Modern Warf – er, Combat 4 is exactly what you’d expect.
Recently, Gameloft has been making some major strides away from the “mockbuster” rip-offs they’ve been known for. Wild Blood proved the developer was willing to delve into the original, and N.O.V.A. 3 took its series a few steps away from its Halo roots. Gameloft is willing to take no such chances with their flagship Modern Combat series. For the fourth go-round in as many years, Gameloft has not strayed from its goal of delivering the best knock-off of Call of Duty they can on mobile devices.
That isn’t to say MC4 is without ambition. On the right hardware (and figuring out which hardware this is can be a crapshoot on Android), it is doubtlessly the best looking mobile game ever, with the most advanced version of Gameloft’s proprietary engine yet. You’ll spot incredible, natural looking outdoor lighting, complex particle effects, and real physics using the Havok engine. On top of this, Gameloft has managed to deliver a polished performer, with good frame rates and few major bugs to speak of.
Everything else is much as you’d expect. Bad voice acting and a cast of burly masculine cliches act out their roles in this cheesy tale of homegrown terrorists and global annihilation. The gameplay is as achingly linear as the series it imitates, and only a bit less cinematic, with scripted set-pieces that litter the lengthy stages and help the game feel more dynamic than it is. Modern Combat 4 does a better job than its predecessor of breaking up environments and staying away from that oppressive corridor feeling, but never goes so far as to actually provide meaningful choice or multiple routes.
Everything looks and sounds amazing, and at a glance, this could almost pass for a triple-A production, but something about the combat itself feels hollow. Most of the fighting is mid-to-long range, and you’re handed an arsenal of accurate weapons and a generous aim assist. You have the usual regenerating health, so combat mostly consists of picking away at enemies from a safe distance, and ducking or retreating as needed. This works just fine, but it seems to rob the action of any immediacy, especially in light of its repetitive nature. Gameloft does mix up the environments and weapon choices, and throws in the occasional drone-based rail shooter segment, but the dumb, simple AI provides little relief to the monotony.
Of course most people toss Call of Duty’s campaign aside after a few hours and focus on multiplayer and Gameloft has gone to lengths to make sure Modern Combat 4 has the same longevity. There’s a staggering amount of modes, both team-based and free-for-all, covering just about every style you could want. As you’d expect, there’s a rank system that allows players to level up and affords perks and better loadouts to more experienced soldiers. Performance seems very solid, but either poor matchmaking or a weak userbase means matches often don’t fill up, and on a few occasions, I ended up wandering maps alone as the meager handful of opponents dropped out of the game mid-match. Hopefully this situation is remedied in the near future, as MC4 has a ton of potential as an online game.
If Modern Combat 4 is to be judged on its ability to imitate Call of Duty, it’s an impressive effort. However, as a shooter, it’s slow, methodical, long-range combat has none of the visceral appeal of Dead Trigger, nor is it even as fun as Gameloft’s own N.O.V.A. 3. Cautiously sniping away at equally risk-averse opponents who stand behind cover 30 yards away does not make for an exciting war. The groundwork is here for a pretty incredible online experience, one that far outshines Gameloft’s earlier efforts, but for the time being, it seems wasted on sparsely populated matches. If you’re looking for a game to remind you of how close to console a mobile title can get, this is your ticket, but if you’re looking for addictive action that will keep you coming back, Modern Combat 4 lacks staying power unless the online community picks up.
Gameloft has poured a lot of resources into making something that looks, sounds, and feels like a real console Call of Duty clone. While they’ve been largely successful, there are better shooters, and the online community seems almost non-existent at this point.