Modern War by Gree has some pretty neat things going for it. A lot of the gameplay is not really state-of-the-art, and most of it we've seen before in many social-style games, but it allows for some cool and relatively persistent play on your mobile device. It's hard to find MMOs in today's mobile market. A lot of the time I'll download a new one only to find out that it's not really an MMO at all. There are some really great titles in the mobile/smartphone market, but it takes work to find them.
Modern War is a sneaky one. It's more of a pseudo-MMO but does a few cool things that more MMORTS titles should. It also works nicely on my Nexus 7 tablet, for the most part, except for a few odd problems that I'll cover in a minute. After I'm done, you might understand how mixed up the game feels as it's pretty close to becoming a good game.
A lot of what you see in Modern War should feel pretty familiar. If you have played an energy-based city-builder before, then this will be especially true. Modern War wants players to set up a town, invade NPCs and player enemies, and eventually try for world domination. That's not a bad goal, and there are times in Modern War that are fun and intriguing. The problems start when you have issues with such basic things that your fun is interrupted. The most obvious culprit is the messed-up fonts. More than once I found myself missing text because it was so large or misplaced that it stretched out of the frame. More often than not, a bit of text would be covered by another, making the information unreadable. Luckily most of the information that was messed up was pretty basic, and I was still able to play the game, but overall it added to the game's cheap feeling.
A lot of the animations in the title feel very cheap as well. To attack an NPC, you simply click on the figure or building and click again, then a short animted battle scene happens. The tiny army figures act more like marionettes, arms and movements looking as though they were controlled by someone with a handful of string. Like the text, the animations are not much of an issue because the gameplay is so simple and familiar. It would just be nice if the game looked better, something closer to Gameloft's much slicker World at Arms.
Once you get past the glaring art and font issues, you have to contend with how slow everything runs. Personally, I have no issues with the energy mechanic. As I have explained dozens of times before, the dreaded FarmVille staple has given a lot of gamers a bad time but in reality represents a brilliantly simple way to illustrate a hero or village becoming fatigued or worn-out. The mechanic is in no way the issue. The issues pop up when a developer does not know how to pace the energy depletion correctly or makes it more of a hindrance than it should be. While it's true that in even the most strict energy-based game, players will find alternative ways to refill energy without spending any money, it can still be very annoying trying to figure out. I'm all for a developer finding a clever way to make cash, but to drain energy as quickly as Modern War does, and to do it from the beginning, makes little sense to me.
I also get how the energy mechanic is perfect for casual play. It represents a pay barrier to those who want to grind the game to death for several hours a day but still allows casual players like myself to pick up the game for only a few minutes at a time and still come back to a full energy pool. Modern War generally plays out casually, so the mechanic still mostly fits. The issue is that the timing of an energy refill and other gameplay components must fit together. If you can come back in an hour to a full energy bar, you should also be able to add something to your base. The building time for new buildings in a player's base is pretty ridiculous. I've played hardcore MMORTS games that offer speedier builds. And you can build only one new building at a time, so I have a feeling that the base mechanic is really just another tacked-on attempt to keep players coming back.
"It's a great opportunity for the game to act much more persistent than it normally would and is especially intriguing to those who want to defend their real-life countries of origin."
The coolest part of Modern War is the newer World Domination mode. Players join up in factions and attempt to take over countries of the world, one at a time. The game will release a new country to be taken and factions duke it out, the final winner staking claim. It's a great opportunity for the game to act much more persistent than it normally would and is especially intriguing to those who want to defend their real-life countries of origin. I might not care much about the game right now, but when the United States comes up for grabs, you can bet I'll be doing my part to make sure it stays in American hands. The details of the contest are a bit more complicated than I've let on, but it's still a brilliant way to add depth to a game that is otherwise relatively shallow.
If the Modern War team would check with different devices to make sure that the game looks and plays the same, add a little oopmph to the nearly cool graphics, tweak the energy mechanic to sync with the timing of other parts of the game and add more simple-yet-effective events like the World Domination mode, the game would get a thumbs up from me. As it stands now, it's a semi-fun, casual war game that does get better if you add in factional play. Hopefully the team over at Gree can pick up the pace a bit and fix the game's issues. If so, the game would be a perfect pocket-sized wargame.
Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.