Modern Combat: Sandstorm – impressive graphics w/Gameloft-styled gameplay

Posted: September 2, 2009 in Shooter

Finding that mythical console-quality first-person shooter has proven more difficult than anyone could have expected for the iPhone/iPod Touch Platform. After several misses from overhyped games, we now face yet another FPS with an equal amount of anticipation in Gameloft’s Modern Combat: Sandstorm. Well, it’s probably safe to say that the mythical creature has somewhat arrived with a visually impressive game. But at the same time, it’s also fair to say that it doesn’t deliver anything new in terms of gameplay to the genre.

The storyline is one we’re all familiar with as you play a U.S. soldier out in search of a high profile terrorist. Set in the Middle East, Modern Combat takes you through 10 missions with four modes of difficulty: easy, medium, hard and an unlockable extreme mode. The game provides some visually top-notch environments from the desert and city to enclosed areas such as laboratories and sewers…as stunning as sewers can be. Presented in near console-quality 3D graphics, the game simulates a full rounds out the combat experience with voiceovers, cinematic video clips, and explosive sound effects. Running on an iPod Touch 2g 3.0, the graphics and animation are fluid with little to no lag.

Besides the graphics, what makes or breaks a game most notably an FPS is the responsiveness of the controls. Modern Combat offers three control options: 1) virtual analog stick for movement, a shoot button, and swiping the screen to aim and look around; 2) screen tap on the left side of the screen to move, right side to aim and look around, and a shoot button; 3) dual virtual sticks for moving, aiming and looking around, and tapping the center of the screen to shoot. Personally, I found all three control options more than adequately met my needs, although the virtual stick and shoot button is my control of choice. The responsiveness of the control schemes by themselves put Modern Combat ahead of the majority of iPhone/iPod Touch FPSs.

When it comes to shooting, Modern Combat includes uses crosshairs for aiming, and by default, the aim assist functionality automatically aims at targets, which in the scheme of things, makes the game almost too easy. Fortunately, aim assist can be turned off forcing you to manually aim. In addition, the game also includes numerous options including auto screen flip, blood or no blood, on/off auto grenade, and inverted controls.

As for weapons, there are a multitude of weapons including different types of arms (assault rifles, sniper rifle, RPG, shotgun, submachine gun, light machine gun, and heavy machine gun) as well as other soldier of fortune accessories such as grenades, flashbang grenades, and radiation detector. Most weapons upgrades are acquired by completing missions and by picking them up in the heat of battle by killing terrorists.

As you begin each mission, provide objectives and an overview of the situation all narrated in a way that keeps your attention. Too often, the mission screens can be tedious and boring to sit through, but in the case of Modern Combat, they’re nicely incorporated and quite engaging.

The initial mission is basic training which provides an overview of weapons usage and offensive and defensive tactics including shooting and grenade throwing. It’s fairly mundane, and you’d have to be a complete screw up to fail it. This is also where you learn to shoot at close range as well as from a distance, which you’ll need to master if you’re to make it through the missions. The gameplay quickly picks up with a fairly challenging AI. As you walk and crouch through dangerous doorways, blown out buildings and terrorist infested lobbies, you’ll also occasionally radio transmissions in the form of narrated dialog boxes informing you of the situation at hand. You actually see enemies run in instead of randomly appear out of the blue which is a nice touch, and of course this is accompanied by voiceovers from the terrorists themselves. Missions are difficult and you do find yourself in most cases overwhelmed by enemy fire. However, the game does a good job providing a combination of individual and squad-based missions and in some cases, you can take different although limited paths to reach a destination. One thing to note is that action buttons appear when necessary such as jumping from one level to another or bashing an enemy with the butt of your rifle among other things.

The fact that Gameloft is behind Modern Combat is both a positive and a negative. With Gameloft’s name on this game, the quality is top notch, and even the voiceovers are done well which has been an issue with previous games. On the negative side, even though it’s built using a never-before released engine, Modern Combat still feels like a Gameloft game. Just as in Terminator Salvation or Assassin’s Creed, you’re guided from checkpoint to checkpoint with a floating arrow, and also picking up items such as ammo which is similar to the chips and crystals found in those other shooters. Don’t get me wrong, Modern Combat is an impressive game with terrific graphics and can stand on its own merits, but the gameplay arguably isn’t anything many gamers haven’t seen before.

Overall, Modern Combat: Sandstorm is an impressive game for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform with a strong storyline, responsive controls, and a well-tuned AI to offer the challenging gameplay we’d expect. The varied gameplay should satisfy FPS fans, and even novice players will want in on the fun of killing terrorists.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (impressive FPS should keep many occupied until the next “must have” FPS becomes available; well-packaged with a strong AI and top notch graphics)

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