When the Call of Duty franchise boldly went where no World War II franchise had dared to venture before—the less-explored world of modern warfare—they drew a big line in the sand, tempting their biggest competing franchise to follow suit. Medal of Honor stuck to their bolt-action guns though, refusing to evolve their long-running series to the contemporary battlefield.
But after the last World War II romp, Medal of Honor: Airborne, which was for the most part, much the same as every other Medal of Honor game with the exception of a nifty parachuting mechanic, it was clear what had to be done.
The franchise needed a hard reboot with a Tier 1 operative’s boot.
After much hype, a disappointing closed multiplayer beta and promises of a grittier and more realistic first-person shooter experience, Medal of Honor has finally graced our screens. So does it live up to the hype? Not in the ways that it should.
What is clear from the outset is that Danger Close wants you to take this game seriously. The problem with any game that puts itself on the ‘take me seriously’ pedestal is how reliant the game is on player immersion to determine the success of their intent. We PC gamers expect decent graphics to aid with overall levels of immersion. But right off the bat, the graphics were kind of… not good.
Even on max settings the campaign looks mostly meh. While the gun models are pretty sexy and the characters themselves (particularly the friendlies) look rather good, the world is mostly bland in its appearance. Sure, it’s set in Afghanistan, so it’s not exactly the brightest of colour pallets to work with; but considering this bad boy is running off Unreal Engine 3, I was expecting a whole lot more. Of particular ‘not-worthy’ merit, is the downright ugly glass and abundance of flavourless items (cans, lights, boxes and the like) that litter the game world. And then there’s the fact that the multiplayer portion, powered by DICE’s Frostbite 1.5 engine (the same engine used on Battlefield: Bad Company 2), looks a whole lot prettier.
The initial Tier 1 missions are extremely linear and mostly boring, and then there are a host of problems on offer that constantly fight the player to stay immersed. In less than 10 minutes of gameplay, I had seen multiple instances of teleporting enemies, epic physics engine fails from supposedly dead but rather epileptic Taliban enemies, and the worst one of them all: iffy hit registry.
While we may have to accept dodgy hit registry as an unfortunate part of the online experience, its presence in any single-player campaign is wholly unacceptable. There were multiple occasions during the campaign where bullets would either a) travel through opponents or b) the hit animation would register but death would not ensue (our favourite being the Taliban baddy who shrugged off multiple headshots from a .50-calibre sniper rifle).
Despite some large outdoor locales and sprawling villages, you are only offered a very limited range of options in terms of where you can move. Medal of Honor is, for all intents and purposes, a corridor shooter that teases you with the possibilities of elevated positions and flanking alternate paths, but consistently blocks you with the presence of ever-ominous invisible walls.
The Tier 1 missions also include some rather pointless ATV driving sections where your vehicle’s trajectory is blissfully unaffected by the many rocks it rolls over. Mission directions aren’t always as clear as they should be and then there’s the requirement for you to be within a rather limited magic circle to cue the next set of events or everyone stands around with their thumbs up their digital arses.
The enemies come from the same spots/direction every time (even if you reload a particular section), while the game ‘cheat kills’ you if you dare to disobey your teammates instructions for too long. And then there’s the AI. Both friendly and enemy AI are atrocious: friendlies get stuck in their movement or have a penchant for running in front of you when firing, while the opposition isn’t challenging or clever, even when playing through on hard difficulty.
There were multiple occasions where I had to restart from an earlier checkpoint to progress past portions of the campaign that had glitched out and, worst of all, a particularly damning level that I had to restart in its entirety to circumvent an otherwise impassable bug.
But perhaps the biggest heartbreak of Medal of Honor is when the game actually works. When you step away from the Tier 1 perspective and into the boots of The Rangers, the pacing picks up incredibly. Most disappointing of all, every level from the first Rangers level on transitions so seamlessly to the next with some genuinely tense sections on offer that it makes you wonder at what could have been had the game addressed some of its unattractive flaws.
Those who are big on in-game sound design should, at the very least, spend some time with Medal of Honor to experience what has to be the best feature of the game. Gun shots and explosions have a believable weight to them, while subtle audio cues such as how your weapon sounds when it’s running low on ammo are a welcome touch. The mostly subtle score also serves to inject some much-needed emotionality into the few wholly immersive sections of the campaign.
Depending on how easily you can forgive the aforementioned problems with the campaign will ultimately determine your overall engagement with the game. But at the end of the day, by the time the end credits were rolling and some sort of emotional ending was unfolding, I was so frustrated with my Medal of Honor experience that I didn’t care. Couple this with the highly scripted nature of the campaign and a rather short length (around six hours), and I don’t see myself ever revisiting it.
While the closed multiplayer beta was extremely underwhelming, the recent release of the short-lived open beta made Medal of Honor’s multiplayer potentially appealing again. Particularly considering how addictive Bad Company 2 is, I was really looking forward to losing some hours in the online portion of Medal of Honor. DICE has tried to find a happy middle ground between the fast-paced and ‘deatmatchy’ nature of the Call of Duty games, and the play modes/team-based emphasis of Bad Company 2.
This sounds fantastic on paper, but in reality only serves to highlight some of the weaker elements of Bad Company 2 when the destructible environments are stripped away. Yes, destructibility is not a big part of Medal of Honor, unless you count the obligatory splintering of wood-based cover.
There is a steep initial learning curve, particularly if you didn’t cut your teeth on either of the betas. Although a so-called team-based game, there is a major emphasis on rewarding individual player progression over completing objectives as a team. Why attack/defend said objective when you can find a nice cosy corner to pitch your tent and level up each of the three classes (rifleman, special ops and sniper)? In DICE’s defence, you do earn more points for completing team objectives, but not enough to justify the whole team working towards them. Then there’s the inclusion of ‘Score Chains’ (essentially the same as ‘Killstreak’ rewards from Call of Duty multiplayer) for scoring consecutive kills that offer a choice of offensive or team-rewarding ordnance. Again, the problem is that the more selfish offensive rewards are infinitely more appealing than their team-friendly counterparts.
Levelling up a particular class grants access to weapon attachments and, more importantly, much better weapons. The sniper class in particular is not new-player friendly, with the two initial rifle choices (a semi-auto and an old-school AWP-like rifle that seems to kill with one shot, even in the leg) only sporting a non-magnifying scope; hardly ideal for picking off long-range targets, particularly when said targets have unlocked more powerful scopes.
If you try to play multiplayer, as I did, like an aggressive Modern Warfare 2 player, you will die a lot. It’s only after you get into the habit of moving to cover, scanning for target and moving again that you are rewarded with extended digital life. After you start unlocking new weapons and attachments, it starts to get a whole lot more tolerable, but that’s only after a fair share of FPS ‘grind’ against a host of players who have unlocked much better kit than you.
All things considered, I was desperately underwhelmed by Medal of Honor. I genuinely believed it would be a more interesting and serious take on the now popularised modern warfare FPS. As it stands, the campaign was a short and mostly forgettable affair, while the slower pacing of the multiplayer only becomes rewarding after some initial persistence. Here’s to hoping that the inevitable next iteration of the already well-selling reboot applies a lot more spit and polish, and steps clear away from the corridor-shooter approach.