For a long time now, macho military gunslinging was the territory of the big boy consoles with dedicated graphics cards to render every shard of shrapnel in razor fine detail. It was the domain of foul mouthed teenagers screaming into headsets while desperately clamoring for elite status. It is the hunting grounds for twitchy first-person shooter people to slake their lust for iron sights and explosive set pieces while confirming their wild conspiracy theories involving Russia. Modern combat FPS games are a tactical weapon that developers deliver with all the pomp and circumstance of a historical military victory complete with a “Mission Accomplished” banner. But can one of these twitchy games with an itchy trigger button fit into your pocket? Let’s have a look at Gameloft’s newest addition to the military buff favorite traveling companion, Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour.
The Modern Combat series of games for the iOS have been the iOS first-person staple for the longest time. They feature all of the insanity of their console siblings with only a few of the drawbacks and all the portability. The first three entries were solid shooters that continually raised the bar for what could be done on iOS with graphical fidelity and engaging gameplay. Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour continues in this tradition, but sadly still fumbles the grenade after the pin has been pulled.
First of all, you need to set aside a good portion of your day where you know you’ll be hooked up to wifi. Modern Combat 4 is a hefty game that will take a sizable bite out of your hard drive capacity. Instead of eating up your time like any other game would, this download period is a great time to be productive. Leave your device plugged in and go make a sandwich, watch an episode of Band of Brothers, or clean out the bird cage.
After a half hour to 40 minutes, you’ll be able to tap open the game and feast your eyes on the gorgeous graphics. When I say almost console quality, I mean it. The game looks damn good for anything that you can hold in your hands and tote with you to work for a lunch time game break, but it doesn’t quite inspire the awe of, say, Infinity Blade II. But, with the retina display, you’ll be able to pick off snipers from across the street with ease if you can get the controls to cooperate (more on this little issue later). Each level has its own unique art style that lends to the sense of player progression through the completely bonkers story.
The story, like most modern shooters, is a mismatched mess of manly cliches, conspiracy theories, nationalistic vigor, and, of course, terrorism. This time around you jump into the bodies of soldiers on both sides of the conflict for even more batty dialogue and macho posturing. The great part about all of this is that I got the sense that the game was taking the piss out of itself and the whole genre in general. Whether this was meant or not, it served for outrageous enjoyment at the absurdity of everything that was happening.
The story moves along at a clip, only stopping to string itself together with the occasional cinematic featuring soldiers that must have all come from the same digital model. They have about three facial expressions between them and none of them seem pleased. But, the voice acting dovetails with the outrageous quality of the story well and that keeps you interested in what these little pixels are fighting about.
Each level features a series of exciting set pieces just like any other Call of Duty game. Buildings explode, your jeep launches over a broken bridge while being chased by the baddies, you know, standard stuff. You also have quick time events you need to swipe your way through. A pre-canned cinematic will pop up with a swipe direction that you must obey to snap a neck or stab your would-be assailant. These are thankfully few and far between which is the way all quick time events should be since they have a tendency to instantly kill you until you can get your unruly finger to obey.
Speaking of fingers, Modern Combat 4 suffers from the ailment of every shooter on the iOS. The touchscreen, if used properly, can innovate the way any game is played. But, in the case of the FPS, it remains a kevlar nut to crack. Since there are no external buttons, your thumbs are left to do all the work. While controlling movement with your left thumb, your right is pulling quadruple duty aiming, pulling the trigger, sprinting, and lobbing grenades. The whole outfit works, but not without making you a bit frustrated. The controls work a bit better on the iPad, where you have bigger buttons and more landscape to use. On the iPhone, I was frequently crouching when I meant to fire, chucking grenades when I wanted to sprint, and firing on an unarmed hostage when all I wanted to do was crouch. Modern Combat 4, just let me do what I want, please?! Just let me crouch without accidentally blowing off my genitals with a grenade.
The way the developers got around the somewhat dodgy aiming was by introducing a quite intelligent auto aiming solution. All you need to do is get your crosshairs pointed in the general direction of the person you want dead, and the computer does the rest. You still need to be pretty accurate, but it is a must with the game's dodgy sensitivity of the touchscreen.
While I didn’t get a chance to play Modern Combat 4 with Gameloft’s proprietary controller, I’m willing to guess that the addition of triggers to the control layout would make a world of difference. The whole iPhone control problem could be fixed if they could map the fire and grenade buttons up onto the side volume controls. But, that’ll only happen over Apple’s bankrupt body.
The controls are not a deal breaker and to be honest, could be a whole lot worse. They serve their purpose well enough to get you through even the most heated of battles and get you out safely on the other side to hear some more inane exposition from Sergeant Toughguy.
You’ll also be happy to know that Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour features a heavy hitting multiplayer component that you’ve come to know and love in the series. It is more of your standard shooter fare with all the upgrades and power ups you can handle. It is an intense and frantic adventure that has you desperately looking for cover at all times. It is enough to make someone put down COD: BLOPS 2 and give Modern Combat 4 a whirl. iOS FTS gamers are ruthless.
Overall, if you’re looking for militaristic thrills and were a bit tired of your standard offerings, Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour is definitely worth a download and firing up on your iOS device. Just don’t get caught playing it in on an airplane and screaming, “Frag out!” Bad idea.