One of the biggest letdowns of the year for a lot of gamers was the sub-par Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified. For several years now, people have clamored for a Call of Duty experience on the go, so their disappointment is understandable when few were happy with the first response. Luckily, my interpretation of this demand stays strong after multiple years. Setting its sights on making sure you never have to be far from a digital firefight, Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour is another welcome addition to the impressive stable of Gameloft shooters.
Gameloft has never been a subtle storyteller, and that’s painfully clear in Modern Combat 4. In the near-future, the President of the United States has been kidnapped by a traitorous ex-Green Beret, Edward Page. He has a diabolic plan to bring down the western world because we’ve been extorting those less fortunate for so long. Of course, biochemical warfare and armageddon soon come into play. At this point, the Modern Combat plots have practically become satires of Call of Duty story lines, which is actually very enjoyable despite the fact that it is clearly not intentional. One thing about the story that I did find commendable is the use of the villain, Page, as a playable character. During a lot of the missions, you’ll switch between playing as Page and American soldiers, experiencing the same event from different perspectives. This has been done before, but I can’t deny how fun it was to barely escape American troops dropping in through the roof as Page, then a few minutes later play as one of those troops dropping in and fire in vain at Page as he runs off. It’s surreal in a really good way.
Modern Combat 4 has some great graphics, being possibly the best-looking Gameloft game to date. Everything, from the crumbling buildings to the armored soldiers, is detailed and above all, crisp. Environments are nicely varied in tone and decently colorful, only occasionally becoming blandly saturated with grays and browns. Some locations are even impressive in scale and design. Lighting and particle effects are put to good use, explosions look decent, and weapons are exceptionally detailed. Character’s faces and mouth animations are just painful, though. With nearly every other aspect of mobile gaming advancing rapidly, it’s always jarring to see the kind of flat facial models that would fit in better on the PS2.
The sounds of battle can be heard all throughout Modern Combat 4. Gunfire, bullets whizzing by you, and explosions all sounding as they should. While nothing spectacular, they do a good job in creating a fairly intense atmosphere. The music is a cliché rock / techno mix, but it fits the game well and fades in and out with the action nicely, making the quiet segments feel like merely calms before the next storm. Voice acting is just as laughable as previous installments. If there was any hope for an engaging story in the game, this would ruin it, but since there isn’t, it doesn’t have too big of an impact on the overall experience. It doesn’t get annoying until you play as Page, who has apparently been practicing his trite “burns” on America in front of the mirror every morning for the past few years because he recites one after nearly every other soldier he kills. We get it, man, you hate America.
Gunplay is as strong as ever in Modern Combat 4. Due to the nature of the touchscreen controls, spraying bullets wildly isn’t as easy or effective as it is on most console shooters, forcing firefights to become more deliberate and rewarding. While all enemies are normal soldiers, requiring zero change in tactics to take one down compared to another, weapon variety has certainly improved. Along with assault weapons, shotguns, sniper rifles, and the occasional anti-armor, they finally implemented burst weapons, a natural fit for the aforementioned deliberate playstyle the game has. The new addition of the Havok engine gives a nice level of realism to the physics of the game, though I never felt that it improved the combat as much as it could have (like it did from NOVA 2 to NOVA 3).
While the vast majority of the campaign’s gameplay is standard FPS fare, there is luckily variety thrown in. The obligatory air-support section is outweighed by a frantic foot chase, and the equally obligatory turret sections have been replaced by piloting a small, remote-controlled mech in fun on-rails sections. There is also a nice variety to the firefights themselves. As much as I enjoyed Modern Combat 3, it certainly noticed how frequently the developers threw you into simple chokepoints where you spent a solid five minutes mowing down wave after wave of enemies in the exact same spot. This is certainly not the case in Modern Combat 4, the improvement to level design being one of the most significant.
While the campaign is certainly enjoyable, it isn’t terribly memorable. The previous games’ campaigns may not have been as refined or advanced, but there were a lot of moments and set pieces that stuck with you, like detonating a nuke underground in the middle of a knife fight. Here, it all feels like it’s on auto-pilot. On one hand, this is a plus. You get a smooth, non-stop ride of mindless action. On the other hand, I would understand if some players lost interest near the end and/or have no desire to play it again. I hope that for the inevitable Modern Combat 5: Cool-Sounding Military Operation Name, they put more time and effort into the campaign itself, not relying as heavily on the greatly updated technical aspects to carry the experience.
Modern Combat 4’s real draw is the multiplayer, which is top-notch in every aspect. The eight maps are nicely distinct from each other and each have diverse types of areas. While some of the game modes are only slight variants of others, they’re all worth a few games and keep it from getting stale. And though I am glad the maps are fairly large, this can occasionally become a downside. The matchmaking works well for the most part, but I did occasionally find myself in a match with only a few other players. In this case, encounters became incredibly rare, even to the point of boredom. When the action does get going though, it’s a blast.
There is a ridiculous amount of depth in Modern Combat 4’s multiplayer, surpassing every other mobile shooter in this aspect with ease. Earning your primary and secondary weapons and grenade is the tip of the iceberg. Every single weapon can be customized, allowing you to pick different nozzles, grips, clips, sights, and stocks. Each selection effects the stats of the weapon, allowing you to fine-tune your load out to perfectly fit your playstyle. On top of this, you have your choice of specialties, which function as passive bonuses to reward how you play, and military supports, which are exactly like killstreaks.
For only $7, Modern Combat 4 has a lot to offer. The single player is slightly shorter than other’s in its genre, clocking at around five hours, but it’s fair to say you’ll want to replay a few favorite levels every once in a while, even if you don’t want to go through it a second time. The deep multiplayer alone justifies the purchase in my opinion, giving players an addicting experience that will easily bring them back for weeks, even months.
While it doesn’t quite reach the level of excellence that the latest installment in its sister franchise, NOVA 3, did, Modern Combat 4 is perfect for a lot of people. Sure, it isn’t even remotely original in any way, but it does mostly everything right from the fun campaign to the simply spectacular multiplayer, and it is certainly worth your time and money. If you need a new mobile shooter or a Call of Duty experience on the go, it doesn’t get much better than this.
8s are great games that have something holding it back from excellence, or some features
aren't as polished. The game is still extremely worthy of playing, but it may not be the most impressive.
|Sean Capdeville is the official mobile game reviewer of ScrewAttack.com. An aspiring filmmaker, his favorite games include Skyrim, Link's Awakening DX, and NOVA 3. In his spare time, he likes to reference Casablanca.|
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