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Modern Combat: Sandstorm
by Chris Thomas on Wednesday 9th Sep 2009

Finally, a FPS control scheme that really works.

Making a first person shooter work on the iPhone has been something of a holy grail since the device began vindicating itself amongst the hardcore gaming crowd. After all, it’s all well and good having fancy 3D graphics on a portable device but if you can’t shoot terrorists in the head what’s the point? Many have tried and many have failed to make an interface that works on the iPhones’ multi-touch screen, until now that is. Gameloft have essentially taken the Terminator Salvation engine and control scheme and modified it to work as a first person shooter. The result is a concentrated dose of blasting action that ends up being more than the sum of its parts.

Set in an unspecified Middle Eastern conflict your squad is tasked with locating and annihilating a new terrorist cell. That pretty much sums up the entire narrative, it’s not going to get turned into a novel any time soon but at the same time it’s more than enough of a pre-text for shooting down bad guys with vastly superior automatic weapons. Doing so is also fairly easy and intuitive thanks to the aforementioned control scheme. While there are a couple to choose from I found the default to be the best option and this will be very familiar to anyone who played Salvation. A virtual joystick in the bottom left controls your movement and strafing while dragging anywhere on the screen with your right thumb controls your orientation. Virtual buttons manage your shooting, reloading and weapon changes while contextual buttons take of the rest. It all feels very natural and will have you wondering why on earth iFPS, Duke Nukem 3D and all of the other shooters up until now felt like they had to implement the hideously unwieldy control schemes that they did.

Discovering that the control scheme was not only useable but actually fairly enjoyable was a huge weight off my mind and left me free to enjoy the visuals. In motion the game looks just as impressive as these screenshots might lead you to believe. The character models are superb and when I later compared them to Modern Warfare 2 on the Nintendo Wii there was disturbingly little in it. The majority of the structures and surroundings you’ll find yourself exploring generally look great with only a few specific areas letting the team down (watch out for an on rails level that really takes a dive). Despite some minor graphical tearing that caught my eye intermittently throughout the campaign I’m happy to report that the game really does look brilliant. On an iPhone 3G the frame rate held steady and when I played it on the 3GS the experience felt genuinely luxurious, like playing Crysis on a high spec gaming rig.

Where Modern Combat falls down slightly is in its level design and enemy AI. This might very well be a limitation of the platform but throughout Modern Combat’s 10 level strong campaign you can’t help but get the impression that you are being funnelled down very specific linear paths. You’ll start to realise that actually the game could be distilled into an on rails shooting gallery as time after time you follow the linear objectives only to confront wave after wave of identical terrorists (one of the enemy character models looks disturbingly similar to Jack Sparrow in my opinion). To rub salt in the wound the enemy artificial intelligence is, well, startlingly unintelligent; they convey no sense of self preservation, always happy to stand out of cover absorbing bullets until they die. Of course this is a game running on a mobile phone so feel free to adjust your expectations accordingly but with everything else about the game being so impressive the AI sticks out like a sore trigger finger.

The single player campaign will last you a decent amount of time with levels taking somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes each to complete. Gameloft should also be commended for cramming a lot of variety into these 10 missions, while the bulk of the game is made up of run and gun gameplay you’ll also get the chance to user a sniper rifle, rocket propelled grenade launcher and various mounted turrets, all of which help to break up the action at just the right points.

Despite some particularly awful enemy AI and the noticeably linear nature of the single player campaign Modern Combat: Sandstorm is a very easy game to recommend for a number of reasons. The graphics are sublime on the whole and the app will likely join the ranks of Real Racing and 2XL Supercross in terms of iPhone games you whip out to show your friends just how capabale the iPhone is. The presentation is also wonderful, as an example of this you’ll find that loading times are actually hidden by mission briefings (much better than waiting in a lift!). Above all else though Modern Combat: Sandstorm offers iPhone gamers the chance to do something that no other game has: Shoot terrorists in the face and feel in complete control the whole time. Finally!

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  • Sound: 7
  • Graphics: 9
  • Gameplay: 7
  • Longevity: 8



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