For those unfamiliar, Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour is developer Gameloft’s fourth foray into the mobile first-person shooter market. Gameloft’s repeated attempts to achieve “console quality” with the previous Modern Combats have been decent, but not perfect. So does this outing finally achieve their goal?
Those familiar with the basic setup of the Call of Duty series will feel right at home here, with MC 4 offering another Call of Duty copycat Campaign and a rank-based Multiplayer. Let’s check out the Campaign first.
As far as the story setup goes, I’ve played better. Keeping with console shooters inclination to have you play as multiple characters, Gameloft offers three different virtual fatigues for you to fill: 1) “Corporal Blake” a soldier working to rescue the President of the US from the clutches of terrorists, 2) “Edward Page”, the leader of said terrorists, and 3) “Sergeant Anderson”, a soldier dispatched to deal with the aftermath of Page’s attacks. (You also play as a drone pilot for a mission.)
If Gameloft was trying to make a deep, character-driven story, they failed soundly. The most “relatable” character (if you could call someone with regenerative health and a body count higher than the national debt “relatable”) is Blake, mostly because he’s silent. For the character Page, Gameloft’s attempt to be different by allowing you to see the story through the eyes of the villain simply doesn’t improve anything here, since Page is about as monochromatically evil as they come. Throughout his screen time, he constantly soliloquizes violence during firefights, and speaks of little motivation other than to see the United States crumble (you know, because he’s EVIL). I think Gameloft missed the “morally ambiguous” class of villain character-building thought. The overarching story has little interesting material, falling into the clichéd “Oh no! WMD!” plotline, and as mentioned, offers no character attachment. All in all, the plot is simply a framing for action and new environments, but thankfully, those aren’t disappointing.
The basic First-Person-Shooter gameplay throughout the 12 mission Campaign works great, with well-rounded weapon variation and good shooting mechanics. Grenades have impact, cover works as cover, and enemies are a decent threat. The moments that deviate from the basic “shoot the bad guys” also help the Campaign stay engaging throughout. Among other things, you’ll control mini-tank-like drones, flee from a helicopter, hack terminals, participate in quick-time based combat, and obliterate objectives. Although none of the gameplay is original, it’s still enjoyable.
The presentation is once again, platform pushing. Dynamic shadows, slick character animations, Havoc-based physics, beautiful environments; the game looks really good. The voice acting is cheesy and obscene by any standard, but the sound effects work fine. In short, the Campaign is a fun, pretty, explosive little package.
There are a few apparent issues, though. For starters, friendly AI is about as intelligent as a tomato, constantly running by still-very alive enemies and taking far too long to eliminate even a single target. This is expectably irritating during the few moments when you have to escort or protect a friendly, as you watch them trundle nonchalantly into oncoming fire. The enemy AI has its own moments of stupidity, sometimes committing to cover for too long, giving you ample opportunity to knife them.
The controls are the harshest part of the game, but that comes with the mobile territory. The fire button was constantly bumped or missed during my playthrough with the default controls, and that was frustrating during the heat of the action. The lack of physical controls is not a problem exclusive to this game, though, and Gameloft allows all of the HUD controls to be moved and resized to better suit your fingers. While not even close to perfect, the ability for total control customization helps the game as best it can. Until physical controls for mobile improve, these will make do.
In-App-Purchases mar the game before the multiplayer even gets booted up. An in-game store in the Campaign allows you to buy “boosts” like weapon sights, ammo, better health, and even a “skip level” boost. You naturally earn credits to spend here by playing the Campaign and mowing down baddies, but you can also buy the credits with real cash, and in a Singleplayer Mode, that is UNNACCEPTABLE (it’s unacceptable anywhere, sure, but come on, Gameloft). This cheap, unbalancing cash grab is a needless nuisance, and just shouldn’t exist. Thankfully, it doesn’t ruin the Campaign, but having a bunch of boosts active made me feel overpowered.
Regardless if you play through the Campaign first, or simply jump right into this mode from the start screen, Multiplayer takes the limelight, and here Gameloft has managed keep pace with MC’s console big brothers very well. 8 Modes, a handful of well-designed maps, and up to 6 vs. 6 gameplay are the setup here, and they work nicely. Shooting your way to higher levels and more experience is hard pressed to be better on a mobile. Peripheral inclusions like Killstreaks (known here as “military support”), bonus online experience for certain actions (like kill assists or surviving from near-death), perks that give your character little boosts, and an intriguing weapon customization system all help to keep the multiplayer fun and addicting.
The modes themselves, while not innovative, are still well-built and enjoyable. The familiar offerings of Team Battle (Deathmatch) and Battle (Free for All) and several others including Capture the Flag and Manhunt (track down a flag-holder), will keep you playing through the level ladder, and really, that’s all they have to accomplish.
Overall, the leveling system and deep customization makes you want to keep getting just a little more experience, so you can buy that new attachment/weapon/perk. The modes are great fun, and the maps are solid. Not to mention the graphical presentation remains as good-looking as ever, and the matter of online lag is rarely an issue. All in all, the multiplayer is near-perfect on the mobile platform.
I say “near-perfect” mainly because In-App-Purchases come back for an unwelcome encore online. The gold that is used to buy the mentioned character and weapon upgrades that you would normally earn by actually playing the game, can, again, be bought with real cash. It’s not unexpected, but it’s still not appropriate, considering players will have already paid a $7 entry fee. Giving people with burnable cash an advantage (no matter how small) over dedicated players is never cool, Gameloft.
With Zero Hour, Gameloft has managed to deliver the most cohesive mobile shooter available. It offers a great, action-packed Campaign, and one of the best mobile multiplayer experiences to date. The low-blow IAPs in both modes are very irritating and completely unnecessary, but thankfully, they don’t stop the game from getting a recommendation. If you’re looking for a great FPS for your iPhone, look no further.