Modern Combat 3 has external screen support, controls still an issue

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Gameloft copies every popular game series that it can get its hands on. Modern Combat is their Call of Duty ripoff, specifically the Modern Warfare series of Call of Duty games. Only two weeks before Modern Warfare 3 brings full-on World War 3 to consoles and PCs everywhere, Gameloft has now released the third game in its Modern Combat series, coincidentally named Fallen Nation after its story that in no way resembles that of Modern Warfare 3…yeah right. Blatant copying aside, Gameloft makes good games – and if the Modern Warfare isn’t going to make it to mobile platforms, then by all means let Gameloft do it for them. I’ve given the new game a test run, so read on to see some impressions.

Modern Combat 3 is an evolutionary update to the previous games. That’s how first person shooters work, and there haven’t really been anything truly new in ages. One of the most interesting new features is not in terms of gameplay though, but rather connectivity – now you can connect your iPad 2 to an external screen using a physical adapter or AirPlay. I say iPad 2, because even though this game is coming to Android, it’s not out yet, and it might not have the same functionality there. On the iPad however, this feature splits your controls off from the gameplay stream and puts the former on the iPad and the latter on the external screen. In essence, the iPad becomes the controller while the external screen has the actual game. Modern Combat 3 isn’t the first game to do this (that would be Real Racing 2), but the App Store isn’t drowning in games that does this either.

When connected to an external screen, you will get a 720p widescreen image that is somewhere between an Xbox/PS2 and an Xbox 360/PS3 in terms of graphics. Another way to put it would be PS2 graphics in 720p, as a lot of the PS2’s “outdatedness” these days comes from the resolution. On a mobile device, these kinds of graphics are impressive.

Gameplay-wise, the single player is more or less identical to every other FPS game out there. Don’t get me wrong, I actually quite enjoy single player campaigns in first person shooter games, but they are pretty identical these days. You’re in a team that has to go from point to point and kill stuff, blow stuff up, shoot down helicopters and ride AC130 gunships.

The multiplayer has also gotten an upgrade. You can play with up to 11 other players on 6 different maps and 7 different game modes, as well as customize your weapon. At least that’s what the App Store description says – I couldn’t connect to the network to actually try it. I’m on a university campus internet connection which is ridiculously flawless to the point where “connection issues” doesn’t exist in any online game ever, so something is obviously up with Gameloft’s servers. I might try again later, but honestly, I don’t really care much for multiplayer in touch screen controlled FPS games.

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That cleverly brings me to the issue of controls. While some games excel with touch screens, that is certainly not the case for first person shooters. The main issue comes from the fact that you have two thumbs to have on the screen but 3 controls you need to reach at once; movement, turning/aiming, and fire. On physical game controllers the latter is practically always mapped to the shoulder buttons, but you don’t have that on a mobile device. Or rather, you do – I’m talking about the volume keys that could be used for such – but that’s not allowed as per Apple developer rules. With the iPad 2 and the two most recent iPhones you have the ability to use the gyroscope to control turning and aiming, but the gyroscope implementation takes a lot of practice. Basically it’s too sensitive, even at the minimum sensitivity level, so it becomes something of a pain to use. You get used to it, but it’s not exactly like Angry Birds where a 3 year old can master the controls within 10 seconds. When you connect the iPad to an external display you also have the issue of not looking at the screen while you’re using the controls on the screen, which means that you often tap the wrong places on the screen as there’s no physical indicator of where the buttons are.

Again, this is something you get used to, and people who’ve played games like Modern Combat and N.O.V.A from the beginning won’t think twice about the touch screen controls. As for people who come from keyboards/mice or game controllers, they might not stick around long enough to learn out of frustration. Gameloft has so many games out there now that share the same control issues that I find it peculiar that it hasn’t released a controller add-on for at least the iPhone 4(S) and the iPad 2. There’s nothing stopping Gameloft from doing so from a technical point of view and it would be a fairly simply accessory, but I guess it hasn’t reached the same conclusion.

Naturally, such a control system would be much simpler on Android, which can connect to existing controllers and even mice quite easily. I haven’t played around with Gameloft’s games on Android devices however so I don’t know the status of such alternative methods of input on that platform. Still, I wouldn’t hold my breath, as Gameloft seems more interested in spewing out game after game than filling out gaps like that.

The bottom line is that Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation is a very evolutionary addition to the series. For people who have played the previous two games religiously (in terms of multiplayer) this will likely be a very big hit, but for more casual players of the series (like myself) the big addition is external screen support, not gameplay changes.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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