Hands-on with Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour - fast-paced FPS chaos
By Mark Brown 23 November 2012
Game Name: Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour | Publisher: Gameloft | Format: Android, iPhone, iPad | Genre: Action, Multiplayer, Shooter | Networking: wireless (adhoc),wireless (network)
In the past, Modern Combat's reputation as a Call of Duty clone has been a sore point for Gameloft. No one uses that label in an affectionate manner, after all.
But with Zero Hour - the upcoming fourth game in the shooter series - Gameloft might start to see that term as a badge of honour, rather than an embarrassing burden.
This latest contemporary war sim has made such a leap in quality that it no longer feels like some cheap and hurried knock-off of Activison's franchise. It feels closer to the console games than ever. It's going to be described as "the closest thing you can get to Call of Duty on your phone".
For one, it really captures the whizz-bang chaos of the multi-billion-dollar behemoth. It conjures up the same shell-shocked feeling of being overwhelmed and undergunned that you've faced many times in Duty.
The first level in Modern Combat is about storming onto a beach (with more than a hint of the Normandy invasion from Duty 2 and, uh, real life), and you're instantly pelted with gunfire, explosions, muzzle flashes, dirt, dust, shouting, and rocket fire. It's all presented with motion blur and Havok physics.
It's a chaotic sensory overload. You're huddled behind cover, barely able to get your bearings. You let out a few random shots and hope they hit. You don't feel like some super-soldier hero - you feel like one cog in a short-circuiting machine.
After that, as you storm through the rest of the level, more hallmarks of the Call of Duty campaign appear. You chase behind a guy called Follow (I assume, as that's what's permanently written above his head), who opens doors for you. You're asked to grab an RPG and take out an AA gun. You breach a door and it goes a bit slow-mo for a while.
The minute-to-minute gunplay is fast and intense. Firefights play out in 3D so you can flank opponents, or find ways to get the drop on your foes.
The controls are, obviously, far from ideal. As ever, you'll need to bounce your thumb between 'aim' and 'fire' whenever shooting, which is wildly unhelpful when your enemies like to dash about like headless chickens.
Movement is slow and stodgy unless you hit the 'sprint' button - which also involves taking your thumb off 'aim'. Aiming with the scope requires way too many taps for it to be useful.
There's some overly generous auto-aim, but that just makes the game feel automated. And right now there are no options to edit or customise the controls at all - hopefully some alternatives will make their way into the game before launch.
The need for customisable controls became most apparent in a short section where you take remote operation of a tiny turret on wheels and roll into an enemy camp to gun down wave upon wave of terrorists. You have to aim with you left thumb, which goes against about a decade of precedent.
I only got to play a short section of the campaign - a quick saunter around a tropical island, with a car chase, a close-quarters fight, and a bunch of terrorists to shoot - but Modern Combat 4 is shaping up nicely.
It won't convert those who reckon that the touchscreen is no good for first-person shooters. And it won't shatter that preconception that Modern Combat is a series of Call of Duty clones. But, if you like the series, you'll definitely be pleased with this huge new entry.
The game will also have a huge multiplayer component, which we sadly didn't get to try out. The full game is on track for release sometime this year - on both iOS and Android.