Always on, unfortunately
In a welcome tweak, Modern Combat 5 adds a unified player progression system across all game modes, meaning campaign gameplay will unlock gear and abilities for use in multiplayer, and vice versa--an uncommon approach for the genre. And a revised menu approach puts story objectives, side missions, and even multiplayer matches on the same screen, split up by campaign chapter. However you want to play, it'll make your character better prepared for the next battle.
But when that next battle comes, you'd better have a solid Internet connection. Perhaps as a consequence of that unified approach, Modern Combat 5 requires users to be online at all times during gameplay--even in single-player missions. I tried to play the campaign while on a train that passed through rural areas, but couldn't hold a steady enough connection to push forward. The same happened when I used an iPad in the part of my apartment where the Wi-Fi can be inconsistent.
It's a terribly inconvenient and user-unfriendly decision that makes this entry a lot less portable than usual, and it's something to be mindful of when considering the premium $7 price tag. Also frustrating: the game downloads its content in big chunks as you progress through the campaign, meaning a potential 10-plus minute wait when you complete a chapter. And Blackout is a huge battery-killer, to boot: 15 minutes of gameplay sapped a whopping 10 percent from my iPad Air charge and left it feeling rather warm.
Shoot to thrill
But like the series it takes strong cues from, Modern Combat 5 delivers when it comes to online multiplayer. With only a handful of other players online before launch, I couldn't find full matches--but even the partially filled showdowns recalled the excellent fun provided by the previous entries. With several maps and modes, along with extensive unlockable customization options, I'm excited to jump back online once the rest of the world starts playing.
While visually improved and more mobile-friendly in some respects, Modern Combat 5: Blackout doesn't make quite as strong an initial impression as its predecessor. The always-online requirement is frustrating, and aside from breaking up its missions and unifying the progression, it doesn't feel like the gameplay itself has really changed or advanced. But once the servers fill up, I imagine it'll be a lot easier to overlook those issues as you rack up kills and dominate the competition.
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