Gameloft continues to pump out high-budget games on the iPhone and iPod Touch that showcase the impressive graphics the devices are capable of producing. On the heels of big-name powerhouses like Gangstar and NFL 2010, Modern Combat: Sandstorm looks and feels equal to or better than anything available on the platform. And while none of these games are based on original concepts, they certainly fulfill gamers’ needs by giving them low-priced versions of smash hits on other systems.
Modern Combat is a clone of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and it plays very similarly to the Nintendo DS version of that game. By default, an onscreen analog stick controls strafing and forward and backward movement. Looking around is handled by sliding your finger anywhere else on the screen. There are also well-placed buttons to fire, crouch, and zoom with your weapon, as well as context-sensitive buttons that appear as necessary. Other control methods are available, but we saw no reason to stray from the default. Finally, someone has gotten FPS controls on the iDevice right.
The stories behind the missions are composed of your average war videogame tropes: defend the outpost, destroy the communications towers, man the turret, etc. These missions are explained to you by a female voice while the levels are loading. The result is that you pay less attention to the load time and more attention to your objective. This is a great idea, and we hope other developers borrow it. The level design is linear, but there’s usually an arrow directing you to your destination.
The controls for fighting are superb. By default, aiming is assisted by a snap-to mechanic that centers on enemies near your crosshair. We found this feature extremely helpful, but hardcore players can switch it off. Changing weapons, reloading, and ducking behind cover are a cinch.
Our chief complaint is with the enemy AI. First of all, the bad guys follow linear paths that never change. You can play a section a million times, coming at it with various strategies, but the same terrorist will run the same line to his firing position and plant himself there every time like clockwork.
The other problem is that the terrorists are all expert marksmen. If you have six enemies all firing at you from any distance, you’ll be dead very quickly unless you can totally conceal yourself behind something in the environment. If any part of you is visible, they will hit it every time. By the same token, if you are concealed, enemies will not come to you to get a better shot. These are not game-breaking flaws; in fact, you might not even notice until a few levels in.
Another issue is saving. Each of the ten missions takes between ten and twenty minutes to complete and is peppered with helpful checkpoints along the way. However, if your game is interrupted in the middle of a level, you’re not sent back to the nearest checkpoint when you boot the game back up– you have to restart the whole level. This can set you back a good deal of time, and it seems pointless when the checkpoint saves are already being recorded.
The gaming experience in Modern Combat: Sandstorm is a great one. The controls are the best we’ve seen in an iPhone FPS, the graphics are beautiful, and there’s plenty of level variety. Sure, we’ve seen it all before, but not on the iDevice, and never for such a small price. If you like first-person shooters, buy this game. Now do us a favor, Gameloft, and give us the icing everyone wants: multiplayer.