Mobile and Modern
There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Call of Duty games are best on high-end PCs and next-generation consoles. Developers Infinity Ward and Treyarch have always gone out of their way to wring every last bit of performance out of the world’s most advanced platforms, and the results have been incredible; whether the setting is World War II Germany or modern Russia, players feel immersed in the frantic commotion of battle as gunshots ring out, downed enemies writhe in pain, and teammates bark out instructions.
In other words, don’t expect too much from developer n-Space’s most recent take on the franchise, the DS’s Modern Warfare Mobilized; this game won’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand up the way its big brothers will, and not just because the violence has been toned down to a T rating. However, the developers did just about everything they could with the resources the DS has to offer, and the result is a terrific game in its own right, a sort of miniature, alternate version of Modern Warfare 2. This is one of the console’s best first-person shooters, offering an original story, a meaty campaign, and a whole slew of gameplay modes. The game has its share of (mostly minor) problems, but the sheer fact that the developers crammed so much content into such a small package makes Modern Warfare Mobilized an enormous accomplishment.
In many ways, it’s impressive how close n-Space came to recreating the Call of Duty style. The between-mission briefings will feel instantly familiar to fans of the series, even though the cutscenes are gone, and there’s a lot more voice acting than is typically found on the DS. Even the sound effects are a decent approximation of their next-generation counterparts, especially when you listen on headphones. (We wish the enemies made more than one noise when they died, though.) The missions themselves have the same variety, with stretches of first-person shooting punctuated by turret scenes, vehicle missions, air-support runs, and simple tasks like placing charges. In a nod to the DS’s stylus controls, Mobilized also includes simple mini-games in which you guess passwords and manipulate the components of devices you encounter.
In other areas, Call of Duty fans will notice the DS’s deficiencies. Sometimes, that’s because n-Space made great decisions in terms of how to use the console’s power. For example, the graphics are blocky and the textures are weak, but the game runs smoothly no matter what transpires onscreen. We’d much rather deal with so-so visuals than with graphical hiccups, so this is an acceptable tradeoff.
There are a few areas, however, that could have used some improvement. The A.I. is particularly problematic. Your two teammates love getting in your way, often preventing you from ducking into cover when you’re taking damage. Occasionally they fail to move forward when you’ve cleared an area (we had to restart the console once when they wouldn’t come to open an elevator). They’re invincible, and sometimes they’ll just stand out in the open; if you try to join them, thinking their position is safe, you’re dead in a split-second. The enemies, meanwhile, stick to simple patterns, and now and then they won’t be triggered when a real human would clearly have become aware that something was up. When they do attack you, their aim is perfect and you die almost instantly.
The level design, while acceptable, isn’t particularly inspired. For the most part, the first-person shooter sections are a matter of moving down a linear path, triggering room after room of enemies. To be fair, there are plenty of other levels (vehicles, turrets, etc.) to break up the monotony, but FPS is the game’s bread and butter, and it seems a little by-the-numbers.
Also, the difficulty needed more fine-tuning. On the console games’ Medium setting, an intermediate player can pass most checkpoints on the first try, but occasionally hits snags. This is a great way to pace the game; there’s enough challenge to keep the game interesting, but it’s not too frustrating. Here, in part because of the horrendous friendly A.I., you’ll find yourself dying at least once on most of the checkpoints. This isn’t a huge problem, and some players might even like the increased challenge, but it does make the game feel a bit like a slog at points. Thankfully, there are only two outright frustrating sections, and one is the game’s final mission.
Another contributor to the difficulty is the control scheme. The D-pad moves forward and strafes, while the stylus aims and the L button shoots. This basic setup is great, but it can’t compare to the mouse or dual-joystick setups. It’s hard to turn quickly, and there are some minor quirks in the hit detection (we found it helps to aim a little low when going for headshots, and to make sure your shots aren’t hitting a piece of cover, which happens sometimes even when your sight is clearly on an enemy, not the wall). Also, you have to hold the DS in a way that cramps your hands and can make dark items on the screen hard to see; bending the screen past the point where it “clicks,” so that it rests flat, helps. Slightly more complicated maneuvers, including running, crouching, aiming through your gun’s sight, and switching to grenades, are handled by double-tapping D-pad directions or hitting icons on the touch screen. There’s no better way to do this, but a lot of these movements feel a little awkward and don’t always work, especially during hectic fights.
In part because you die so much, the campaign here is of a typical length for Call of Duty, perhaps six hours. The narrative, a companion to the story in Modern Warfare 2, has you playing as U.S. and British soldiers. You chase a nuclear bomb through war-torn regions, hoping to disarm it before terrorists set it off.
Once you finish the campaign, you can try again on a harder difficulty or opt for the various other modes, which include mini-games, challenges, and arcade play. The game also offers local and online multiplayer for up to six players with a good variety of well-designed maps. The multiplayer runs nice and smooth for the most part, but it takes forever to get started and the inability to turn quickly is more irritating than it is in the campaign. Depending on when you try, there aren’t always people to fight online yet, but hopefully that situation will improve once everyone opens their Christmas presents.
Again, don’t expect Modern Warfare Mobilized to do the impossible. There’s simply no way to faithfully replicate the full Call of Duty experience on the Nintendo DS. It is possible, however, to recreate the franchise’s basic style, and to turn the result into a very playable and enjoyable first-person shooter. That’s exactly what n-Space did here, and for DS-owning FPS fans, this game is a must-buy.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.1 Graphics
The visuals are blocky and the textures aren’t great, but the game runs smoothly. 3.8 Control
For the most part they’re fine, but it’s hard to turn quickly and some of the more complicated moves don’t always work. 4.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Downed enemies always make the same noise, but otherwise the game sounds great; there’s a lot of voice acting, which is a plus. 4.3
A lengthy campaign, extra modes, and multiplayer. In a Call of Duty game. What’s not to like?
3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.