Modern Combat 5: Blackout
I’ll be honest here and start by saying I haven’t played the previous Modern Combat titles. On PC and consoles I love a good FPS, but I’ve never looked at touch screen devices as being the ideal platform to play the genre on. But having recently got a new ‘n’ powerful iPhone 5S, I have decided to spread my metaphorical gaming wings and try something new, and so I come at this game as someone with a great deal of FPS experience and a love for mobile games, but without the thoughts of what I liked and disliked about the previous/similar titles on the platform. You may be new to the genre yourself, and if so then this might be just the review you’ve been looking for.
Modern Combat 5 has a fairly familiar storyline that focuses on one character ‘Pheonix’ and the events that unfold around him. Allies and enemies come and go as you slowly unravel the conspiracy that could bring about World War III. Different locations are split into chapters which each contain a handful of solo campaign missions, multiplayer maps and ‘Spec Ops’ missions. The different chapters are broken down into smaller parts that usually involve escaping or infiltrating a base with some big firefights thrown in the middle. In order to unlock the next chapter, you need to complete all campaign missions and a mix of Spec Ops/multiplayer modes (usually done whilst the next chapter downloads in my case).
The Spec Ops missions are a bit hit-and-miss in terms of enjoyability. There seem to be quite a few ‘sniper’ related missions later in the game which won’t be for everyone, but I felt right at home as the sniper is usually my class of choice. There is also a whole bunch of ‘breaching’ challenges that I just couldn’t seem to enjoy. The aim of these missions is to breach a series of ‘rooms’ and eliminate the threat. Upon entry the main character Pheonix will throw a flash grenade (which looks like a frag grenade), disabling several enemies for several seconds and giving you the chance to take them out. In most cases this is fairly enjoyable and different each time, but some enemy types such as those with a detonator really test your patience. You can’t shoot the character or even his arm, you need to hit the very small detonator or it’s game over, and you need to do it quickly too. For a platform that is known for having fairly difficult FPS controls, such a precision based challenge is just frustrating. They don’t even get affected by the flash grenade Pheonix insists on throwing at them.
Quite a few games recently seem to be introducing more customisation to the single player campaign mode, and I am a huge fan of the idea. Up to level 10 you will gradually unlock four classes including Recon, Heavy, Assault and Sniper which are used in Spec Ops, multiplayer and even the solo campaign missions. This allows you to play to your own style without the need to search about for your favourite weapon; for the most part. Most classes work well in most situations other than sniping which suffers from pretty short range combat where enemies only spawn when you approach certain sections of each level. Even when there is a large open section, you often need to move half way through it before more enemies will appear.
If the Modern Combat fan-base is anything like that of the Call of Duty franchise, then I’m sure many people will grab this title for the multiplayer alone. I’m pleased to say that the multiplayer is highly enjoyable. It doesn’t seem to matter that the controls aren’t perfect when facing other players, because they make the same mistakes you do. It’s quite funny seeing the occasional player shooting up at the sky or shooting everything in the room but you. There are quite a variety of class-specific weapons to pick from and unlock, each with their own customisable parts including sights, barrels, magazines and under-barrel mounts. Extra ‘experience points’ can be awarded for getting melee kills, headshots and other in-game accomplishments. Kill-streak rewards also grant you additional firepower giving you the upper hand on the field. However games are quite short; not as short as single player or Spec Ops mission but still only a few minutes long. This works well for the platform being a portable device and all, but might also disappoint those wanting a little more. I personally like the short games with often rewards and upgrades.
I am sure you don’t need me to tell you, but the graphics are outstanding. The environments have lots of variety and seem very believable in everything from the objects that litter them, to the lighting and special effects. Some of the multiplayer areas seem slightly too big and open with little to fill them, but this is understandable from a competitive, ease-of-navigation perspective. The audio is equally as good as the graphics; especially the music. Sound effects sometimes seem lacking when watching first-person cutscenes; with only the camera movements and two hands to explain what is going on, sound effects could help in telling the story despite the fact that many iOS gamers play without sound anyway.
The controls are an interesting topic. I sometimes felt like I was used to them and things seemed to be going well, but other times I couldn’t do what I wanted. Aiming can be tricky because you can either move your finger around the right side of the screen to aim without shooting, or aim with the right on-screen stick whilst spraying bullets everywhere. To go from one to another means letting go of the screen and holding it again, and within that time the target may have moved. A very useful if not strange way of aiming is to hold the crouch button (located bellow the ‘move’ area on the left side of the screen) which allows you to aim freely and simply tap the shoot button whenever you like. The downsides to this is that you can no longer move, and the button isn’t too easy to press; you may move when you want to aim and stand/crouch when you don’t need or want to. Other controls seem a little odd as well, such as the reload/change weapon icon being further away than the throw grenade button. When aiming down your sights and then reloading, you will need to tap the aim button again if you want to continue looking down your sights. This might work for some and not for others, but as far as I’m aware there is no way of changing it. Most of these issues are down to virtual sticks and their lack of feedback, not the game itself, but it’s worth noting how fiddly the controls can be without a controller of some variety, especially for new players.
Modern Combat 5: Blackout has been an experience. The story kept me on the edge of my seat and the multiplayer kept me wanting to upgrade and kept me feeling competitive, even if the controls where a little tricky to perfect. Given that iOS developers only have a screen to work with, it does feel pretty good and without buttons or a controller, these games aren’t going to get much easier to control. Lag very rarely seemed an issue in multiplayer which I thought would be a much bigger problem, and so I will be going back to the multiplayer soon. Overall this is a highly enjoyable game which anyone who can get over the controls should give a go.