Review: Gameloft Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus
Gameloft's military-themed first-person shooter Modern Combat: Sandstorm won our 2009 iPod/iPhone Game of the Year Award for good reason: it was a breakthrough release in the App Store, bringing portable console-caliber gameplay, graphics, and audio together in a way that no other App Store title had before. Flash forward a year and there's a sequel, Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus ($7), which will sate fans of the last game without completely blowing them away in the same way: it offers generally impressive graphics, solid audio, and the same sort of gameplay, each with little tweaks rather than wholesale changes to the winning prior formula.
Borrowing the abrupt character-shifting motif from Call of Duty’s Modern Warfare games, Black Pegasus’s 12 missions move you through the eyes and teams of three different men whose computer-controlled teammates offer modest assistance when their paths cross yours, otherwise taking alternate paths where they’re out of sight and sometimes out of earshot. Summing up the concept behind the missions is easy—you’re taking out as many non-English-speaking people as possible with a collection of 15 different weapons, switching between the couple you’re holding at once as the situations require. A stealthy silenced pistol will help you avoid triggering alarms in some stages, while rifles, shotguns, and sniper rifles will be useful in most others, and of course, gun turrets, a trusty knife, and various grenades have cameo roles, too. Even on the easy difficulty level, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to down enemies and get bloodied yourself, most of the time with ample chances to duck back behind cover until you’ve replenished your life.
From a gameplay standpoint, Black Pegasus’s biggest addition is occasional quick time events— “hit the button, fast!” moments where you save yourself or a teammate from imminent death by tapping one or more in specified spots on the screen—but the rest of the game is spent walking, shooting, or both, just as in the first game. Gameloft dramatizes some of your kills by using a motion blur and zoom effect to show the takedown as it happens, but what really makes the action interesting is the combination of high-quality textures and competent voice work, which fill your eyes and ears with believable ambience to shoot through.
After jungle and warehouse levels that feel like familiar but solidly interesting versions of scenarios we’ve seen many times before, another level takes you from rooftop to rooftop as a sniper protecting a convoy, forcing you to swap your precision rifle for a shotgun as you go into buildings. Though the art and objects repeat, and don’t have a console-style tendency to explode into individually visible shards, the enemies and teammates look so sharp and talk so much that you won’t mind what’s missing. Dramatic Harry Gregson-Williams-styled music kicks in at just the right times to elevate the excitement level, too. Gameloft hasn’t skimped on the intermissions, either; they’re well-acted and interestingly staged, with an actual storyline running through the game.
There are a couple of things missing from Black Pegasus, however. The first is true iPad support, which continues to be a major disappointment as every Gameloft release is for no good reason issued in barely distinguishable iPhone/iPod touch and iPad versions—both now have “HD” graphics, though the iPhone game runs at low resolution on the iPad. We see no good reason to buy the same game twice for different iOS devices, particularly when Gameloft appears to have optimized the tiny text and grenade controls for the larger-screened iPad rather than the iPhone and iPod touch. Releasing universal apps seriously needs to become a Gameloft priority as soon as iOS 4.2 is out.
Also absent are “wow” interactive moments throughout the levels—the quick time events feel as if they were tossed in to keep the game from being a pure, repetitive shooter, and though they work decently, there are quite a few moments when the game feels as if you’ve been placed on a beautifully decorated but largely linear set of paths rather than in a real world; the freedom to carry out objectives and actually interact with various items is an extra dimension to the experience that Modern Warfare constantly nails, but Modern Combat as a clone has seemed to miss. Pulling your knife to open a lock or kicking down a door isn’t enough. On the other hand, Gameloft includes three different multiplayer options (online, local wi-fi, and local Bluetooth) with multiple modes and levels, and we had no problem setting up a game and finding people to play against even on the game’s first full day of release. For many people, the multiplayer alone will make Black Pegasus worth grabbing.
To put things in proper perspective, Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus mightn’t be as ambitious as the very best games in its genre for other devices, but as a $7 iPhone and iPod touch title, it’s very close to completely excellent—omission of true iPad support aside, it’s impossible to ignore the value that Gameloft is offering here. That said, iOS first-person shooters have come a long way in both performance and expectations since last year, and this sequel offers more of the same rather than charting new territory as its predecessor did in the App Store. Overall, Black Pegasus is worthy of our high recommendation, albeit with some small caveats that take it out of the rare flat A category that Sandstorm helped to define.