it’s the excellent map designs. Based on the levels from the campaign they perfectly blend great hiding and sniping, with large open areas for gun-ho acts of glory. One even looks to replicate the opening scene from the new James Bond film Skyfall, with you dueling it out on rooftops.
Overall then, what Gameloft have created here is almost the complete package. It is truly AAA in scope and presentation. It’s just a shame that it is still lacking decent AI routines for enemies and the voice acting it deserves. Of course, take things out of the campaign mode and into multiplayer, and MC4 really shines.
Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour is out now as a universal game for £4.99 ($6.99). Get it on the