“While mostly more of the same, Zero Hour’s brilliant online battles alone sell this shooter, though the campaign can hold its own.”£4.99
It’s no longer startling to see Gameloft’s Modern Combat series pull liberally from the enormously popular Call of Duty shooter franchise, so when automated drones (a centerpiece of the recent Call of Duty: Black Ops II) appear at the start of Zero Hour’s solo campaign, it feels like par for the course. What’s surprising is that a brand best known for aping another can continue to impress while pushing along that same path, but that’s exactly what’s happened with this fourth iteration.
Like the strongly entertaining Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation before it, Zero Hour brings a glossy first-person shooter experience to iPhone and iPad without losing the expected feel and flow in single-player or online multiplayer skirmishes. On the former end, the 12 cinematic campaign missions send the generic military hero on a globetrotting quest to capture a noted terrorist; though he’s not the only playable lead. At times, you’ll actually take the role of the antagonist for a glimpse of life from the other side, though focussing on narrative doesn’t put Modern Combat 4 in the best light. Echoing issues from the last entry, the dialogue tends to come across as either crass or lifeless, and mere morsels of storyline are fully forgettable.
What proves somewhat memorable here is the actual action of the campaign, which is a step up from that of earlier entries without deviating too much from the formula. We’re thankful for shorter missions in the mix, not to mention a fair bit of variety between objectives, due in part to moments in which you’ll command ground or aerial drones. Looping in better enemy animations, more natural-looking environments, and scripted, swipe-based counter-attack sequences makes for a more immersive experience, and while still rather repetitive at times, it’s a worthwhile way to spend a few hours.
Much like its obvious inspiration, though, Modern Combat is best experienced online while trading headshots with skilled worldwide opponents, and Zero Hour delivers the most robust multiplayer suite to date. It almost boggles the mind to see so many options and features available on a mobile shooter, whether it’s tweaking custom weapon loadouts and selecting infantry specialisations as you rank up, or even the ability to create a party with online pals so you can play together amidst mixed competition. As ever, though, the proof is in the titular combat, and these 12-player shootouts absolutely deliver. While the eight play modes hew strongly towards team-based battles, there’s enough variety between kill-centric affairs and objective-based options (such as holding down points on the map or stealing the opposing flag) to keep things interesting for a very long time.
In terms of special effects and the scale of the levels, Modern Combat 4 is the most visually impressive entry to date, and certainly a showcase option on the iPhone 5 and latest iPad. But the stratification between hardware generations is strongly felt thanks to the fact that the game runs at a lower resolution even on slightly older Retina devices. It’s staggering to see the game look so jagged in parts on the 3rd-gen iPad, which launched just nine months before the game, though Zero Hour still plays well and runs solidly. The disappointment stings a bit, all the same.
Such issues can be overlooked in consideration of how much quality chaos is held within, from the improved campaign to the still-impressive multiplayer matches. Much as we’d like to complain about its copycat nature, the Universal app is a steal for anyone eager to pump a few rounds into virtual terrorists on the couch or commute – and it’s markedly better than any portable Call of Duty.