When the shooting hurts my brain, sometimes I pray for a blackout.
Gameloft’s Modern Combat series is the undisputed king of mobile shooters for the Call of Duty generation and, after a short break to tally up the body count, has returned in great form with Modern Combat 5: Blackout for Android, iOS and Windows Phone.
Let’s face it, a deep and involving story is probably the last thing a gamer will be looking for in a game like Modern Combat 5, which is just as well because they are so very often an after thought. Indeed, in Gameloft’s latest shooter we are once again faced with terrorists, conspiracies and potential global warfare, complete with manly men doing what they must to ensure the safety of the human race… or something like that. No one is going to be surprised with the tale covered in Modern Combat 5, but as a vessel that moves the gamer to some great locations, such as Venice and Tokyo, and allows for a sizable chunk of FPS action, it serves a purpose.
Not that the single player story is especially long, as it will only take a few hours in total to work through the missions, but it feels big with six chapters broken down into bitesize gameplay portions that are designed specifically with the mobile gamer in mind. These missions even offer some variety beyond the basic “shoot everything that moves” and the occasional QTE (however you feel about them). But each area that the player visits is not limited to lonely following of the story – there are also Spec Ops missions and multiplayer maps to enjoy that can be jumped straight into rather than having to negotiate dull menus.
The player gets to choose from four different classes in Modern Combat 5, offering something different for every type of FPS gamer. Some things have to be unlocked through progression, but the start of the game offers enough choices to keep things interesting. Progression through the game, across all of the game modes, will lead to experience that, in turn, will lead to unlocking new perks and weapons or attachments, further customizing the experience for the player.
The single player game is short, and the additional Spec Ops missions are quite enjoyable and often warrant more than one playthrough, but again are a short lived distraction. What makes a game like Modern Combat 5 a long term investment is the multiplayer, and it is good.
The modes themselves, which are basically variations on deathmatch and capture the flag, may not be inspired, but offer a decent amount of variety. The game is well populated, which perhaps proves its popularity, and getting into a match is fairly easy. There may be some balancing issues that will prove frustrating to some players, but for most this will not prevent the huge amount of fun that can be had while playing. The maps across which the multiplayer games play out are also nice and varied, with at least one of them possibly being slightly oversized, which is perhaps a first for a mobile shooter. There is even a squad system to encourage players to team up for their multiplayer action.
Visually, Modern Combat 5 will only look as good as your device allows, but when played on a capable device, it really looks head and shoulders above the rest. While it still pales in comparison to modern console games, for a mobile title it really does shine. Everything is well polished, the set pieces may lack originality but look awesome nonetheless, and animations are well done. It is a great game to watch.
However, not everything is smelling of roses in the Modern Combat 5 world. The AI in the game certainly leaves something to be desired, with enemy soldiers trying to take cover in plain sight and sometimes even just standing around, begging to be shot. They are not the smartest bunch, which can break the immersion a little, but this does not do any lasting damage, unlike the other two issues with the game.
The first issue is one that has been plaguing mobile shooters since they first surfaced – touchscreen controls. Gameloft have done the best that they can with the modern technology, but still on-screen virtual joysticks and buttons do not make for an easy FPS experience. Auto-aiming goes some way towards fixing this problem, but the controls are still janky and unnatural. Players of the previous Modern Combat games, or any other mobile shooter for that matter, will have likely come to terms with the controls – but they are still far from ideal.
The other problem comes from Gameloft’s insistence that Modern Combat 5 be connected to the servers in order to play even the single player game. The reasons for this may have been to combat piracy, but for anyone on the move who frequently goes through ay kind of blackspot, constantly having to wait for a decent signal will be nothing but frustration. Indeed, one of my favorite mobile gaming spots happens to be in the car park at the local supermarket (don’t judge me!), a place which has an incredibly spotty mobile connection. It is annoying.
The lack of in-app purchases in Modern Combat 5 is something that works in Gameloft’s favor. You pay for the game and get everything, left only to unlock it in-game rather than having to stump over any additional cash. While it may not make up for the always on connection, kudos has to be given to Gameloft for making this choice.
Modern Combat 5: Blackout is not an evolution over the previous game in the series, offering more of the same with a touch more polish and content. But it stands as the best mobile FPS around at the moment. Awkward touchscreen controls are more or less accepted now, and the travesty of an always on connection can be overlooked when confronted with some highly enjoyable multiplayer matches. Modern Combat 5 looks sleek, plays incredibly well and is an essential purchase for anyone looking to mobilize their shooting action.