Modern Combat 5 review - raising the bar for mobile action

Modern Combat 5 is the latest in a long series of high-quality first person shooter games from Gameloft. The whole Modern Combat series shamelessly riffs on popular shooter franchises like Call of Duty, and has been doing so well before official mobile counterparts for those games were made.

By and large, Modern Combat 5 is lock in step with Modern Combat 4. It boasts bar-setting graphics, rich multiplayer, familiar experience and achievement progression, a dazzling array of weapon customization, and top-notch voice acting. That's great and all, but there is one distinct difference in Modern Combat 5 which could easily stand as the sole selling point: there are zero in-app purchases.


The line between single- and multi-player in Modern Combat 5 has been made sufficiently fuzzy, though the overall formula really hasn't changed much. Your progress in terms of leveling up and unlocking weapons carries over between the single- and multi-player missions. There are six chapters all told, and each has story missions, spec ops single-player challenges, and online multiplayer matches. All of those missions are scored on a familiar three-star system; you earn one star for getting to the final objective, and earning the other two for completing secondary challenges. You can always go back and have another go at stages you haven't been able to complete yet. Unlocking new chapters requires you to finish the story missions and either the multiplayer or the spec ops missions.

The storyline of the single-player campaign is about as hoaky as you'd expect from a modern military shooter, but that certainly doesn't cramp the production values. There are massive explosions, strong voice acting with excellent lip syncing, and lots of varied scenarios to work your way through. The odd quick-time event will have players make precise swipes as quickly as possible in order to make their way through some of the more cinematic sections of the single-player campaign. I've found the campaign plenty challenging, especially if you're a stickler for getting all three stars.

The spec ops missions are one-off and bite-sized. Often they'll simply be about clearing a room of bad guys, or you'll have to breach and clear rooms in tense hostage situations, assassinate a particular target, and lots more. In the single player missions, you'll also have access to a cool bullet-time ability that switches your view to behind the projectile, and allows you to steer it to its target in slow-mo. Thanks to the quick turnaround time on these missions, I've found myself trying more to get three stars in these than the story missions. There's one caveat for both types of single-player missions: you still need to be online. That's bad news for a lot of folks that play on the go, but this is likely an effort to maintain constant authentication of someone's purchase in order to cut down on piracy. A bit more on that later.

For most folks multiplayer will be the meat and potatoes of the game. In addition to the handful of multiplayer missions in each chapter, there are all of the traditional game modes you'd expect, like capture the flag, free-for-all, VIP, and team battle. There are also familiar killstreak rewards, such as spy drones, sentry turrets, and air strikes. The most welcome addition on the multiplayer front is squads. These are as close as you're going to get to clans.

A special Squad Battle mode issues a call to arms for any of your fellow squadmates that happen to be online to take on rival squads that are also in-game. Taking on these match types during limited-time events offers up a ton of rewards. There's also voice chat enabled, for those that really want to get coordinated. Keep in mind that your notification tray may get full up with a ping every time one of your squadmates is ready to play a group match. Though the pool of players online at any given time for multiplayer was small (since we were in pre-launch), the competition was very stiff. This is pretty standard for most first-person shooters; if you're going to go online, you better have thick skin and expect to lose often.

Modern Combat 5 skills

In addition to earning experience points and levelling up as a whole character, every weapon and weapon class has its own progression. As you play more with a particular gun, you unlock new attachments for it. The attachments don't cost anything, you just swap them in and out when you get access. Most attachments, particularly extended magazines and foregrips, are straight upgrades with little incentive to pick anything other than the most recently unlocked one. That's too bad, because it's fun figuring out which tradeoffs to make.

There's no currency of any kind, and that means no early access to unlockables, but it does mean that those that simply pour time into the game will naturally have a leg up on you since they'll be better geared (as opposed to simply having more tactical options). Playing with a gun will also make progress towards unlocking new weapons of its type, like assault rifles, submachineguns, pistols, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, and shotguns.

There are four character classes all told, which are unlocked in your first 10 experience levels. Every level you gain affords you with skill points that you can put into a linear progression of talents in any given class. Many of those skills can be upgraded to a second rank for added specialization, and most of them are available in multiplayer only. The recon class uses SMGs and focuses on speed, visibility, and surprise. Their top tier skill shows all enemies within 15 meters on radar in multiplayer, regardless of whether or not they're shooting.

The sniper has a long-range rifle and some pistols skills as backup. Their top tier skill upgrades their holographic decoy so an enemy that shoots at it is highlighted. The assault class has a solid medium-range rifle and a penchant for explosives. His top-tier talent upgrades his 10-second berserk state to deal 30% extra damage instead of 20%. Finally, the heavy rocks a shotgun, RPG launcher, and is really hard to kill. His final skill upgrades his medkit so it heals 50 HP instead of 25. The video above flips through the whole set of weapons and skills, and checks out a few of the early attachments.


The controls in Modern Combat 5 have changed very little, and this is somewhat to its detriment. Other first-person shooters have been designed for touch from the ground up with gesture-based gameplay and strong auto-targeting. Modern Combat 5 has automatic aim helping in single player and continues to support motion-based gyro controls, and on Windows, there's hardware controller support at least. We tested the Moga Pro (opens in new tab) on Windows Phone, and it worked just fine. It would have been nice to have a few more finger-friendly changes in the control scheme, but to be fair, when dealing with a highly competitive environment, maintaining a balanced playing field can force certain restrictions.

Modern Combat 5 controls

I've tried switching to gyro aiming full-time, but if you have aim assist also engaged, you can sometimes find yourself battling the automated adjustment. For example, you could be trying to tilt towards a headshot, but the auto-aim will bring you back to the body. Similarly, if you're trying to set off an explosive canister next to a bad guy, the reticle may just snap right to him. That said, you'll probably want to turn off auto-aim if you're using the gyro, or, like most sane people, play with a standard dual-joystick setup. Advanced maneuvers, such as ducking while running to groundslide into cover, engaging a melee kill before your target moves out of range, or moving while aiming down iron sights and firing can be hard to pull off without some practice and control customization.

The issue of controls brings up the larger issue of whether or not first-person shooters have a real home on mobile. The graphics are great, but ultimately on-screen buttons are always going to be a compromise to traditional physical controllers. Even once they're supported on mobile, if you're going through the trouble of buying a controller and setting it up, you may be just as well off playing Xbox or PlayStation (likely fixtures in a household that has a powerful smartphone or tablet and a dedicated controller for it).

Graphics and audio

Though Modern Combat 5 is very clearly using a familiar game engine, the amount of polish on every effect is absolutely great. The reflective and distorting water effects, bloom, depth of field, and smoke effects are matched wonderfully with powerful, bassy explosions, strong voice acting, and visceral, realistic weapon sounds. In short: the graphical and audio fidelity of Modern Combat 5 are unmatched in the world of mobile games.


  • Amazing graphics
  • No in-app purchases


  • Always-on internet connection required
  • Obscenely difficult online multiplayer

Bottom Line

Though reverting to a classic premium model and scrapping in-app purchases may seem like the sensible thing to do for anyone steeped in console or PC gaming, it's actually a huge gamble for Gameloft. In-app purchases account for the vast majority of revenue generated in the mobile game marketplace. If you feel strongly that freemium mechanics are ruining mobile games, you should fork out the $6.99 for Modern Combat 5 on principle alone.

Big-name developers won't be willing to drop the freemium model until the economics make sense, and that will only happen if there's a successful precedent for premium games. Of course, this is The Internet, and we can't have nice things. The game was already pirated in the pre-launch period. Though Gameloft will be banning anybody caught thanks in no small part to the always-on connectivity requirement, this is still a huge disincentive for them or any other developers watching to adopt premium pricing. Be sure to check out our piece from GDC for more discussion on freemium in the grand scheme of mobile gaming.

Ideologies aside, Modern Combat 5 delivers great gameplay using a formula that has been polished over years, inspired as it may be from elsewhere. The consistency with which Gameloft has been able to up their game after each successive Modern Combat must be applauded, but that does come at a small cost. Windows Phones with 512 MB of RAM aren't supported. It's a downer, but not surprising. It's also not surprising that Xbox Live support isn't here. Regardless, Gameloft has yet again managed to cram a full-blown interactive action movie into your pocket. Without a doubt, Modern Combat 5 is the best first-person shooter you will find on any mobile platform.

Modern Combat 5 is now available on Windows, and Windows Phone, Android, and iOS for $6.99.

QR: Modern combat 5

512MB Not Supported

Simon Sage
  • Downloading this app
  • Same!
  • Downloading...
  • No trial
  • can't download 512MB RAM :(
  • That sucks. I can't play Call of Duty: Ghosts on my $200 Toshiba laptop either. Not fair... /s
  • Lol
  • LMAO
  • Epic lawls
  • LMAOOO.....
  • Lol true ! :p
  • Good one
  • I wouldn't be surprised
  • The whining is getting very tedious now.
  • Why u want even play it? It's total garbage. bo2 was ok
  • Can anyone compare the quality of game graphics with that of android and ios.
  • No, not bothered!
  • +525
    Awesome game.. Really the graphics and gameplay are to the mark.. I hope this has enough missions.. The MC4 was only a 5 hour game.. Multiplayer!! Oh yeah..
    The internet connectivity!! I think this can be the -ve point of this game. All users don't have 24x7 connectivity. Give an option to paly at least Single Player in ofline mode.
  • Exactly! Not everyone has 24x7 connectivity (and even if, it's expensive to be used on games) I expected the single player mode to offline.
  • Maybe a patch in the future?
  • I really love these fps games.. But for me, I just can't play them on a phone. I have to have a mouse and keyboard! Same goes for Xbox/PS controllers... Can't use em! :( I guess I'll always be a keyboard/mouse kind of guy. With that said, I will buy this game to support the devs and the platform.. But I just know I'll be getting my ass handed to me lol...
  • +720
  • Anyone tried MOGA yet? With it having a PC version, controller support code wouldn't surprise me.
  • The Windows Phone version works with Moga. No need to set it up in th egame options; it just detects the controller.
  • That was what I wanted to hear. Does it support moga pro too. Well I'll try
  • the same goes for me, if you have a steam account add me EvulRex
  • +1
  • I totally agree. A mouse and KB is the way to go with these.
  • Gotta mention the proverbial OMG NO XBOX LIVE NO BUY. +1520 EDIT: Yes I bought it, currently installing.
  • lol.
  • ^^^^^^ This
  • I'd rather have platform features like Xbox live than prance around like a 5 year old with iphone envy boasting because a game got released same day as them.
  • Not playable in France, after the unpackage and the loading, the game is blocked ..
  • All IP's from France immediately surrender upon entering.
  • Haha! Had to get that one in somehow ;D
  • Ha Ha!
  • Failed to Connect...
  • That's the error i get each time i try to play :/
  • Me too
  • No u cant play offline..
  • Ok, so game plays great on my 920. Graphics are fantastic and not experiencing any lag. Is a hand warmer but that is to be expected. Have now got it on my sp2 (didn't have to buy again which was a bonus!) but it is so laggy! My sp2 is a beast, so not sure what's going on there.
  • Really can 920 play well without Lag???
  • Is your 920 on steroids? Mine runs at like 20 fps...
  • You are obviously lying.
    First off my brother have a spare 928 which he never uses, it is completely empty thus it performs better than those 920's who have apps/games installed in them.
    I got 928 from my brother, did a Hard Reset, downloaded the game, but there was a significant lag present in it & gameplay was not smooth at all.
    Second, you said that you installed Modern Combat 5 on Surface Pro 2, and you got it for free, which is total bull-shit as this game, while is available for Windows 8, is not an Universal App, meaning you have to pay for it separately.
    Also this game does not lag at all on my dad's old Windows 8 laptop which only have 2 GB RAM & 3.3 GHz Dual-Core processor.
    I'm sure you probably don't even own a 1 GB RAM Windows Phone or Surface Pro 2.
  • It runs pretty smooth on my 920.  Much better than Nova 3.  Overall it is smooth.  However, I bought it based on that you said it was free on Win 8 after you purchased on WP (universal app) but that does not seem to be the case.  Thanks for the misinformation heh.
  • is it a universal app? I don't see the symbol on the app page
  • I have the game installed on my windows convertible, my surface 2 and my lumia 1320. I only had to pay the game once to have-it available on both my phone and tablet.
  • Anyone else getting "failed to connect" after starting the game and downloading the one time "extra" content?
  • I had the same issue, but i try to reinstall this game and now it download extra content properly.
  • You know what would be cool? If the Windows 8 version ran on ARM processors where I could play this on my Surface 2. Now THAT would be nice! (I could use a mouse then!)
  • It does work on the Surface 2.
  • Any plausible reason why the price is higher than on other platforms (+1EUR) ?
  • I guess because the prices in WP store are horrible in euro, they just change the currency icon but not the amount
  • Anyone with 1320 played it yet ? I'm picking 1320 today, and want to know how this game runs :D
  • Good ;)
  • No lags (low fps) ?
  • Anyone know if it works with a moga pro???
  • We just tested, it does!
  • Yes there is moga support. Paul confirmed it.
  • This is the fifteenth-consecutive non-Xbox Live game from Gameloft. Not so coincidentally, this is the fifteenth-consecutive Gameloft game that I did not download. Shoot 1UP is pretty awesome, though. #SaveXboxWP
  • It's your loss then. Also I don't think that not downloading a game will get you XBL games.
    If you people show support for Gameloft, they might start making XBL games again. Think about it? If they don't see good support for their non-XBL games, they will defiantly not release any XBL games, fearing that they might not get good support as XBL certification is a very lengthy time-consuming and expensive process!
  • I agree with you, except that buying games isn't going to change Gameloft's mind. The doors to Xbox WP are closed for them. There will be no new third party Xbox support on WP unless Microsoft ever drastically changes policies, which is unlikely at this point (and completely out of developers' hands).
  • Is there any particular reason as to why Microsoft is so reluctant to change its policies?
  • so that more developers come to windows phone maybe
  • That reason doesn't make sense. Developers could always make non-Xbox games. There is no valid reason for Microsoft not streamlining the Xbox certification process, though. They've taken literally their only distinguishing mobile gaming feature from iOS and Android and let it fade away when all they need to do is implement the ID(at)Xbox program at the Windows Phone and Windows 8/RT levels. The fact that Microsoft hasn't fixed the broken Xbox certification process, and the fact that they haven't even acknowledged it as so, is what is so frustrating about being a Microsoft supporter. They lure you in with all these promises ("Xbox gaming on the go! Buy Windows Phone 7!" | "Kinect is going to get a ton of support and Xbox One is going to have a ton of media features like Xbox Originals! Buy an Xbox One!"), then they ignore them after you've already bought into their empty promises. It's mind boggling that they don't realize that this pissess off customers, developers, publishers, advertisers, and the like, and that those burned bridges are hard to repair.
  • It seems like a combination of apathy and difficulty to cooperate between various departments. But they won't talk about it so none of us knows the exact reasoning.
  • Is this available on windows 8.1 is yes hows the gameplay anyone.
  • There's a close-parenthesis at the end of the QR code provided in the article, so you may need to re-post that image.
  • Man, I haven't even started playing MC4, let alone grabbing 5, one day though.
  • Does anybody know the twitter account or the right channel to complain about the Xbox Games Hub on Windows Phone 8.1? It's killing me the fact that the app updates everytime it opens... updates what? When I have no internet connection it starts very slowly...
  • Honestly... to avoid that I just pinned all of my games to my start screen. I thought I wouldn't like the way it looked, but if you group them together its beautiful! Now I have a section on my start screen dedicated to games and it looks like I have Gamestop on the front of my phone. Lol! And the best part about it is that I don't have to go to my game hub anymore....
  • @joebelfiore
  • The #SaveXboxWP thread here has a list of all the relevant Twitter accounts you should be complaining to about issues with gaming on Windows Phone.
  • Still no 1080p res support in gamelof games. that sucks, having 1520 with gourgeous fullhd, and then being unable to use it in full  
  • I completely agree!
  • Again no 512Mb ram support!
  • I hope you are joking.. Because games of this quality can't run on 512 MB RAM. And yes Modern Combat 5 doesn't run smoothly on 512 MB RAM Android phone, which gives more RAM to apps/games.
  • Come on. This is a silly complaint...
    Its 512 MB of RAM... This should be expected everytime you download anything
  • Hey guys , does anyone here have Lumia 820. , when I take a photo , it's kinda yellowish , does anyone here have the same problem?
  • You should know that WPC has a dedicated forum for you to ask questions like that. In case you hadn't noticed you have posted in the comments about a review for a new game.
    Would you walk into a Burger king to ask someone to fix your car for you?
  • +1520
  • Nicely said.
  • Where is the forum thing ?
  • Downloaded on phone, yet to play since still in office. But I can't see the app in the Windows store. Although I can see this article mentions that it is now available.
  • Same, im hopeing it is just a delay and will be on the Windows app store soon?!
  • It takes time to arrive in W8
    Can't wait to play it on my laptop!
    i3 will definitely bring the graphics to max since its a mobile game so....YEAH!
  • Im hoping it will run well on my SP3 i5
  • hopin to run in i5???? Dude believe me when i play asphalt 8 in my i3, the game just looks....i cant describe much how beautifull it looks! The graphics and the FPS are exact @60 and thats all done at i3 so just think for a second what your i5 will do....... i3<i5 bro edit: just think how MC5 will run @60FPS on a laptop AKA BIGGGER SCREEN! A True COD alternative
  • Change your region to Vietnam, that seemed to work for me
  • Wow! This game is beautiful!
  • I can't play, it says it's my wifi but it works perfectly and I have 100mb, I also tried to use 4g
  • How the game works on Lumia 820?
    Lags, FPS
  • Any word on when the Windows app will be available?
  • It's coming to both platforms but doesn't appear to be a universal app.
  • It is universal! WOO!
  • Did anyone experience slow download speeds while getting this from the store? Trying to get it in India on my 1320 but seems to take ages. Downloading from the site as a .xap file is slow as well. Thanks! Anand
  • Is this a universal app I can play on windows and WP?
  • Does anyone know of its cross platform? WP users playing with iPhone and Android? I know MC4 wasn't.
  • Anyone know if it works with the old, original, non-pro Moga controller? The one with dual analog sticks but no d-pad?
  • Anybody got theirs working on a L625???
  • Is this OK for kids? Or are there settings to turn off mature content? In future ratings, it would be great to have something similar to XBox game ratings: Teen, Mature, Everyone, etc..    
  • Definitely not for kids. Plenty of swearing and gore. Not seeing any parental controls.
  • ahh, thanks.. I have three kids, they always grab my phone to play games.. I'll skip this one..!
  • You can use Kids Corner to control what content your kids can access when they grab your phone. It's a feature of Windows Phone.
  • This is where having a passcode sucks. I understand that in theory you could add files and apps that might contain confidential information to Kids Corner. This is probably why the passcode carries over. But this makes Kids Corner almost useless because my kids still have to know the code (which they never will - HIPAA) or get the code from me (which is annoying and I can be busy). If anything, require a code but let Kids Corner have a different code.
  • Please make it for 512 ram
  • Running smooth on my 1320 in India running DP. Had issues with installing on SD card and finally installed onto phone memory
  • I think I'll get this for Windows 8 rather than Windows Phone since I can use the Xbox One controller to play.
  • Hope it comes to the store soon...
  • Still waiting for this to even show up in US store. Its showing up in the US WP store though. But I want this on my tablet. Sorta sucks.
  • Hate IAP , gameloft did amazing by not providing IAP,
    Pay once, and play all.
    Love gameloft
  • Amazing graphics but my Lumia1520 gets so warm that it is quite complicated to hold it after 15 minutes of playing. I never experienced this while playing Modern Combat 4 and N.O.V.A...
  • Anyone know how much free space is required to install?
  • Not a good game.
    1. Not support lower ram.
    2. Want internet connection to play.