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It's easy to lose perspective on a game like Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour, particularly for those of us who enjoy lavish first-person shooters on consoles or computers. Gameloft's military shooter series seems content to mimic the immensely popular Call of Duty series from other platforms -- and Zero Hour boasts some serious parallels with this year's Black Ops II -- but despite its lack of ambition, the franchise delivers a big and entertaining mobile shooter at a fraction of the cost. Grumble all you want about intentions, but no other iOS game does online shootouts at anywhere near this level.
And Zero Hour really does improve on the formula in small, but meaningful ways. Last year's campaign impressed with big set pieces, but dragged thanks to overlong and repetitive missions. Happily, Modern Combat 4 breaks from the formula just a tad with more variety in its action, including both ground and airborne drone vehicle sequences, plus generally more compact missions in the mix. Even the enemy kill animations are greatly improved, though much as the storyline aims to shake things up by letting you play as both the hero and the enemy, the dialogue alternates between generic and offensively tacky. But as a straightforward, action-packed bash through scads of terrorists, it's a definite step up for the series.
Online multiplayer is once again the star of this show, however, as the 12-player deathmatch battles and team objective-based modes are remarkably enjoyable, considering the touch-screen interface and tiny price point. With eight distinct play modes across several maps, plus extensive customization and class specialization options, Modern Combat 4 really does deliver on its premise of having a Call of Duty-like shooter to play wherever you are. Using in-game currency (awarded via gameplay, or purchased with cash) to unlock weapons is a step in the wrong direction, though, and hopefully not a trend that'll disrupt the competitive balance in future editions.
Zero Hour is a looker, but Gameloft made some curious concessions to keep it running at a steady rate on earlier iOS devices -- like the nine-month-old 3rd generation iPad, on which the game runs at a decidedly non-Retina resolution. It's a little jarring to see the slightly jagged aesthetic on such a sharp screen, but while somewhat disappointing, it doesn't ruin the experience. Expectedly, the game looks its best running on the iPhone 5, though the larger iPad screen offers more precision with the touch controls.
The bottom line. What Modern Combat 4 lacks in ambition and originality it makes up for with excellent online play and a solid single-player campaign.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 4.3 or later
Stellar and robust online multiplayer package. Worthwhile single-player campaign packs more variety than past Gameloft shooters. Quite a lot of gameplay for the price.
Runs at a lower resolution on non-current Retina devices. Still seems content to mimic the Call of Duty playbook. Eye-rolling campaign dialogue.