Much fun has been made of Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus for so closely mirroring another well-known shooter series, but with gameplay this good it's hard to see how that's a bad thing.
Great graphics are just the beginning - Gameloft's sequel puts forth an action-packed single-player campaign backed by tight controls and phenomenal multiplayer that establish a new high for iPhone and iPod touch.
While there remains room for improvement, particularly with regard to the overly scripted campaign, this is one hard-hitting shooter you can't be without.Contemporary warfare
What makes Modern Combat 2 great is its commitment to dishing out the action. There's a noble attempt at storytelling in the campaign, but it quickly devolves into a hunt for terrorists with the details drowned out by the din of gunfire.
A dozen missions have you shooting terrorists across a live minefield in the jungles of South America, manning a turret atop a tank in the streets of a war-torn Middle Eastern city, slashing an enemy with a combat knife after having just sniped his back up from a nearby balcony. And that's just the first act. It's varied, though admittedly linear.
Like so many of its console counterparts, this is a game that relies on carefully scripted events. It's an effective tool for heightening drama and action, but it's a transparent game design technique.
Scenarios are predictable and at times forced. Enemies appear in waves, rather than filtering in dynamically as their comrades fall in combat. These are the things that separate good campaigns from great ones.Brothers in arms
In all other ways, Modern Combat 2 is a rousing success. The controls have been completely overhauled to great effect, providing full customisation of the heads-up display and improved responsiveness, particularly with the camera and movement controls.
Supporting the controls is a rock-solid technical performance across all devices. Obviously the game runs best running on iPhone 4, though it still impresses on a second-generation iPod touch.
Multiplayer is the true hero in this game, saving it from noted campaign weaknesses. Stripped of scripting and storytelling, multiplayer gets right to the good stuff and it's nothing short of fabulous.
Five maps and four modes - Battle (otherwise known as deathmatch), Team Battle, Capture the Flag, and Defuse the Bomb - can be played with a maximum headcount of ten online.
Local wi-fi and Bluetooth are also supported, but the introduction of a ranking system makes online play more attractive.Medals of honour
Kills net you experience on the spot, which then accumulates to determine your rank. Special actions such as assisting a teammate with a kill, getting a head shot, and taking a revenge kill earn you extra points.
With each level you acquire goodies including new weapons, which you then equip before the start of a match.
It's a straightforward system that constantly throws rewards your way to keep you engaged round after round after round. By tagging multiplayer with a carefully constructed system of rewards and ranks, you're encouraged to invest time into Modern Combat 2.
Not only does this make for deeper, more compelling multiplayer, it also infuses the game with enormous replay value.
More can be done: an option to view your profile in greater detail from the main menu, medals posted to a public profile to commend special actions and kills, customisable avatars.
But no other iPhone and iPod touch game can match this multiplayer setup, nor can another shooter pump out graphics like this, and few can claim the same intense level of action.
While it likely won't be long before a new game raises the bar, Modern Combat 2 has for now set the new shooter standard.