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‘Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour’ Single Player Review – Continuing the Iterative Improvement Trend

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Another year, another entry in Gameloft’s Modern Combat series. As was the case with Fallen Nation ($6.99), Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour ($6.99) continues the trend of a decent single player campaign with an established formula made successful with the previous Modern Combat games. While players won’t find anything particularly innovative or substantially new to the series, they’ll still find a campaign with all the pros (and cons) we’ve come to know from Modern Combat.

Following an overarching tale of terrorists launching simultaneous attacks around the world and kidnapping the president, Zero Hour puts you in the role of several different protagonists (and antagonists, for that matter) as they each play their parts in the larger narrative. The game employs some interesting techniques, such as letting you play the same event but from the perspectives of different teams. While Zero Hour isn’t going to win any awards for story-telling, it still manages to weave a somewhat cohesive story, even if the plot is completely over-the-top (and really, what military shooters these days aren’t?). Series veterans will even see the return of an old enemy from Fallen Nation, although he seems to have become a complete caricature of every generic bad guy ever.

From a gameplay perspective, Zero Hour doesn’t so much change the core formula as it refines and improves on what’s already there. The same four difficulty tiers returns, along with 12 missions across a wide variety of locales. Also making a return are the occasional quick time event as well as a ton of cinematic cutscenes setting the stage between levels and checkpoints. While the above items aren’t new to the series, you’ll notice that the voice acting (for the most part) sounds improved, cutscenes are not as jarring, and even the quick time events feel more appropriate. These sound like small adjustments, but when taken together they do a good job of improving the overall experience.

This sort of theme continues with the actual FPS engine. For example, aim assist via scoping feels a bit snappier, while gyroscopic aiming also seems improved. Meanwhile, the in-game shop, which also makes a return from Fallen Nation, adds more options to customize your weapons with the credits earned while playing single player missions. While the virtual controls are still hit-or-miss (which seems to be the norm on most iOS FPS games), Gameloft does a decent job with its control options, including the ability to move around and resize any button on screen.

Of course, Zero Hour isn’t without its annoyances with the majority of them being recurring problems that have been encountered in previous titles. The checkpoint system seems ill placed at times, with difficult sections coinciding with having to hear particularly annoying voice-overs repeatedly as you try to clear a section. In addition, the overall difficulty curve seems to jump wildly, creating some frustration that seems to want to encourage folks to shell out for power-ups in the in-game shop. This is especially true with the game’s ‘escort’ sections, with some companions dying incredibly quickly if you don’t know exactly where the enemies are coming from. There’s also the fact that most weapons in the single player campaign feel generic and indistinguishable. Again, these aren’t new issues to Modern Combat, but it’s unfortunate that they continue into Zero Hour.

As was the case with N.O.V.A. 3 ($6.99) released earlier this year, one of the biggest improvements in Zero Hour is its visuals. Suffice to say, this is the nicest looking Modern Combat title and is probably one of the most visually impressive FPS titles on current iOS devices. Textures are crisp, explosions and particle effects are aplenty, and, most important, the game runs at a reliable and fast framerate. The weakest link seems to be character models, but even those aren’t too bad. It’s important to note that with a large variety of iOS devices currently in the wild, your experience will definitely vary.

For example, while the above complements are certainly true on my iPhone 5, I encountered some slow-down and degradation on my iPad 3. Impressions in our forums also seem to indicate that while the version of Zero Hour on the iPad 4 has all the available special effects, it doesn’t run in full Retina resolution. In addition, one can imagine that the visual quality will diminish with earlier devices. Regardless, these sorts of games have always served as good “bragging material" for new hardware owners, and Zero Hour definitely continues that trend (at least for the iPhone 5).

As you’ve probably noticed, outside of the visual improvements Zero Hour really hasn’t changed much in regards of the single player campaign. Sure, there’s a new adventure with different places to go and people to kill, but it’s all been done at this point. In addition, while the iterative improvements to the actual formula are nice, they’re subtle enough that most players will barely notice them. While some may complain about the lack of significant improvements, I’m willing to be satisfied with the fact that Gameloft has taken a successful series and preserved the single player campaign with small changes and improvements to an otherwise well-done formula. Granted, this is only half of the equation with Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour as we’ll be taking a look at the multiplayer in the next few days.

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