Modern Combat: Sandstorm Review

The Call of Duty-inspired shooter has arrived, and TG is here to report the good, the bad, and the generic.

Updated with iPad impressions after the rating.

It really is amazing how far games have progressed on the app store since it’s launch barely over a year ago. There was a time when people scoffed at the thought of a First-Person Shooter on the iPhone, much less one with any merit. Gameloft has proved itself time and time again as one of the best mobile game developers on the market, so it seems fitting that they step up to the FPS challenge on a fully touch screen device.

Modern Combat: Sandstorm places you in the boots of an injured “Chief” (no relation to Master) returning to war after an injury. The game starts off with a helpful tutorial, and then quickly throws you into what becomes a confusing and fast-paced adventure through the middle east. I’ll get it out right now: this is a dubiously short adventure, with the campaign completed on normal difficulty in about 3 hours. However, playing on hard is quite challenging, and I can’t imagine what frustrations “extreme” will bring to the table.

When I say the higher difficulties are tougher, I don’t mean that the AI is better. There really isn’t much in way of AI at all in Modern Combat. Basically, all the enemies have scripted paths to take when you approach them. An enemy may knock down table for cover (although they’re just as easy to kill), but he will do the exact same thing if you replay that room. During scenes of continuous battle, enemies will keep spawning

Me likey the snipey, even if there's barely any places to use it.

Me likey the snipey, even if there are barely any places to use it.

and taking the same scripted paths over and over again. This is especially present during the classic FPS “mounted turret moments”, where you sit at a turret and mow down oncoming terrorists. Since you know where they are coming from, you can have the gun ready as they emerge. This is the case for every fight, so there are very few surprises in the game, which is extremely linear.

Linear gameplay is not a bad thing at all for FPS games, as we know from titles such as Call of Duty 4 or F.E.A.R. The difference between these games and Modern Combat is the former games actually had enemy AI, so playing the same room provided for a different experience. In Modern Combat, you know the exact same thing is going to happen every time you play through the game, which really discourages replayability.

The story in Modern Combat is bland at best, with a generic terrorist driven plot. There is a descent twist at the end, but the game makes no attempt to suck you in or connect you to your squad-mates at all, so it’s hard to really care. You would think all the voice acting would help to create an immersive experience, but the acting is so bad, and the writing so laughable, it’s hard to get drawn in at during the brief 10 mission experience. Despite this being a shooter with blood, Gameloft dumbed down the dialogue a ton. I’ve never heard the term “knucklehead” used so much in a game. Seriously. Your sarge will call the squad members knuckleheads. There was even one event where one of the soldiers yelled “Hella cool!” Um….

On many missions, you will get tired of hearing the exact same thing over and over and over until you complete your objective. Get used to hearing the same “RPG!” line 100 times. The between-mission briefing from the obligatory disembodied female voice would have been a nice touch, had it not sounded like they grabbed the nearby secretary and said “Here, you don’t know what you’re reading, but go ahead and give it a shot!” It should also be mentioned that the dialogue and storyline feel like they were written by someone who knows very little about the armed forces, but wrote a story based on other war games they’ve played.

Wow… this review sounds pretty damn negative so far. Why don’t we go into some of things that are AWESOME about Modern Combat? The graphics are ridiculously good, as you can see by the screenshots. Gameloft has something to be really proud of in

This game looks amazing.

This game looks amazing.

this 3D engine. The textures are crisp, and look great close up. The gun models and reloading/first-person character animations are awesome. The guns feel good for the most part, with a nice variety at your disposal for most later levels due to handy, unexplained weapons crates lying around. Sometimes the weapons feel extremely under-powered, but that may be due to the game not detecting hits properly all the time.

Another thing that Gameloft nailed is the controls, which uses an extended version of the Terminator: Salvation scheme – which was great. Everything feels accessible and logical. My one complaint (which isn’t exactly with controls), is how slow you move when you are using iron-sight view to closely aim. If you do this, and want to quickly run away, you feel like you’re moving through tar. I can see the reasoning behind steadying the aim, but man it is sloooow. Still the auto-aim helps out a lot, as well as auto-grenade that lets you lob grenades at targets with needing to do much aiming. All of this can be turned off via options for hardcore players. There are also two other control schemes for you to try just in case the first doesn’t work for you.

The sound effects are pretty good, with good use of left and right channels for those playing with headphones. Unfortunately, the music is pretty cheesy for the most part, and feels quite forced. There is music going on during pretty much the entire game, which just doesn’t really fit in certain situations. The music isn’t bad, per se, but it sounds more like it belonged in a Prince of

No FPS is complete without an elevator somewhere.

No FPS is complete without an elevator somewhere.

Persia game than a war FPS.

One of the things I found frustrating throughout playing Modern Combat is the checkpoint system. It doesn’t seem there are very many of them. So playing for 10-15 minutes and then dying would often mean I started all the way back where I started. Even worse, the game does not save your progress mid-mission when you get a call or have to quit to the homes screen! I’m quite surprised that a company like Gameloft forgot to add this feature, but it pretty much means to enjoy the game you need to have your phone in airplane mode to ensure you don’t get a call.

It’s hard to decide if Modern Combat should be judged as a regular console game should, or if it should be judged as a “mobile game.” As in, “Wow, that game was awesome, for an iPhone game.” Taking into account the fact that the iPhone/iPod Touch are now considered to be direct competitors to the DS and PSP, I would say that games should be reviewed with the standards of console games. With this in mind, Modern Combat, while technically impressive “for an iPhone game”, falls below the standard for modern shooting games in it’s gameplay and story-telling elements. The doesn’t mean it’s not fun, but you have to be willing to accept a lot of cheesiness and generic elements for it to be so.

Presentation & Graphics
Most impressive looking game on the iPhone. Period. I don’t know how Gameloft did it, but slow framerates are a thing of the past, and I didn’t even play on a 3GS!

Sound effects are good enough, and work well with headphones. Music doesn’t really fit most of the time. Voice acting is pretty terrible. “Knuckleheads”? I mean, really? Army circa 1950, this isn’t.

Controls are perfect. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of things, and start blasting your way through terrorists. Unfortunately, the story is extremely generic, and the writing does a bad job at explaining what is going on outside of your own little world by yourself, with little motivation from one mission to the next. In fact, 95% of the game is spent by yourself, rather than with your squad, and there is no remorse at all when you hear of a squad member getting killed. It’s essentially an on-rails shooter with freedom of movement. Not much more depth than that.

With the same scripted events and enemies, it’s hard to find a reason to go back and play the game again after the first run-through. The future possibility of online multiplayer is huge, but isn’t available as of this review. I’ll add an update if that eventually is released, as that has the potential to be a ton of fun.

Game Rating


Modern Combat feels like an arcade-styled on-rails shooter, just with freedom of movement. The plot, acting, writing, and enemies behave almost exactly as something you would play for 10 minutes at your local arcade with a light gun. Overall the experience is pretty dry and generic. I’m interested to see if the fantastic graphics engine and controls are enough to gloss over the eyes of other reviewers and players out there into thinking Modern Combat is the best thing to hit the iPhone since copy and paste. This is certainly an easy game to gush about when you first start playing it. Modern Combat is an incredible technical achievement in portable gaming, and Gameloft should be proud of their dev team for that. But next time, lets focus a bit more on story, gameplay, voice acting, immersion, authenticity… well, I think you get it.

Is it worth $6.99? Why not? Considering games for the PSP and DS range from $30-$40, there’s no reason not to cough up $7 for the best FPS on the app store, even with it’s many flaws. This goes double if Gameloft follows through on their talk of adding online multiplayer. That would be awesome.

Modern Combat: Sandstorm – $6.99

iPad addendum: Nigel Wood
Best to steer clear of this version if you have an iPhone. The game does look marginally better, but for some reason suffers from judder. Controls don’t work nearly as well as they do on the smaller screen. If you play it while gripping with two hands and controlling with your thumbs, it’s hard to quickly access weapons and other touch based commands. On the lap it’s more bearable but playing with dual sticks with index fingers feels unnatural.3pt5-stars_sm
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  • sa66o6

    The dumbest review i’ve seen.EVER!!!

  • Rock $ Rolla

    These games have got to start getting bigger

  • pante

    this is such a dissapointment. i wish gameloft with all that money they have just started making games with more depth.

    great graphics, cool interface and music doesn’t make the TOP if ‘spirit’ is lacking.

  • bud

    Oh come on. The AI in this game as you describe is totally standard fare. COD 4 Modern Warfare has totally repetitive scripted AI. When you don’t advance, the enemies you killed previously respawn and come back to the same spot! FEAR’s AI may seem a little smarter, but you’ll find the enemies in the same spot every time you enter the room again. Same with the new Wolfenstein. Same with, say, Dead Space, etc etc.

    The difference is that that Modern Combat “scripty-ness” is more obvious as it and doesn’t have the graphics nor range of pseudo-AI to make it seem that the enemies are smart but really aren’t.

    “…an on-rails shooter with freedom of movement” LOL. Did you even think about what you wrote there?

    I thought you went over-board harping on the AI. But the rest of your review is decent.

  • bud

    By the way. I agree that the AI is bland (or non-existent) and I always want to see smart enemies. My criticism is that you’re comparing to high-end console games, and I think you were too generous in praise for AI in Modern Warfare.

  • Zachary Behrendt

    Look, I understand the need to begin holding iPhone games to a higher standard when it comes to things like story and depth, but I think the example you’re making of Modern Combat is doing a great disservice to Gameloft’s achievement here. Yes, the iPhone is a legitimate gaming platform, but it’s also a handheld platform, and cannot be judgesalong side Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 in terms of what the device is capable of. Griping about repetative lines of dialogue and weak AI is like bitching about the crowd graphics in Real Racing. You’re missing the point, and taking a contrarian because, well… someone’s got to, right?

    Now I know that 3.5 stars is a good score, but this game is no less deep in terms of gameplay than Space Invaders: Infinity Gene, a game you guys ejaculated over. And it certainly isn’t on fucking par with Duke Nukem 3D, a game that technically runs worse on my iPhone and controls like grim death. So please, put the new site name on the map some other way, and give credit where it’s due.

    And it’s pronounced BEAR-ent.

  • DannyV

    Not trying to be rude, but, if you’re going to compare this to a console game than you have to compare everything else on this device to console games, meaning that most of the indie games should all get 1′s or less.

  • leiste

    What did you think Sandstorm would be? Like Modern Warfare?

  • Matt Dunn, USA

    Call of Duty 4 not only had random spawn points if you replayed areas (that alone would have been fantastic in Modern Combat), but the enemies actually reacted to you differently based on what you did. That’s basically how good AI is defined in games these days.

    Your Infinity Gene and Real Racing examples are unfortunately totally irrelevant. Crowd graphics have nothing to do with gameplay. If Real Racing had terrible voice overs, and some cheesy generic plot, it wouldn’t have got such a good score. Those are things that directly impact the game experience.

    Infinity gene is an arcade game, and a fantastic one. It could easily be released on Xbox Live arcade or PSN.

    Since the iPhone has become an official “gaming console”, I’ve reviewed all my games as such, and will continue to do so in the future. You can’t keep making excuses for developers who are working with a platform that now has more processing power than a PSP. I praise MC:S for it’s technical advancements, and even recommended people buy the game. But if the storyline and gameplay elements aren’t there, I’m not gonna chuckle and say “Oh well, it’s ‘just’ an iPhone game.”

  • TM

    Give the game a break, still the best FPS on the app store so far, and the best looking game on the app store bar none. Should get a 4 or 4.5 automatically just for that.

  • Matt Dunn, USA

    lol you don’t give a game an automatic 4 or 4.5 for being the best looking game. That’s 1/4 of the rating process. If you read the review, you’ll see that I stated it’s the best FPS on the iPhone, and I recommended people buy it. 3.5 means it’s a “good” game last I checked.

  • DannyV

    It’s also sad to see that a crappy mini-game like minigore got a better score than this one. But I guess that goes along with proving my point on the previous comment.

  • Kalin81

    I totally agree with you DannyV.

    You should really compare this game with the other ones on the same console like Prey or Duke Nukem and see it shines a lot in this situation.

    Comparing it to PC/PS3/XBOX360 games is pretty lame or could also be seen as if you find it so good that you had to raise the standard and go in the heavyweight category to find a match.

    Anyway, please give Gameloft credit for this nice piece of a game, which will without any doubt please any FPS shooter fan who’s got an iphone and have been waiting for a real one for some time now

  • Matt Dunn, USA

    I’m wondering if you guys actually read the review. In the end I gave it a good score (3.5 is good, just not amazing), and recommend people buy it, as it’s “the best FPS on the app store.” It’s simply an objective review. Didn’t expect it to be on par with a 360 game, just expected it to be on par with what is expected from an “excellent” FPS game. *shrug*

  • pante

    i don’t think that Reviewer should explain why he/she gave such a score. it’s all written in the review.

    and if you guys don’t like it – then switch a page and visit TA.

    good job with this review.

  • pante

    oh, and btw, yes it is the best FPS, cause it’s the only one worth mentioning (other is Hill Billy). and what the hell? that doesn’t prove anything.

  • DVS skillz

    I’m no game designer but I would assume that in order to reach “console like” gameplay, gameloft would have to pump in more $ for better A.I, voice acting, etc… Which would then put the game in the dreaded $9.99 range or possibly even higher. And we all know how well these higher priced games are doing on the app store (cough, cough Rolando 2). I think more merit should be focused on the technical achievement that gameloft put together. The gameplay gets a 4.5 in my book.

  • Nigel Wood, UK

    Unfortunately the need for scores is part and parcel of reviewing games. If we removed the scores. Would you still be complaining? The game is good, but when we weigh up the 5 star for graphics with the 2 star for gamelife, the final score will take a hit. I’m having great fun with the Game, but overall I agree with my colleagues score.

  • DannyV

    I just don’t get how you can call this game a 3.5 when Minigore got a 4 and the fun factor in that game lasts like 5-10 minutes. Even though Minigore is 99 cents and lasts for about as long as I stated, at 7 bucks if Sandstorm lasts at least an hour, if using the concept by which you guys seem to be reviewing, than it should be rated higher than Minigore.

  • DannyV

    I mean at least they added a story, voiceovers, and beautiful graphics, while Minigore is a sorry excuse for a game. No offense Minigore developer but I just don’t see the point in playing a game that has no real purpose to it.

  • pante

    minigore is a 4 star game in it’s genre. 5 star goes to idracula and alive-4 (it’s bigger then minigore, although i prefer mr. gore), 2.5 goes to the terminator for example.

    but you can compare (if you must…) games only if they are from the same type/genre.

    for example: csi miami and alternative endings. csi miami (which i love) is a game that will take you 3 hours to finish and that’s it. and in alternative endings – possibility are huge = gamelife.

  • Nigel Wood, UK

    That’s crazy Danny V, it’s like comparing Sing Star to Resident Evil 5!

    Reviews are someones personal opinion, you can’t ask me why I gave MiniGore a 4 when I didn’t review it! No review sites writers get together and agree on a score and look through every other game they reviewed to compare it to, it’s personal opinion, and scored on the games own merits within it’s genre. Nacho reviewed MiniGore and Matt reviewed Modern Combat. I gave Gangstar a 4.5, doesn’t mean my team agree with me.

    This argument will go on until the dawn of time itself. Even great magazines like EDGE get complaints about a score, we can’t all share the same opinion.

  • Nigel Wood, UK

    If I could I would remove scoring altogether… the body of the review should be enough… but the trend dictates that we must put stars against things… it’s a tricky process to apply to your thought process.

    For instance, cheese burgers taste great and so do milkshakes… I’d give a BK cheese burger a 4/5 and a MacD milkshake a 3.5/5… does it mean the burger is better than the milkshake? Or just better than MacD burgers? (3/5 by the way!!!)

  • BBK357

    i think its a slap in the face when duke nukem got the same score and its controls make it DAMN NEAR UNPLAYABLE, yet this game controls like smooth and buttery dream and gets the same score because its shorter…. wow.

    The game is great, in my personal opinion it deserves at least a 4star rating.
    you cant expect this game to be modern warfare for ps3 for christ sakes.
    OH…HAHA… and the fact that MATT DUNN gave “seek n spell” the same rating…hahahaha….

  • Matt Dunn, USA

    Duke Nukem, and especially Seek n Spell, are completely different games from Modern Combat. Nigel and pante (thx, btw) have both addressed this argument. Anyone else who tries to use it just ends up looking silly.

  • Dan

    I’m enjoying the novelty of the game, but don’t think i’ll play it very long personally.

    Matt, I feel like I should accost you in some way, you know… to fit in…

  • Nigel Wood, UK

    Duke Nukem Gameplay got 2.5 stars and this game got 3.5, so it’s not the same.

    Plus again, I reviewed it, not Matt, matt may have not given the duke the same score!

    Let’s all be realistic here… when all is said and done, this game is not the second coming of fps’s… there will be better ones, so what happens when they come along? Do we create a 6 star system to accomodate them?

    Good debate though guys, we appreciate your comments good and bad (prefer the good ;) )… one for the podcast maybe!

  • BBK357

    i think we should ditch the star system and give a .5-6 “mushroom stamp” rating, all of them will be smily faces with mushroom stamps on their foreheads.

  • Dan

    Wait, this game isn’t jesus… I’m now a sad panda…

  • BBK357

    no no no…. daves face with mushroom stamps on the forehead.. thats better.
    no, this game isnt jesus, according to most of the iphone gaming community thats envirobear, this game is just a deciple.

  • Nigel Wood, UK

    On second thoughts I will give the code away for another giveaway… stay tuned

  • Dan

    Ahh, boo… I see what you did there Nigel! =P

  • Zachary Behrendt


    Can we instead have a contest for who can come up with the most loathesome thing we can compare Matt’s shit-stained cancerous inbred gerbil of a review to?

    Just kidding.


    We’re going to have to agree to disagree, because unfortunately I don’t give two shits about plot and dialogue in my video games. They have no baring on my “game experience”, so an asthetic element such as crowd graphics is likewise so much window dressing. You feel otherwise, apparently, and that’s fine, but don’t try to tell me your review was objective if that’s the case.

    And I’m not going to debate genre with you. As far as I’m concerned, both Modern Combat and Space Invaders are action games, and are therefore directly comparable.

    In other words, yo momma’s irrelevant.

    Again, I know that 3.5 is a good score. But this is a classic example of why review scores are worthless. You give me a laundry list of ways a game fails to meet your standards of excellence and then you’re like, “Oh, and totally buy the game. Best FPS on the iPhone.” It’s frustrating as a reader and iPhone gamer, because I look back at Terminator Salvation and I wonder if you’d have given it the score you did if it had had bad voice acting.

    In other words, this is a good editorial indicting the iPhone game industry’s standards, but as a review, it sucks a turgid, veiny dong.

  • Matt Dunn, USA

    It sure is a good thing that, like me, other game reviewers out there do their best to NOT review games for their own personal likes and dislikes. If that was the case, I would only rate games on how good their water effects and lip-syncing were. Or, for other commenters who have posted here, on how pretty the graphics are.

    If you don’t want to hear a review considering ALL aspects of a game, I recommend you stick to reading iTunes reviews. :)

  • pante

    cricitazing is always ease, zachary write your own review or make your own site. you don’t have to read those reviews.

    btw, an idea of NOT GIVING stars works fine at TA. i hate stars, rankings and other kind of crap.

  • Jimmykn

    I agree with this review, downloaded the game last night.
    You have to look at the price in comparison for what you get. £3.99 is ok for this game
    it’s a fair price for what is. what gameloft do is genres. this is a cheap fps in the style of call of duty for which people are mad on at the moment

  • Dan

    I like my reviews medium rare with scalloped potatoes.

  • Kumashi

    If you think $6.99 could be too much for Modern Combat: Sandstorm, what about $30 or more for this Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Mobilized (see the link below)

  • DannyV

    Holy crap those are the nastiest graphics I’ve ever seen in my life. Heck yes I’d take Modern Combat over that crap ANYDAY!

  • Nathan Mustafa, USA

    OMG epic thread

  • Zachary Behrendt


    Maybe I will! I’ll start my own iPhone related website and it’ll dominate all others and I will be crowned King of the Universe!

    Please. It’s an open forum. If Matt didn’t want to face criticism he wouldn’t write reviews.


    If you don’t want to face criticism, you shouldn’t write reviews.

    My final word on the matter:

    I played a game about 16 years ago on a young yet powerful system that I found wholly derivative, having played a similar game in terms of tone, look, and controls on the PC a year or so before. I also was appalled at the recorded voice dialogue in it, having also played several games on the PC with voiceovers that at least sounded marginally professional. And the story was borderline incomprehensible.

    That game was Resident Evil.

    Now I’m not saying that Modern Combat is anywhere near as monumental as Resident Evil, but I am saying that when a fledgling system gets a game that pushes the envelope just that much further in terms of what’s next for that system, things like bad dialogue don’t matter so much in the grand scheme of things. Or at least it shouldn’t, unless you want to look like a total crybaby.

    But hell, that’s just my opinion.

  • Matt


    I’m not against criticism at all. Part of being a critic is being criticized! ;) I actually enjoy the buzz this review has caused, not that I expected it when I wrote it.

    It’s the fact that people are expecting me to ignore important parts of a game in light of elevating the good parts above all. That’s just not how game reviewing works, plain and simple. We always review a game as the whole package. Sure, we all write bad reviews from time to time, no one’s perfect. But to say a review is bad because it doesn’t glorify “pushing the envelope” above all the other glaring flaws is silly. Especially when I gave it the “good” score, stated it’s the best FPS on the iPhone, and recommended people buy it! Just seems like people kicking a dead horse at this time.

    Again… *shrug*

    But just as with everyone else, that’s just my opinion. My opinion just happens to be broadcast on a major game review site. ;) No more commenting on this from me.

  • Dan

    haha, Matt that was mean.

    I was at a concert where some dudes where calling the lead singer a *** and his rebutle was… “I’m the *** with the mic in my hand and a bentley” Reminds me of that lol. Only you know, you’re not famous or rich.

  • Matt

    Ok one more comment lol. Didn’t mean that last statement to sound douchey. Was just saying that’s why my opinion is getting so much crap. Cuz it’s being seen by thousands of people, and people are much more inclined to post when they disagree with something than when they actually agree. I didn’t mean to imply I’m better than you guys or anything! (Because let’s be honest, I’m a douche. Wut?)

  • Zachary Behrendt

    Okay, fuck it, here’s a post script:

    I’m glad you enjoy the buzz, and I do too, because debate and conflict is important when it comes to this kind of thing. And, just to clarify, I absolutely respect the opinions of you and everyone on this site. It and Touch Arcade (God bless their black, cheating hearts) are the only sites I go to with any regularity when it comes to my iPhone game news and opinions. I would not be so passionate if someone at AppGamer had said the things you said about Modern Combat.

    In other words, I viciously savage and insult because I care.

    I am perfectly accepting of the score you gave this game. Maybe I should have said that in the initial goings… but hindsight’s 20/20. It’s a good score, and a fair one. It’s not the score I would have given it, but I’m not the reviewer here. And it was probably harsh and certainly childish of me to say your review “sucks a turgid, veiny dong.” I simply feel that you sold the game short based on things that ultimately don’t matter when it comes to the total package. But fair enough. On that, again, we’ll have to agree to disagree. Can’t we all just get along? :)

    What I’ve come to realize over the course of this wacky thread is that the iPhone isn’t going to attain the legitimacy we all know it can and deserves to if a bunch of assholes like us won’t bicker in the most petty fashion possible over 1/2-stars and semantics in forums and comment sections.

    So, you know, you’re welcome. ;)

  • BBK357

    Matt- did you say thousands of people…….. Pushing it!

  • TG-Dave

    I’m commenting just for the sake of commenting, oh and because if I comment anything else besides commenting just to comment, I’ll get myself in trouble lol. I love everyone.


    Wow lots of heated disscusion for this game.

  • kavetam

    Your review is decent and fair.
    Good Work and stay sharp.

  • Torbjorn Kamblad, Sweden

    Will wait for a price drop at any rate as I have too many of these good looking but shallow Gameloft clones littering my HD.