The Nintendo DS has been home to many genres featured on home consoles, but it doesn't exactly have an abundance of first-person shooters. Despite the popularity of the system, very few publishers have put out games in that genre, and a few of the early ones haven't exactly been any good. Nintendo's own Metroid Prime: Hunters is an exception to this rule, of course, as is Dementium: The Ward. In the last few years, though, Activision has enlisted N-Space, developers of the abysmal DS port of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, to make portable versions of their hit Call of Duty series. N-Space brought its A game, and both Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: World at War were pretty good games that took advantage of what could be done on the handheld. With the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the team has been tasked with providing a portable version to DS owners with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Mobilized. It's just like last year's version, but a few improvements have been made to what is still a pretty solid title.
Modern Warfare Mobilized features several different modes of play, many of which are for solo players only. The largest mode is campaign, which has you preventing an ousted prince from using nuclear weaponry to take back his country and punish the allies who didn't help him during his country's takeover. Each mission has you and your two squadmates going into hot zones to gather intel, sabotage equipment and eliminate all enemy forces in the area. As with tradition in the series, the locale always differs per mission, and you will see the story from the perspective of different squads, this time the British and American forces.
You're also not restricted to on-foot action, as some missions will also have you commandeering vehicles such as tanks and helicopter turrets. The formula has worked well in past games and it also works well here, but what doesn't work so well is the AI from both your squad and your enemies. Most of the time, it will work according to plan. Your squad will be able to provide cover fire for you, flush out enemies, and lead you to the next checkpoint. There are times when they do seem to go dead, like when they stop moving to the next checkpoint, making you get temporarily lost in the process, or refuse to melee an enemy directly in front of them, resulting in point-blank gunfire duels instead. The same thing happens to enemies who usually do a good job of staying behind cover and taking their shots at the right time but then commit to making mistakes, such as going into melee range just to reload their guns. It doesn't happen too often, but it occurs enough to make you groan upon seeing it.
Once the campaign has been completed, solo players can also try and tackle a few more modes. Challenge mode has you completing various tasks set in single-player levels you've already beaten. Some challenges are as easy as killing a certain number of soldiers in a limited amount of time or disarming bombs in that same time period. Arcade mode actually adds a scoring system to your campaign missions. Minigame mode simply gives you the various minigames from the campaign and lets you play them on their own. Finally, you have Survival mode, which pits you against countless waves of enemies until you are defeated. Each mode does a fine job of giving you a quick fix of the game, something highly desired in portable games these days. They're all quite fun on their own and make the game much meatier than expected.
Multiplayer has been a strong suit of the franchise since the days of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and things are not all that different in the portable version. The game features both online and local play for up to six players now, an increase of two over the last version. There are a good number of available maps and gameplay modes, which is impressive considering the fact that just having deathmatch would be considered good enough. The performance locally holds up pretty well, almost matching the offline game, and online is fine, but it'll be hard to find a match since most people playing Call of Duty will be going for their console or PC equivalent instead of the DS version. While there isn't the perks or ranking system, there is a weapon unlocking system based on the total number of kills you get, so there's a good reason to play the multiplayer modes for more than just one session.
The controls provide a decent solution to the problem of playing an FPS on a portable console. Movement is handled by either the d-pad or the face buttons, depending on your dominant hand. Firing weapons and throwing grenades are both handled by one shoulder button, L or R. Your touch-screen handles all of the other functions necessary in the game. It will primarily be used to move your aiming camera, but you also switch between gun and grenade modes by pressing the appropriate button on-screen. Gun type and grenade type switching is done by swipes on the appropriate icon, and a hand icon also appears here for melee fighting and picking up objects.
You also use the screen to aim down the sights by clicking on the icon at the top of the screen. The method works, and while it isn't as accurate as a keyboard mouse setup or even a dual analog setup, it definitely works better than a d-pad/face button setup. One thing this control setup does hinder is comfort. Depending on your system (original, DS Lite or DSi) the fatigue on your wrists from holding the system with one hand and stylus with the other will restrict the length of your play sessions. You can use the thumbpad if so inclined, but a majority of gamers don't realize they have one on their straps, resulting in them resting the handheld on their legs when they play.
As long as you don't have unreasonably lofty expectations here, the graphics can be quite good. After all, we are talking about the portable equivalent of a Nintendo 64. Objects in the environments, such as cars and fountains, will have box-like appearances. Textures will appear very muddy and pixelated when viewed up close, especially ground textures. Stairs aren't really stairs but ramps with a stair texture pasted on top. The environments are pretty sizable, though, and the character models look good and animate well, even if they have a tendency to clip through the ground and some other objects when they die. The gun models look great, and everything moves with the frame rate hovering around 25 or so, even with tons of explosions and gunfire occurring. Again, you're not going to get a graphical experience equivalent to a PSP, but the game looks as good as it can get on the DS.
Despite the diminutive size of the speakers, effects like explosions and gunfire come out nice and loud. The volume is accompanied by accuracy, as each effect sounds as realistic as it can get, emphasizing how impressive the system's audio capabilities can be. There isn't much music playing throughout the game, and while it isn't the same score as the one found in the home console versions, it emulates it quite well, successfully providing a Hollywood action movie feel. The most impressive part about the sound has to be the voices. There are plenty of voices in the game, including during cut scenes, which have usually been silent on DS titles. There has also been some attention paid to the placement of sounds, as you can clearly hear things that are to the right or left of the camera. There's even a bit of faux surround sound as voices from behind you tend to play on both speakers at a lower pitch, tricking your ears into thinking that there are speakers behind you. One flaw that does stand out has to be the enemy voices. They may be varied when attacking, but they all let out the same cries when they die. A little bit of variety in the death cries would have gone a long way to make their deaths less monotonous.
Overall, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Mobilized is a solid FPS effort on the Nintendo DS. It does a pretty good job of pushing the technical limitations of the system and provides a good amount of length to both the single-player and multiplayer modes as well. The only real obstacles are the control scheme and the sometimes spotty AI, but if you can get over that, you'll be in for a fun portable game. At this point, the only other reason to not get this is if you're already burned out on the franchise or you don't need an FPS fix while you're on the go.
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