Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation is a gorgeous shooter that stumbles too much for it’s own good

You’ve got to love Gameloft. The developer/publisher has turned imitating big console games on mobile devices into an art form. The Modern Combat series has made a point of recreating FPS titles like Modern Warfare and Battlefield on the iPhone, often to great success. This time, though, Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation is more busted than brilliant; a frustrating step backwards after so many excellent leaps forward.

Never one to stretch for an original story, Gameloft seems to have ripped the plot of Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation straight from THQ’s recent shooter Homefront. The opening cutscene shows that an alliance between North Korea, Pakistan, and Russia (“KPR”) has invaded the United States. Thanks to unexpected attacks on both shores, KPR has managed to catch America with its proverbial pants down and knock out communications satellites, meaning that the country is not only crippled, but it’s also deaf, dumb, and blind.

Things start out as you and your elite combat team ride in a helicopter to recover some critical data from an NSA building that’s under siege. You’re treated to some manly banter, a couple of sequences where you blow away a few enemies from your perch on the gunship, and then the real action begins. From here on out, you run from one scripted sequence to the next, engage in nasty little firefights, and generally try to keep up with the breakneck speed of the rather threadbare plot; things feel like they were intended to be sweeping and epic, but some of the writing just feels rushed and lazy thanks to how hurried the storyline is.

One thing that doesn’t feel even remotely rushed is the game’s production values. The character models look and move beautifully, every character has solid voice-acting, and the environments are absolutely stunning to look at. If Gameloft ever decides to stop developing games, it could easily stay in business by licensing out its graphics engines to other developers. However, on the first generation iPad, the framerate seemed to crawl from time to time.

The controls don’t seem to have changed since Modern Combat 2, which is probably for the best. The pop-up virtual joystick is still here, as are the shoot/crouch/sprint/grenade/weapon selection buttons scattered around the screen. Additionally, quick-time events pop up from time to time, requiring you to swipe you finger across the screen, though these tend to feel like they’re really just supposed to get players more involved with the plot (which, honestly is kind of laughable based on the script).

 Fallen Nation

 Fallen Nation

The gameplay mechanics are a bit on the wonky side, too. Taking cover behind objects is a bit of a hassle, since there’s no automatic option to do so. Instead, you have to hit the crouch button and hope that you won’t be hit by an enemy’s magic bullets (which seem to have no problem traveling through barricades). Additionally, the enemy AI is barely worthy of the label “intelligence”, as it causes your opponents to run and gun in predictable patterns.

In Modern Combat 2, the multiplayer mode was amazing. This time? Not so much. At least, not yet. Once you sign up for an account with Gameloft’s online service (side note: “Vansau” is considered an obscene username? Really?), the servers are reliably unreliable. It’s not a totally broken experience, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself unable to connect or suddenly disconnected when you play online matches. That said, once things get shored up, you’ll undoubtedly love all the different game modes, experience points, and character customization options.

Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation is an unfortunately mixed bag. It looks and sounds great, but the writing seems haphazard, the gameplay feels clunky at best (and buggy at worst) and its online reliability is sporadic. Once Gameloft gets things patched up, this will undoubtedly be a great FPS on iOS devices. Until then, you may want to wait to pick it up.