Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour review

Modern Combat 4 made its big debut on iOS today following a series of teasers over the last couple of months. Gameloft’s military first-person shooter franchise has for years been providing unabashed mobile knock-offs of recognizable console and PC equivalents. At this point, Gameloft has finely tuned the formula, and with each iteration, they’re ramping up the graphical capabilities with gusto.

There’s going to be a lot of familiar elements here for those that have played AAA FPS games elsewhere. There’s a campaign mode, where players bounce between good guy and bad guy perspective, gradually piecing together a the story of a terrorist organization that figures out how to turn America’s own advanced warfare technology against them. Hackneyed as the dialog may be, the graphics are outstanding, and played very smoothly on the iPad 2. The only performance hiccup I’ve encountered is an occasional crash after I take a screenshot. Some of the enemy models are lacking in detail, but the textures are rich, light effects varied, and a few full-screen effects such as motion blur, depth of field, smoke, and others create a visual powerhouse among iOS games. Even the menu system is well laid-out and sharp.

The visuals are equally complemented by the game’s soundtrack. The strong background music mains your forward momentum when the storyline fails you, and sound effects, particularly for weapons, are believable and sharp. Voice acting across all of the characters,  AI bots included, are polished and high quality. Occasionally it felt like characters would be talking over one another, but on the whole, the audio was just as impressive as the graphics. The language gets a little salty at points, for those concerned about that kind of thing. Also keep in mind that the high-grade assets contribute to the game’s hefty 1.5 GB storage demand.

The controls haven’t changed much since previous games. All UI elements are repositionable, which I felt necessary for the grenade button. Sprint now automatically vaults you over terrain, and if you duck while sprinting, players execute a stylish ground slide. I’ve been trying to get the hang of the accelerometer controls, but even with a sensitivity adjuster, it’s hard to find a set-up that works better than the good old dual-stick layout.

I’m never particularly happy when premium games also employ in-app purchases, which Gameloft has done here. You earn two types of currencies: one for the single-player campaign, and another for the multiplayer game. The Blue chips from the campaign can be spent on single-use boosts, permanent upgrades, and weapon attachments. $1.99 will buy you 10,000 Gold chips, which is almost enough for the entry-level shotgun, which is currently half-off at 12,500 Gold Chips. Meanwhile, you can get 5,000 Blue chips for $1.99, which is enough to get the 4,000-chip Adrenaline boost to improve combat skills across the board. Permanent upgrades and attachments start at 10,000, which is high enough for me to just suck it up and save up for the stuff I want. Also, it would have been really nice if there was some overlap between single-player and multiplayer unlockables, but with them separated, I think a lot of players will just dive right into the multiplayer.  

Most of the AI that I’ve encountered don’t really exceed Goldeneye-grade complexity, but the sheer volume of bad guys mixed with sprawling, rich maps make for a challenging single-player game nonetheless. The standard run, duck, and shoot gameplay is peppered with some light vehicular combat and gesture-based reflex tests. Overall, the single-player campaign isn't particularly challenging and only 12 missions long, but that's okay because odds are you'll spend most of your time in multiplayer. 

Modern Combat is an old enough franchise at this point that there are a lot of veteran players out there. Even giving it a shot the morning of launch, it was clear that my PC shooting game skills weren’t going to transfer over particularly well, though those with some console experience might have an easier time. Multiplayer matches contribute to ranking up and reward players with Gold chips, which can unlock killstreak-style support, buy new attachments for your favorite weapons, or vanity items such as titles, badges, and badge backgrounds. My favorite among those are the cat’s meow you get right off the bat, which triggers the sound effect every time you’re killed in game.

There are a lot of excellent game modes available in multiplayer, including the classic free-for-all deathmatch and capture-the-flag, but also a few more interesting ones, including zone control, where owning a particular point will bestow a team with specific bonuses, manhunt, where a single player has to survive as long as possible with a flag, and barebone, which strips away perks and support for the purists.The usual achievement and statistic trappings are included in Modern Combat 4. Accuracy, win/loss ratio, kill/death ratio, and extensive match history are all there. Gameloft’s Live social service is baked in, and though it’s mostly bare-bones, the party system is particularly interesting. Players can get together into parties, ensure that they move from server to server together and stay on the same team. 

The good

  • Top-notch graphics and audio
  • Solid, honed gameplay
  • Challenging multiplayer with long progression

The bad

  • Stale premise and flavor
  • In-app purchases on top of premium pricetag
  • Easy AI opponents

The bottom line

For first-person shooter fans, this is a no-brainer; Modern Combat 4 is the top FPS on iOS today. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any surprises at all, but every element of the game is well-polished, particularly the visuals and audio. I’m still not entirely convinced that a tablet can enjoyably replicate the console and PC shooter experience, but that’s namely because of ergonomics; if you’re willing to stream the game out to a bigger screen and get a dedicated hardware controller (like Gameloft’s Duo), Modern Combat 4 could very easily sub in for any other console game out there. 

As for price, $6.99 feels like a lot for a title that pushes in-app purchases, but if you’re willing to accept IAPs as an inevitability and are comfortable slogging it through the progression path at a regular pace, you’ll likely have a good time. Those picky about IAPs may want to hold off until it goes on sale for a buck, but I doubt we’ll be seeing savings like that this year. 

$6.99 - Download Now

Simon Sage

Editor-at-very-large at Mobile Nations, gamer, giant.