Eight bucks gets you a whole lot of game in Modern Combat: Domination. Developer Gameloft has taken the multiplayer shooter formula seen in the likes of Counter-Strike and its more modern counterparts, such as the Modern Warfare line, and shrunk it down to the essentials. But even though this is a no-frills console shooter in some ways, this PlayStation Network exclusive nails the necessities that the genre demands. Quick and intense action, varied match types, a large online fan base, and even support for the Move controller make it a game that any multiplayer shooter fan should enjoy.
As enjoyable as Modern Combat: Domination is, don't expect any innovations here. This is a traditional multiplayer shooter in both form and fashion, featuring pretty much nothing but industry-standard game modes, weapons, and maps. If you ever played the PC classic, you'll experience a lot of Counter-Strike deja vu. It's all fast and brutal, with kills coming quickly and the tension palpable from the moment you spawn into a match. You might also note similarities to the likes of Modern Warfare and SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Confrontation, particularly the gamepad controls and five grungy maps that take in the usual suspects, like a dusty Middle Eastern town dotted with Arabic all over its crumbling walls, as well as various urban wastelands and wrecked factories. The most unusual element is optional support for Sony's Move motion controller. It's rather touchy, though, and tough to use without careening all over the place. Sticking to the traditional dual-stick gamepad is likely preferable, unless you're a real Move expert or desperate for a different twist on shooter controls.
Support is provided for up to 16 players, which is the perfect number of soldiers to fight over the generally small maps because they are loaded with tight, dark corridors that see you bumping heads with enemies just seconds into a round. Lots of players are online right now, too, so you can always get into a match. That's a good thing because the offline mode is deadly dull due to poor bot intelligence that doesn't seem to have a clue, whether attacking or defending. Two factions are included here in the Special Forces and Mercenaries, who use the same hardware and look so much alike that you need the assistance of red-and-blue chevrons floating in the air to separate friend from foe. There are six game types, ranging from run-of-the-mill Deathmatch and Domination to more specialized endeavors, such as Escort, where you have to either kill or safeguard a boss player trying to escape the level, and Boom and Bust, where your goal is to set off or stop a missile launch. Familiar modes of play are the most entertaining. While Domination and Deathmatch are superb renditions of old faves, the more specialized modes are hampered by really short rounds and really long loads. Rounds tend to end in no more than a minute because of the cramped maps and the fact that single kills send players to the sidelines, so you spend as much time staring at loading screens as you do shooting bad guys. Unless you have the patience of Job, it's best to jump into something longer lasting, like a Domination match.
Money and experience are awarded for accomplishments, such as kills, headshots, and level victories. Cash is used between rounds and during spawns to purchase gear like submachine guns, pistols, grenades, and body armor. If you get killed, you lose everything, which forces you back to the shop with just enough money for something basic like an MP5 or a combat shotgun. If you stay alive, though, you earn the coin needed to load up with additional gear. There is a great balance to the system. You're never stuck with so little cash that you can't be competitive because even the wimpiest weapons provide enough firepower for you to be a threat to even higher-level opponents with superior weapons and armor. The experience system also works extremely well, with advancement moving at an accelerated pace, particularly in the beginning. You gain enough experience for kills and wins to earn the initial handful of levels and unlock a bunch of new gear in a few hours of play in something like Domination. Always making progress keeps you playing and helps to flatten the learning curve in the early stages when you're typically getting mowed down by more experienced players who know the maps.
Presentation values are a bit of a drawback. Graphics and sound are both second rate. Visuals are mostly just bland, with the maps and soldier models seemingly recycled from a dozen other, older shooters. There are some rough edges like the pixel effects created by smoke grenades and a number of shadowy spots on the maps that are absolutely pitch-black. Audio effects are in the same boat. The tinny weapons offer little kick and the music is as forgettable as the last bit of Muzak you heard while on hold with customer support. Lackluster production values aside, Modern Combat: Domination doesn't feel like a budget shooter. It is an exciting, addictive multiplayer shooter with the potential to hook you in for many hours. It's a bit retro; it's not as fully featured as its big-buck retail counterparts, and mediocre AI makes the single-player experience totally missable. But the game has it where it counts, so you won't much care about these flaws when you're in the middle of a tense firefight.