A few years ago the world of PC gaming was dominated by Counter Strike, a tactical FPS that was played worldwide by a massive and undeniably addicted audience. Not long later, the PS2’s network adapter brought SOCOM online, and another community gathered which would remain with the series for years to come, loving the slower pace, focus on teamwork and matches without respawning.
Return to 2011 and Gameloft – so far famous for a string of successful mobile games – give us Modern Combat: Domination on the PS3. Bridging the gap between Counter Strike and SOCOM, this budget downloadable title tries to do something a little different to the myriad of FPS games already on the market. So is it a perfectly timed head shot, or have Gameloft shot themselves in the foot?
One thing that should be made clear early on is that this game won’t be for everyone. Those who love to run around like a headless chicken, shooting anything they see knowing full well that getting killed will just send them back to the base and replenish their ammo will be spending a lot of time sitting and waiting for a round the finish. On the whole respawning is not a luxury you have at your disposal, and you’ll need to take far more care when you’re trying to meet your objective – all it takes is a well aimed head shot or intelligently planned ambush and you’re out until the next round. Now while many will find this an irritating style of play, the whole point of Modern Combat is to be more tactical and work as a team. Like SOCOM before it, getting a kill feels good. You know you’ve stopped an enemy in their tracks, and you know you’ve just weakened the other team. It makes stand-offs genuinely tense affairs, and ducking out from behind cover can either end up with your covered in glory, or covered in your own insides.
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So with the respawning issue settled, what does the game actually give us? Gameloft have put together an impressive package on their PS3 debut, offering a range of online game modes and maps to play them on. Escort has your team trying to safely shepherd a certain team member to a safe point on the map, and Domination is the now-standard FPS base-capturing mode. You can also enjoy Boom and Bust – trying to arm or disarm a missile launch – and a Demolition mode where you need to arm or disarm a bomb in a certain location. With other modes also available there’s enough variety to keep things interesting and mastering all of the game modes takes some work, but there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before.
The maps themselves are well designed, and give a good sense of scale whether you’re playing a tiny 2v2 game or the maximum 8v8. There are plenty of places to duck for cover, but the various routes to each area make hiding from the enemy a tricky task. As for the gameplay, early adopters of the game found playing online to be a pain, with heavy lag and slow matchmaking a common complaint. Gameloft have, however, patched the game quickly to make the online experience far smoother – just as well, considering this is effectively an online-only title. There’s an offline mode, but it’s just identical to the online play with bots making up the numbers. The patch has fixed many complaints, and now finding a game isn’t difficult especially if you use the custom search option to see a list of the available lobbies, although loading times between games are still a little longer than we’d like. While each round is quite short, a full match will have several rounds – something crucial in the reward dynamics.
Each kill, win and successful objective not only earns you XP but also cash. While the XP mounts up slowly over the whole time you play, the cash only comes into play during that specific match. Between rounds you can purchase weapons and equipment with the money you earn. If you manage to stay alive in the previous round, you keep the equipment and can upgrade it or buy more stuff for the next round. Get killed however and you’re empty-handed. This is where you need to be tactical about your equipment selections. If you go all-out and spend every penny you have then you’ll be nicely kitted out for the next round, but step too close to a rogue grenade without killing anyone and you’re back to square one with no cash apart from the sympathy bonus you get for losing. So do you buy big and hope to get a few kills, or save the cash for later in case you need it in a later round? Well that’s your choice, but believe me running round with nothing but a pistol makes life tricky.
As your XP levels up more weapons and upgrades are made available. You’ll need to play for quite some time to reach the level required for add-ons like the red dot, but they’re very much worthwhile when you do. This does make the game slightly unbalanced at times, but a little tactical nous will get you a long way, and sneaking up behind an enemy will give you an easy kill whatever your rank, and if you pick up a gun dropped by a higher rank you even get to keep it through the match until you get killed yourself. Not only that, but a player at rank 20 is just as stumped as a player at rank 1 if they have no cash to spend for the next round. The thought of your next round is always in the back of your head, making the current round even more tense.
Visually Modern Combat isn’t going to set the world alight, but for a small budget title the game looks pretty decent. Various explosions and effects are a little rough around the edges, and the environments can be quite bland but they serve a purpose and, if anything, give the game even more of a Counter Strike feel. The sounds are also fairly standard FPS fare with the guns, bangs and grunts pretty much the same as any other FPS title. To be fair, there are only so many sounds a gun can make. But don’t forget this isn’t a full retail game, it’s a low-cost downloadable title without a multi-million dollar budget, and you shouldn’t expect something that pushes the boundaries of what the PS3 can do.
So where do we find ourselves? Some people might get annoyed by the single-spawn dynamics of the game, while others will prefer the sharper visuals of other full-price FPS titles. The fact it’s 95% an online title could also potentially be an issue, but none of this seems to matter once you’re actually in a game and in the zone. If you want unlimited respawns, pretty graphics or an excessively rewarding ranking system, play Call of Duty. But Modern Combat: Domination is a well planned, well constructed and enjoyable game. Its low price is nothing but an extra bonus on top of what is a satisfying and well balanced tactical shooter, and despite there being nothing new here, if Gameloft carry on releasing updates to fix the small niggles (which it would appear they’re quite keen to do) then we’ll end up with a truly great PSN title. As it is, it’s a good solid game wrapped in a bargain price tag.