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Modern Combat 4 Review: Big-screen shooting on Windows Phone 8

The era of Gameloft Windows Phone 8 support is in full swing. Already the prolific publisher has graced us with an amazing racer (Asphalt 7), two less amazing but still decent open world games (Amazing Spider-Man and Dark Knight Rises), and a surprisingly enjoyable physics puzzler (Shark Dash). It’s almost like they’re single-handedly keeping the Xbox brand alive on Windows Phone.

Now Gameloft follows up with Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour, the second Windows Phone title with real-time online multiplayer and the platform’s only first-person shooter so far (until N.O.V.A. 3 comes along). FPS games on the phone are new for many of us - including me. Read on to find out how well Modern Combat 4 works as both a single-player and multiplayer game!

Save the president, kill the president

I haven’t played past games in the series, but I understand that Modern Combat 4’s story builds off of its predecessors, with a handful of characters returning for this installment. Don’t worry though, as this game’s narrative (which unfolds through fully-voiced and subtitled cinema scenes) basically plays like a Hollywood blockbuster that anyone can comprehend.

Terrorists kidnap the president and plot to bring down not only the US government but the entire capitalist world; it’s up to a handful of heroic soldiers to stop them. The twist is that several levels put players in control of Page, the leader terrorist, and show the conflict from his perspective.

Left: Villain's perspective. Right: Hero's.

Now, Page is a complete jerkwad with insufferable dialogue, so I didn’t relish my time in control of him or seeing him interact with (bully) others. Gameloft should have crafted a more charismatic and tolerable villain before forcing us to spend so much time with him. Depicting a conflict from two sides is admirable, but all we get of the villains’ viewpoint is “Kill America!” without any actual explanation of their grievances.

Thrill a minute

Left: Drone driving. Right: A simple Quick-Time Event.

Story gripes aside, Modern Combat 4’s single-player campaign is actually pretty awesome. The game thrusts you into action from the get go, as the heroic military forces storm an island resort that’s been taken over by mercenaries. The graphics are undoubtedly the most detailed and beautiful seen on Windows Phone so far. Environmental explosions, realistic lighting, and believable physics (powered by Havok) all create an exciting and console-like experience from the get-go.

The campaign is broken up into 12 levels, each of which lasts about 20-30 minutes. The levels simply overflow with variety, and not just because of the perspective bouncing back and forth between good and evil. Of course there is lots of running and gunning, spread across lots of different environments like an island, city streets, office buildings, factories, and even an Antarctic base.

The developers also keep the standard first-person gameplay from getting stale by mixing in different objectives and activities every few minutes. Players will clear paths for soldiers by manning the gun on an AI-driven, ground-based drone; man the turret on a Humvee; protect a target from the air by gunning from a helicopter; chase down a very annoying character called Saunders on foot, and more.

The only activity I didn’t care for is an ill-advised stealth section later in the game. Are stealth missions in non-stealth games fun? No, and in fact there is an unwritten law that stealth sections must be terrible. At least the mission just switches to normal gameplay after the player gets discovered though.

Shooting on the go

I fancy myself an adaptive gamer; I can enjoy playing an FPS game with a controller, mouse, or keyboard. Playing Modern Combat 4 on a touch-screen is a learning experience, but I got used to it by the third level and just had fun from then on. It helps that the controls are logical and well-laid out.

You move your character with the virtual stick on the left, which stays in a fixed position, unlike Gameloft’s open-world games. Swiping anywhere on the screen looks around, which you’ll mostly do with your right thumb. I did use my left thumb to control looking whenever I manned a turret or drone though. At the bottom of the screen there are buttons for crouching/standing, sprinting, zooming the view, and shooting. Tapping the gun at the top reloads, while swiping it toggles between your secondary firearm.

Because we only have two thumbs to work all the controls (as opposed to both our thumbs and forefingers on a physical controller), shooting while both looking and moving is impossible (unless you enable the Gyroscope for looking). But you can do any two of those at once, and the mild auto-aim helps reduce the need for constantly adjusting the view. The game is designed around the controls, so you’re never put in a situation in which they can’t keep up with the challenge.


Left: Single-player upgrades. Right: Multiplayer upgrades.

As you kill enemies and complete objectives during the campaign, you’ll earn credits that can be spent on upgrades, gun attachments, and items in the shop. Permanent upgrades do handy stuff like increase your health or decrease reloading time, while gun attachments improve your firepower.

Players also earn credits from kills and other objectives in multiplayer games, but the credits aren’t shared between the two modes. Multiplayer credits can only be spent on multiplayer upgrades and vice-versa. You’ll want to save up for a decent multiplayer gun ASAP, as the starting gun’s magazine size is so small that you’re bound to get killed while reloading quite often. Tying guns to credits instead of spawning them on the map makes for a rather unbalanced experience.


A lot of effort has gone into Modern Combat 4’s multiplayer mode, and yet so few of us will get to properly enjoy it. A healthy multiplayer game needs a large community. Asphalt 7 had a great community at launch thanks to its low price. Modern Combat 4 costs much more, so less players are bound to pick it up.

Only phones with 1 GB of RAM can even run the game, so scratch 512 MB devices off the list of potential players. Then the game requires a minimum of 5 Gigabytes of storage space (unless you successfully cue the download through the Windows Phone Store website), so many gamers just plain won’t be able to fit it onto their devices no matter what. These factors combine to put a huge cap on the potential community size.

Some of those things are out of Gameloft’s hands, but bad matchmaking also makes it harder to find games. Yes, you can invite your Xbox Live friends now and party up (much like an Xbox 360 game) to jump between games as a group. So far so good.

But there is no quick match option to find random Ranked games (the only ones eligible for earning XP, credits, or Achievements). Instead, you select from eight different Ranked game types and then sit in a lobby until someone joins. There’s no way to tell who’s playing what game type, so I imagine a lot of players will just sit in empty lobbies for a few minutes and then give up. The Windows Phone version has no way to communicate with other players, either.

Multiplayer can still be fun if you get a few friends together (which you’ll need to coordinate outside of the game, of course). It’s just a shame that the matchmaking system is built for a game with a massive community instead of one with a tiny community, as all real-time phone games will invariably possess. Also note that the maps are designed for up to 12 players, so even if you get a game of 2-4 players going, you’ll be doing lots of roaming around the map in search of your opponents.


Modern Combat 4 lacks an Achievement for beating the campaign, which is always a drag. There are a few fun single-player Achievements though, such as killing an enemy with a ricocheted throwing knife. The most time-consuming single-player Achievement is for scoring 1000 headshots, which will probably require several playthroughs to earn.

Single-player also has one apparently broken Achievement for completing a mission without taking damage. No one has been able to figure it out so far, and given Gameloft’s track record, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s impossible.

Unfortunately, there are also at least six multiplayer Achievements. I say unfortunately because it’s hard enough to get multiplayer games going, and experienced players will have better gear than new players, making it difficult to win matches naturally. Plus the Achievement for winning a 10-player game basically has to be boosted. Getting 10 players together all at once is not a fun prospect, and then you have to make sure everybody gets a win, too. Not very well thought out at all.

Overall Impression

Some folks complain that FPS games don’t work well on touch-screen devices, but many of those destractors don’t seem to have actually played any such games (and certainly not the Modern Combat series). If you take that attitude without trying Modern Combat 4, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Playing a game of this scope and graphical fidelity on Windows Phone is so much more exciting than throwing another bird at a tower for the millionth time. It takes a little getting used to, but the reward is a beautiful and action-packed campaign that actually outdoes some console games.

MC4's multiplayer doesn’t fare as well as single-player thanks to poor matchmaking, too-large maps, and the imbalanced upgrade system. And the difficulty of earning that 10-player Achievement, not to mention the probably broken ‘Elusive Target’ also bring things down a notch. But for many gamers, the top-notch story mode will make up for those shortcomings. If you want a real console-style experience on your phone, look no further.

Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour for Windows Phone 8 costs $6.99 and there is a free trial. Get it here from the Windows Phone Store.

QR: Modern Combat 4

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

  • Great review Paul! I think I will wait until I see some support for the MOGA controller for this title. Any news about game releases today?
  • It was revealed here yesterday that Cut the Rope: Experiments would be the single release Xbox title.
  • Thanks man. Cut the Rope Experiments is coming today, but we don't have a link quite yet.
  • Same here, I want to use a controller for this game.
  • how much space should i have to start downloading ??? i have a lumia 820 and no matter how i got of free space the phone keeps saying that it needs more
  • 4.8gb, ridiculously
  • well, then ... i guess the game was not designed for L820 ...
  • The need for 4x as much free space is a platform restriction, not the developer's fault.
  • the main reason i got 820 was because of the Extra Space that i can have through the SD card ....
    and now i have 64 GB for nothing ... maybe the developer could take this in calculation since he needs more buyers ... maybe we will see some "shrinking" like what we saw for other games earlier
  • Managed to download it once I got 5GB free space. It means having to clear out more than 1/3rd of my 8X's allocated space just to install a game. Utterly ridiculous 'bug'.
  • on Lumia 820 we have 8 GB of internal storage that we can use for apps and games, the OS takes 2 GB + apps and settings another 2 GB ... that mean if i want to play this game im forced to hold the phone as if it was Nokia 3310 ... i wonder why we cant install stuff on micro SD .... ffs
  • If we (820 users) could use the SD card as a staging area, and then install from there, it wouldn't be that bad (I read somewhere it possible to do it with a PC/Surface).
  • You can download games and apps directly onto the SD card bro. As soon as I find the link I'll post for you. All hope is not lost.
  • Hope it works for you and all the others.
  • +1 for Good guy greg! I love my lumia 920 but i feel the pain for 820 owner. Thankyou *bad English i know*
  • I feel your pain. I was skeptical about getting the 8X since it had a measly 16GB just like my HD7. Like I thought I had to delete stuff all the time to add new apps / games. HTC blew it only giving it 16GB.
  • I had only 2.9gb on my 920 but I was able to download this game through the web store( and I'm enjoying it to the fullest. I wish MS will port Halo 4 onto Windows Phone.
  • To destroy Halo as a high standard franchise? Count me out.
  • Sorry you guys, but portable versions don't hurt console series. Heck, Sony even launches some games simultaneously on both PS3 and Vita. You guys personally might not want to play FPS games on your phones (and usually without actually having tried them, which is narrow-minded) but that doesn't mean other people wouldn't enjoy them. That said, Microsoft has shown no interest in bringing Halo to Windows Phone or other mobile platforms, so it's not something we need worry about anytime soon.
  • Yeah, but do they put Uncharted on the Xperia, or Nintendo Mario on the iPhone ? I'm talking about smartphones not portable consoles, and some iconic franchises need to be nurtured.
    You don't serve Moet & Chandon in plastic cups, you drink current sparkling wine (silly analogy, but kinda tired).
  • The only significant difference between a smartphone and a portable console is the input method. Other than that, smartphones already exceed the power of the 3DS and will catch up to the Vita soon enough. I can't remember exactly what Playstation games are available on the Xperia, but it does have several older ones.
  • Come on Paul, you cannot be serious, it's not just about processing power, Vita screen size is massive, has triggers and dual thumbsticks.
  • Sticks and buttons fall under input method, of course. This review should make clear that I (like many other gamers) find this style of game playable with a touch screen, even if it's less ideal than a stick and buttons. The Vita does have a beautiful 5-inch screen, but Windows Phones are expected to hit 5 inches this year as well.
  • The original PSP failed with FPS genre because it didn't have dual sticks, how can anyone expect a no-buttons device to be a good platform to stay true to the Halo legacy (top notch controll system, like it known for that) ? I mean, I'm not saying it wouldn't be *interesting*, but is it worth it ? I like cheap beer on a hot summer afternoon, outside, but if I'm about to enjoy an elegant red wine, I prefer enjoy it with a proper environment. Not belittling any of the experiences, they just different, and seem out of place if you try to mix it.
  • I wouldn't say Halo 4 specifically... or Halo 1, 2, 3 or Reach for that matter... but isn't it reasonable to think that MS should have developed some sort of mobile Halo game for WIndows Phone? Halo, Gears of War and Project Gotham, to be more specific?  Those are their triple A exclusives and you would think they'd leverage such marquee names to help bolster Windows Phone.  Again, I'm not talking about direct ports, but new, made-for-mobile games of some sort.
    Mass Effect did it with iOS (and Android? Not sure about Android) and it even connected to your ME account so that galactic readiness rating or whatever it was called would carry over to your actual ME3 game from playing the mobile version.  Its seems weird that MS hasn't developed someting similar for one of their big titles.
  • ^^^^ what he said
  • I want to buy but my phone has "low memory" issues. I did a factory reset to get Asphalt 7 but I am not sure I am willing to do that again.  I can't wait to be able to clear out the "other" memory properly and download apps again.
  • Download it off the web....Always do that with larger games. Mine gave that error, even though I had over 3gb free on my 8X, downloaded via the web fine and ran fine with 3gb... for me at least
  • Thanks for the tip; I will try it later today!
  • Control,support is facken needed Paul do yu agree ??
  • I finally managed to install the trial. I don't think tue controls are the highest issue, although they are a significant problem (In that you cannot shoot and change where you are looking as there is no trigger button. IMO you should be able to use the volume rocker to fire, then the controls would be like on a console) The biggest issue is that the screen is so small so the targets you are aiming at are ridiculously small. Its a really poorly executed game from the hour or so I have played it. I will keep going as the reviews are outstanding though.
  • Dedicated camera button to shoot would be perfect!
  • At least our screens are better than the infinitesimal iPhone screen, but they seem to enjoy playing Modern Combat 4 on it.
  • how can we add friend in multiplayer?
  • Loved this game. But with the problem of low FPS than my iTouch 4 and the requirement of 1G of ram I cannot just simply rated as 5 stars
  • Just one thing: you CAN actually move, aim and shoot at the same time.
    • Move with the left thumb
    • Shoot with the right finger
    • Aim by moving the phone and using the accelerometer :)
    Great review, good work! :D
  • Forgot about Gyroscope controls - updated the review a smidge. Thanks man.
  • Cheers, you're welcome :)
  • Really ? you can aim by moving the phone ? I have to re-download the demo again to try that....
  • Yep... honestly, the controls are well done, its just a matter of adjusting to the controls and getting used to a somewhat different play style as a result.
  • Controls were unbearable but I guess it's good enough for what it is. I can't see myself playing these types of games on a phone. I'll stick to consoles for these types of games. I really did give it a try but it was just frustrating. I like having total control of my movements and what I'm doing. It felt like I was fighting with the controls and enemies. I can see why people want these types of games on a phone but it just doesn't work. As a Halo fan, I hope MS doesn't bring the Halo franchise to mobile unless it's more like Halo Wars
  • add me on xbox live gamertag:Theocracy6524
  • Good game. But the download was massive had to clear my phone just to download it
  • is it seriously worth $7. i mean i want to support the dev's so more games can be made for wp but i can buy a full pc game for $7.
  • You can grab Modern Warfare1 or 2 for the xbox 360/PS3 for close to that (used, ebay pricing). A lot longer of a game and I would think a lot more enjoyable with a controller vs. a touch screen.
    Still for a Mobile phone, it is pretty cool but, I, Like you, question if it's worth $7, I put it around $5 after trying the demo, and if it was $5, I would buy it today...
  • I don't think the Call of Duty games are significantly longer - don't the campaigns tend to top out at 6 hours or so?
  • Yes, they do. And honestly, the CODs mentioned are old now and originally also cost 60$ for a new Game.
    So 7 is ok. Im not having much Money but i also bought it after your Preview :) 
    runs great on 920 :)
  • Exactly! Glad you are enjoyingthe game. :)
  • Downloaded the trial.  Playing an FPS on my phone wasn't as bad as I feared.  But its still pretty hard for me to get used to.  I really hope MS builds in Xbox controller support for WP.
  • I don't get the complaints about small screen and poor control. What you expect ?! Carry a Xbox 360 controller to look like a real dork while commuting? A screen the size of your tv on your phone?
    It is what it is, phones are not the right place to play this sort of games, this kinda "cheap" (compared to AAA titles) are a fun this to try, and then move along. Halo on a phone?! Yeah, if you want to drag the brand to the mud.
  • I disagree that halo on the phone would drag the IP in the mud. My opinion just differs. Halo wars, rts, would work great on wp8 and w8. There are plenty of options on bringing the halo universe to touch.
  • I tried the demo, nice game, it looks impressive, controls is something you need to get used to. I still think it's like the other games, just a little too much at $6.99, are they the same price on iOS and Android ?
    If this was $4.99 and my 8X could afford the space, I would grab it but, as it' sits, I will wait and hope this one goes on sale....
    Maybe if the 928 has a MicroSD slot (for the rest of my media) I will grab this game when I get it...
  • Yes, Gameloft prices its WP8 games the same as its iOS and Android versions. That said, who knows if we'll ever see these games go on sale for super cheap as they occasionally do on other platforms.
  • I love the game so far except for the controls. Hard to get use to but getting better every game. Controller support would definitely help. In reading other people's posts I will try aiming by moving the phone.
    Multiplayer is good and smooth/rich graphics on my Lumia 920.
    Definitely takes care of my call of duty fix while I am not at home.
  • Guys, you can move and shoot at the same time. And you can do them both with the same with only your right thumb; just hold tap on the shoot button and drag that same thumb off of the shoot button to aim while you shoot.
  • Exactly! Who has completed the game yet? Currently on mission 11.
  • How do u finish level 3. I'm just stuck in the damn building
  • Great review on a great game.
  • I would have bought it, but my 8x is only 8gb... :'(
  • Nice review.  I can't play those kinds of games personally but it looks really smooth on WP8.
  • Damn...i just finished the game. :(
  • Playing again on hard and then extreme should give me my monies worth!
  • I did the Trial, I recommend everyone do the trial. I will buy it if/wgen the moga pro works on it though, or when I could use my iGo Stowaway BT keyboard.
  • I can't explain my feelings towards the phone being held in Landscape mode with the Window and back button on the left :(  Not sure what is wrong with me.
    Great review though.  I look forward to picking this up and playing against my brother.  "I wouldn't recommend if you like surviving"  hahaha.
  • I don't usually hold it that way; guess I was in a hurry when shooting. Glad you enjoyed the review!
  • The game seems pretty good, but until there is a way to use external controller of some sort, aiming, and shooting is too frustrating to be enjoyable for an extended period of time. Touch screen controls are just too clunky and unresponsive.
  • Have you tried it?
  • I have a gameloft friend, he is playing MC4 on iOS, any chance that I can play with him in a online game? I can play with him in local WiFi
  • You mean your WP8 game successfully played with an iOS player on local Wi-Fi?
  • Yeah, I played with my friends using my Lumia 920. Android and iOS 4v4 local WiFi at my house, and I got all of them in my friend list in gameloft, wonder I can play with them during online session
  • Awesome!
  • I just fired this up on my 920 and Optimus G and boy did the OG blow away the Lumia on graphics.  The 920 won in the sound department, but I use headphones most of the time, so I'd rather have the better graphics.
  • why the all new games like asphalt 7 and then this game require 1gb ram while iphone 3gs is able to run all apps also temple run require 1gb ram what the banana I do I have htc 8s. I am not able to play games 
  • Asphalt 7 was patched to run on 512 MB devices.
  • Will the game be updated to run on 512mb Ram devices just like Asphalt 7 was updated ??
  • Gameloft has never given us an answer one way or the other on their post-Asphalt 7 1GB RAM releases.