28
Jul
mc

Like a great many developers, Gameloft has resorted to rolling in-app purchases into most of its games. One notable exception to that de facto rule is the new installment of the Modern Combat series. These games have much more production value than any other mobile first-person shooter, but this is a genre that's notoriously hard to adapt to touchscreens. So, can a big production budget make Modern Combat 5: Blackout worth your time?

Gameplay

Modern Combat 4 focused on an intricate and ultimately uninteresting story about a terrorist who took every opportunity to remind us he was the bad guy through the use of torturously long cut scenes. Modern Combat 5 is still about terrorists blowing stuff up and shooting people, but there's less time spent on an attempt to flesh out everyone's motivation for shooting stuff. If you ask me, that's a good thing. The story is no more compelling in MC5, but it stays out of your way more than in the last installment.

The game's story mode takes place across six different zones including a Buddhist temple, a bustling metropolis, and a military base. Each area has 4-6 missions that advance the story, which is mostly about figuring out what these terrorists types are up to (it doesn't really matter—you still just shoot all of them). After finishing those missions, there are a few "spec ops" levels to go through in the same zone. These are quick one-off missions that might call upon you to cover your team from a sniper perch, breach and clear a few rooms, assassinate a target, or rescue a hostage. The level design is reasonably good, and the spec ops stuff is surprisingly fun. I actually replayed some of these missions just because.

2014-07-24 04.02.41 2014-07-25 01.12.23

2014-07-26 03.56.49

Modern Combat 5 includes a few different classes you can play including assault (rifles), heavy (shotguns/explosives), and sniper. Not all classes are unlocked at the start of the game, but seeing as there are no in-app purchases, you can unlock things pretty easily just by playing the game. In addition to all the classes, there are multiple guns, attachments, and secondary weapons to unlock. Basically, there's a bunch of stuff and it's oh so great to not get the hard sell every five minutes to get access to it.

Some upgrades to your units earned through leveling up can only be used in the multiplayer mode, which is pretty straightforward as shooters go. You have game types like deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag. I have no real complaints about multiplayer separate from my general gripes about the controls (see below), except for some possible balance issues in matchmaking. One undeniable advantage for Modern Combat 5 compared to other multiplayer games is that there are actually people playing it. I've lost track of how many games I've seen with online components that were little more than ghost towns. In Modern Combat 5, I was able to find a game in a matter of seconds.

Okay, let's talk AI—it's still kind of dumb. I have yet to play a shooter on Android that has impressive AI that can avoid making stupid mistakes, and Modern Combat 5 continues the trend. Look at the image below. See that guy I'm pointing my gun at? He's "in cover," but his head is clearly exposed to all the people shooting at him. There are a lot of little things like that; enemies standing still out in the open, taking cover where there is no cover, and generally making themselves easy to hit. It's not as egregious as some games I've played, but don't go in expecting a ton of clever AI soldiers to flank you—they can barely manage a frontal assault.

2014-07-24 04.25.11

Shhh, I'm hiding

I do have one more ongoing concern with Modern Combat 5, and this might be a deal breaker for many of you. You need to have an internet connection to play the game—yes, even the single player. Frankly, I can't think of any good reason other than (maybe) combating piracy. The game comes with the first zone when you download it, but the others are loaded when you unlock them (a nice feature, actually). So of course you need a connection for that, but I'm talking about levels you are currently playing. If you lose connectivity for even a moment, the game pauses and tries to reconnect. You cannot play until the server has been reached.

2014-07-25 02.32.42

The first day I had Modern Combat 5, it seemed like the connection was lost every few minutes. I have no idea why, but there might have been some issues on Gameloft's end. It's been better since then, but I really have to wonder why anyone thought this was a good idea. Single player games should not arbitrarily require an internet connection.

Controls

If you've played any of Gameloft's previous shooters (especially Modern Combat 4), you won't find many surprises in the controls for Modern Combat 5. The various on-screen control schemes rely on some arrangement of dual thumbsticks. Drag on the left side of the screen to walk forward/backward and strafe side to side, and use the right side to aim. Here's where things get weird—when you want to fire, you pick up your right thumb and press the floating trigger button. While pressing this, you can still drag around to refine your aim, but nothing is going to make that process completely smooth.

Modern Combat 5 has extremely aggressive aim assistance on by default, and frankly, I can't imagine playing this game on a touchscreen without it. I say this as someone who plays a lot of shooters with a keyboard/mouse and a controller. Once your crosshairs find a target, your aim will actually stick there, even if the enemy should run a short distance. It's weird, but you'll wrestle with the controls enough even with the auto aiming. Sometimes it can get incredibly frustrating as you switch back and forth between swiping and tapping the fire button, always feeling just a little disconnected from the action.

2014-07-27 05.43.00 2014-07-27 06.06.38

The bottom line is that on-screen FPS controls are awkward, but I will grant that Gameloft has done the best job of making a shooter enjoyable on a touchscreen. I guess you could say the controls are good... in the context of other mobile first-person shooters. If you're not wiling to settle for barely passable controls (and you shouldn't), your best bet is to pair a controller with your device. I tested Modern Combat 5 on the Nvidia Shield, which is fully supported as a controller. Most other HID devices with the standard layout should work too.

Using a controller instantly makes MC5 more playable (you need to increase the sensitivity, though). The difference is actually huge. With touchscreen controls I feel anxious and off-kilter playing Modern Combat 5, but I'm instantly at home with the controller. That's not just because I'm used to a controller, but the precision of a physical thumbstick is higher, and (importantly) you can fire while aiming without moving your thumb from the stick.

2014-07-27 05.45.31

I feel like we've reached the point where perhaps we need to admit that FPS games are never going to be great with touchscreen controls. With a controller, Modern Combat 5 is actually completely playable, but it's only barely acceptable on the touchscreen. This disconnect might be most evident by the way I completely destroyed the competition in online multiplayer mode. I suspect most of them are playing without a controller, giving me a huge advantage.

Graphics

Console-like graphics, you say? I'd really like it if everyone could stop saying that. I have yet to see a mobile game with console-like graphics, with the possible exception of some of the better Tegra-exclusive titles, but even then it's older consoles. Modern Combat 5 looks good for a mobile game, but console-like it is not.

2014-07-28 04.39.34

2014-07-25 02.31.34 2014-07-28 04.41.53

The game will default to "optimal" quality when you install it, but the specifics of optimal depend on your hardware (I suspect many of the complaints about graphics are because of this automatic setting). On the Nexus 7, I found the default settings to be a little lackluster (those are the screenshots with on-screen buttons). The textures were a little muddy and aliasing was pretty obvious during gameplay. Cranking it up to the higher quality setting made the game lag a bit too much. The Shield, on the other hand, looked much better at optimal settings with improved smoothness, lighting, particles, and textures. The game played perfectly maxed out on this device.

2014-07-23 17.29.24 2014-07-23 19.09.52 2014-07-23 19.12.33

Modern Combat 5 is an ambitious title, to be sure. The environments are large and open. The game does guide you more or less in a certain direction, but you're not closed in a tiny space, and you won't have to wait while new parts of the level load. The promo video might not be indicative of the experience you'll have when playing Modern Combat 5, but it's a good looking game overall.

Conclusion

You can play Modern Combat 5: Blackout on a touchscreen, but it's not fun. At least it wasn't fun for me. Even with the auto aiming and generous hit boxes, I was constantly annoyed with the lack of precision. It's not that Gameloft stinks out loud at implementing FPS controls on a tablet or phone, there just aren't any good options. I'm sure there are people who will overlook the awkwardness of touchscreen shooter controls, but I feel like I'm over that. It doesn't work very well and it never will with the technology we currently have. I want to play fun games, and a shooter isn't fun with on-screen controls.

2014-07-28 04.44.22 2014-07-26 03.59.48

With a controller, Modern Combat 5 is a fun game. The difference is so stark that I can really only recommend buying it if you intend to play with a controller.

2014-07-25 02.23.21

The story didn't really strike me as interesting or relevant to the gameplay, but it seems to have been deemphasized this time, which I'm fine with. The lack of IAPs is a total win, though. It's refreshing to play a game with unlockable content that isn't tied to a paywall. Yes, MC5 is a $7 game, but you get everything for that price—and there is a lot of content here. So you should consider picking up Gameloft's newest shooter, but only if you have a controller or hate yourself a little bit.

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play. http://goo.gl/WQIXBM

  • h4rr4r

    It is console like, the PS2 is a console.

    I will be waiting a while to see if gameloft decides to sneak some IAP in before I buy this.

    • https://www.youtube.com/user/MAT0R0 ℳατoгo Ẕεɭɨρħ

      They probably might do so when they add some new maps and weapons for multiplayer in one of their updates. I can't imagine them updating the game for free.

      • h4rr4r

        Then I will not be buying it.
        I thought they had done something like this in the past.

      • Himmat Singh

        Not weapons definitely, but maybe maps in the form of an add-on DLC. But even that I doubt...this should be a free game through and through.

  • ProductFRED

    I play games on my phone in the subway on the way to and from work. There is no service in the subway, except on some platforms. So I can't even start the game and continue to play it with no service. That alone is a deal-breaker for me. Whose fault is it that they decided to give someone a copy of a private beta? What did they think would happen? Most companies have someone supervise a beta tester in person. Why should we be punished for their stupidity? I refuse to buy this game, or any game which uses similar methods of "protection."

    • h4rr4r

      Alpha tests are supervised. Beta testing requires going outside the company. Either a third party or very common these days players testing. Supervising changes peoples behavior which is no good.
      They should have tied the binaries to the devices involved in the beta test.

      • ProductFRED

        I understand beta testing, but in this case, the person (or group of people) that leaked the game won some contest or something and were allowed more of a "sneak peak" of the game. One or more of those people cracked and uploaded it to the internet before it was officially released. I used the term beta loosely.

    • primalxconvoy

      THIS

      A brother-in-arms from the Tokyo Underground system, hails you.

    • Rodney Whitfield

      Look I get it. But what happened was that they held a contest through asphalt 8, the winners got free copies of modern combat 5 and some jerk off decided to give the apk away for free. But I whole hartedly agree with your statement. Sorry I didn't see your post.

  • Zaatour36

    Oppo Find 7 isn't compatible????

  • big xboner fanboy 1

    Graphics on par with Xbone.

  • ddh819

    wonder if you could play this with a mouse and keyboard via bluetooth or OTG cable

    • Himmat Singh

      LOL why? It's a mobile shooter designed for touchscreens. I'd play it with a touchscreen anyday honestly, and I play shooters on PC too.

      • Bryan Pizzuti

        "It's a mobile shooter designed for touchscreens." That is impossible according to the laws of physics. And perhaps should be against the law in general.

      • ddh819

        i have a old droid razr with a broken screen hooked up to a hd dock with a monitor, keyboard and mouse

      • primalxconvoy

        Because mobile controls are inferior to hardware controls? Common sense, really.

    • Kurama91

      yeah, I did it using PS3 controller and SmartTV, just awesome, the game recognized the controller and automatically configured the controls button. it's so familiar as playing COD on PS3, I mean the buttons didn't change that much.

  • https://www.youtube.com/user/MAT0R0 ℳατoгo Ẕεɭɨρħ

    I need to get a powerful phone or tablet, so I can record and show off my skills in mobile FPS games. The controls are not actually that bad.

    You simply hold your tablet or phone like if you where to hold a PSP. Have your on-screen controller layout as: ADS top left, SHOOT top right. Use your thumbs to control movement and camera. Use your index fingers to ads and shoot. I know, I know. It is hard to get used to that type of layout (because your index fingers aren't resting on any triggers, rather your index fingers are just "hovering over them").

    Once you get used to playing that way, it is like if you have the precision as if you were playing on PC! However it sucks that Gameloft doesn't have the option to disable "moving camera while you hold SHOOT button," because sometimes my camera goes on a spaz whenever things get intensive. I honestly like the on-screen controls that Beloko does, they are so precise! I pwn in Quake 3 mobile!

    • Himmat Singh

      Urm, no. Just use your two thumbs and it's good enough. That's how I play all my mobile shooters and I usually get a 1.5:1 kill ratio once I learn my way around. Left thumb to move and occasionally slide, and right to aim, shoot, run and grenade.

      The key is the button layout. I can screenshot mine for you. Place the run button in such a way you can run and aim freely at the same time. Shoot button should be very close to the run button.

  • Himmat Singh

    Let's see. The single player is just pure shit. It's a glorified version of Dead Trigger in the way you play disjointed missions instead of having an ACTUAL campaign. The cutscenes are awfuly limited (mostly you talking to Roux in the command centre) and the story was tacked on.

    Graphics are also not that impressive. I tell ya, Shadowgun had better graphics and effects and that was a 3 year old game. Yes, THREE YEAR OLD! Here, there are some superficial effects like the dirt on the lens (so fake!) and also purportedly SSAO, which impossible to notice and differentiate without a side-by-side comparison anyways.

    Also, the framerate is locked to 30fps which is again a downer. Shadowgun can do 60fps. I didn't experience too much stuttering though, thankfully. Time to move on to UE4 or Unity Gameloft, if your in-house engine isn't cutting it!

    BUT, the game does multiplayer stellarly. Really top notch, balanced stuff. No IAP shenanigans. The progression system is amazing. I personally think Shadowgun Deadzone is a better shooter tactically, since it is cover based, but that is infested with IAPs and is not a balanced game.

    So yeah, Gameloft does a lot of wrong with this, but at least the mutiplayer isn't screwed up.

  • Rahul Nebhnani

    as a person who put in 100 plus hours in mc4.
    i feel like it's a let down

    it keeps downloading new levels which is frustrating on a slow Internet connection.
    the classes aren't good at all, why can't I carry an assault rifle with a grenade launcher and have the perks of a sniper.
    the game play is not smooth at all.
    the graphics feel like a step down.
    the story where mc4 left off has seemed to have vanished. ( what happened to Saunders and the Phantom unit)
    looks like I'll be sticking to mc4

  • misphit_917

    Yeah it's a good game. And here is a tip you can use Chromecast and mirror the image make the game play every better. Yeah the game might lag, but that Chromecast it's still in beta.

  • Askaryan

    Activision should step in. Gameloft proved that it is possible, but I'm not buying anything from them. They are just cloning.

  • didibus

    I'd say Trine 2 on Tegra is comparable to PC and PS4 graphics. In fact, based of a thread on steam from the Devs of Serious Sam, the Tegra K1 is more powerful than the Xbox 360. They ported Serious Sam 3 to both of them. and they can set the graphics to higher settings on the K1 than what they could on the 360. I'd call that next generation console. Will game make use of all that power though is another question.

    • Himmat Singh

      No way dude. It runs 720p, 30fps with reduced effects. But yes, it is still good and the K1 is indeed better (just slightly) than the X360 graphically (not sure about the CPU/RAM aspect).

      It's scary to know the K1 is also better than my previous PC GPU that I changed in February (GT 620).

  • pacho

    Any reason why my Asus tf701t is not compatible with this game?

  • mateor

    Doom Touch and Quake Touch I and II are great, full stop.

  • Kurama91

    Playing Modern Combat 5 on a Smart TV with PS3 DualShock Controller is beyond Amazing!

    • primalxconvoy

      I suspect the lag is amazingly bad, too.

      Anyway, I love premium games with no iap's and love hardware controller based games, especially FPS on Android. Here's why I'm not buying this game, though:

      - Always online won't work for me. I'm always commuting on the train and the line often goes underground or goes through dead zones with no connection. I also want to be able to play this on the plane.

      - Not sure if the game supports "HID" mode on my Moga Pro Power (as the Moga mode rarely works).

      - Previous FPS, like Nova 3, had AWFUL hardware controller support (no way to change weapons, etc).

      - Because... Shamesoft. I don't trust them. They're BOUND to include iap's and pay-to-win at some point. They did it with Asphalt 8 and they'll do it with this.

      - No demo to try it out first. I'm not paying for a game from a dev I don't trust without a demo first.

      • Big Tony

        I use a Slim port and have yet to have any lag with games on the TV. With Chromecast I do get some lag. Anywho, as long as I must have a continuous Internet connection, I won't purchase it. Bummer too because I really dig the MC series.

      • Kurama91

        believe it or not, there is no lag at all. there is just a quarter of second delay, but that's no problem at all. the delay is because I am not using Cables to connect to TV, but Wifi. it's really really great game, I've played MC3 AND MC4 both are awesome,too.

        • h4rr4r

          250ms is a lot of lag.

          • Kurama91

            right if you can't do anything with the game, and wrong if you can play the game without any problems and complete missions one after another, hope you try it and see it yourself. :)

          • h4rr4r

            I will try it once I am reasonable sure they will not add IAP.
            Either way that is a lot of lag, and is why cables are better.

          • Kurama91

            yup , sure thing, Cable is better, I've had one working with my S4, but not with S5, that's why I tried it wireless way. Cable gives you HD Display, No Lag.

    • Thomas Cai Jinzhan

      or why not play a real FPS on consoles/PC......

      • Kurama91

        there are a lot of ways to play these amazing games. man if it works on a real FPS, then I don't know what to say, I will be amazed!

      • h4rr4r

        Not everyone is at home at all times. Hotels, hospitals and many other places have TVs you can use.

  • Bradley Groot

    Fantastic on the Nvidia Shield, still think the graphics are console like. I think people forget how bad 360 games actually look, especially the early ones. My one problem is multiplayer lobbies keep clearing out after every match, it doesn't seem to combine lobbies at all, so sometimes yours will just die out and you have to leave and join again.

    They should have special lobbies for the shield users, it's getting to be a little ridiculous.

  • someone755

    "the story is out of your way"

    Well DAMN, if it isn't the one thing I play games for going out of my way...

  • paul4id

    I wish some of these games would start using the camera focus/shutter button on my Sony phone as a trigger. That way you could adjust your aim and shoot much more easily, as well as be able to quickly "shoot from the hip" at that bad guy who takes you by surprise.

  • Android1

    What really bugs me is the fact that you can't move, aim, and shoot at the same time. The AI I agree on, and the graphics and textures in-game ARE NOT what they were in the screenshots for the app. I'm quite frankly considering requesting a refund.