Game Reviews

Modern Combat: Sandstorm

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Modern Combat: Sandstorm

As every soldier knows, no plan survives contact with the enemy.

War is so fluid that small deviations in timing, location, or weather can have a massive effect on overall victory when hot lead starts flying.

Still, considering how less fluid a touchscreen is compared to the classic keyboard and mouse controls which gave birth to the first person shooter genre, Gameloft's decision to model Modern Combat: Sandstorm on a fairground target range makes complete sense.

On this battlefield, the enemy is static, dumb, with a limited set of moves: spawn; point gun; fire.

Hence, it's a measure of how well the game environments and scripted events are designed that Modern Combat is such an enjoyable experience.

Even when you're replaying levels, whether because you were killed or to improve your fastest time, the canned nature of engagements is never off-putting.

Perhaps the highest praise, however, should be directed towards the touchscreen controls.

They're not perfect. For example, the default option - which has a virtual joypad on the left for strafing movement and a fire button on the right, with mouse-look controlled as you scroll around anywhere on the screen with your thumb - means you're often firing by accident because to see as much of the screen as possible you'll end up inadvertently scrolling across the fire button.

There are two other control methods. Screen Tap doesn't have any onscreen buttons: you move your fingers across the screen to move/look and the fire button moves around under your right thumb. Tap it to fire.

Virtual Sticks has virtual joypads for move and look, and you tap anywhere on the screen to shoot. I didn't find either option helpful, so stuck with the default, but it takes time to get used to.

To be more specific, it's the combination of the controls with the hardcoded actions of the many enemies, who are always popping up out of scenery, that means Modern Combat works so well.

This also influences the way you have to play. Like real warfare, you can't go running around shooting from the hip and expect to survive.

Even taking into account the game's very helpful auto-aiming system (which you can disable), the most sensible way to play is to slowly move around corners, tapping the kneel button (bottom left of the screen) and then zooming in the iron sight (bottom right) to get a solid shooting position that will see the auto-aiming system lock on more accurately.

If you get close to enemies, the game's slow rotational speed means you'll be toast unless you manage to successfully get off a brutal melee blow. It's triggered by proximity: just frantically tap the fire button, which is what you'll be doing anyway.

As for the game's background, you're the chief of a typical squad of generic US soldiers who have been sent to some dusty Middle East location to take down an emerging terrorist threat. So far, so Neocon.

The plot is none too clever, evolving down the lines of 'How did they know we were coming? Oh, our evac chopper's been shot down!' etc. The members of your squad do provide added engagement, though, even if you're not actually saving them, just fulfilling sub-missions to 'Help Dozer on the right flank'.

And you'll always know where to go next thanks to the enormous, green, floating arrow. If only they had those on the battlefield.

Keeping things simple, the pace of the game is also neatly broken up through the ten missions.

You'll be making your way through the town, defending a static location, using fixed machine gun emplacements, acting as an on-rails Hummer gunner, and running through sewers, etc. Thanks to the excellent sniper rifle, the sewers are somehow reminiscent of classic shooter GoldenEye.

Each mission takes anywhere from ten to 25 minutes, depending on how Rambo you are, so you get plenty of game for your seven bucks (or four pounds).

As you'd expect, technically the graphics, audio and animation are up there with the best we've seen on iPhone.

Still, what's really clever is the way Gameloft has shaped the gameplay of Modern Combat: Sandstorm to turn the limitations of the iPhone when it comes to first person shooters - notably the touch controls - into the game's strength.

The battle plan and the enemy may be static, but the victory is emphatic.

Modern Combat: Sandstorm

Modern Combat: Sandstorm demonstrates that with good design and control, you can make a very enjoyable first person shooter on iPhone