In a genre inhabited by the biggest guns in all of modern gaming, it seems there is little room for a redundant and uninspired first-person shooter. There’s just too little breathing room with franchises like Call of Duty, Crisis and Halo wreaking havoc on the competition. But what happens when a beloved series is brought back to life, twisting from an old war setting to a relatively recent conflict that still presses heavily on the world? The answer is EA’s Medal of Honor, a game divided on so many levels, perhaps none so prevalent as the two developers who split the single-player campaign and the multiplayer component.
It’s admittedly taken us a while to write this review, partially because we are torn with the end result, but also because we find it hard to classify the game’s significance. Yes, Medal of Honor is a first-person shooter; it’s just a game. But on the other hand, anyone who served in the armed forces, or knows someone who has (which is likely for anyone reading this review), probably has a story or two about how the war has affected their lives. For instance, this reviewer graduated pre 9/11, and while many friends left for college, a handful went into the military because they didn’t know what else to do. Fast forward a couple years after tossing our mortarboards in the high school auditorium, and these friends found themselves in the mountains of Afghanistan, and later the deserts of Iraq. They all came home safely, but they only talk about the experience with their closest friends.
With the Afghanistan setting so prominently portrayed, it’s hard to avoid any feelings about the war, now in its 10th year. Medal of Honor games typically tell a great story and the single-player campaigns guide players through emotional and realistic battles. Gone is the World War II setting, this time replaced with the Afghanistan War, following the elite members of the Tier 1 Operator. The story of Medal of Honor is fairly basic. You are put in the boots of a few different soldiers (primarily playing as a Tier 1 Operator), and are tasked with pursuing the Taliban. The game makes attempts at politically unsettling themes, but never truly brings players into the controversy surrounding the Afghanistan war, or war in general. Many gamers will not find fault in this; after all, we play games for fun. But to some degree, not following up on the clear political or moral dilemma of our time feels like a missed opportunity.
Controversy or personal feelings aside, Medal of Honor does a decent job of capturing wartime combat. The action is varied. At some points you’ll play as a Ranger, mowing down what seems like endless combatants, and at other times you are quietly sneaking around a Taliban stronghold, firing just a few rounds of ammo to eliminate your enemies. Danger Close Studio does a great job of driving the narrative forward through some basic cut scenes, and typical action moments we’ve come to expect from FPS games (see the end of the first level and the slow-motion pistol shot). These moments are tired and we wish Danger Close put a bit more effort into the unique setting.
On the other hand, there are moments of sheer brilliance. About midway through the game, you are held-up with fellow Rangers in stone house, firing at waves after waves of enemies. As your base radios that a pickup is not possible, dramatic music ensues, and the waves of enemies only grow. By the time the battle is over, the stone house is left in rubble and you witness a friendly airstrike through the dust and smoke. These moments are not common practice in the decidedly short campaign, but when you take part in these emotional and epic battles, you feel extremely engaged.
It’s easy to jump into Medal of Honor, whether you are a veteran gamer in the FPS scene or a newcomer to the genre. The game is highly accessible, the controls are intuitive and simple with onscreen prompts frequently telling you what to do, and you rarely run out of ammo–simply hit square near an ally to get more shells. You can lean in and out of cover, a relatively common mechanic for PC first-person shooters. You can also run and slide behind whatever you think will provide adequate cover. These are great mechanics once you get them down.
The game is filled with little problems that detract from the otherwise solid gameplay and premise. For instance, finding what you are supposed to do next can be troublesome. You can bring up an onscreen HUD, essentially showing you where you are supposed to go, but it doesn’t always work well. During sniper missions, it can be downright frustrating to find your target, even when your spotter is telling you where to shoot. Sure, you can turn on different lenses to see enemies’ body heat, but this again doesn’t always work so well. There are countless invisible walls and the mission that forces you to drive an ATV is far more frustrating than it should be. Driving the actual ATV is fine, but it’s so easy to get lost that it just stops being fun.
Beyond these missteps, we found a few problems with the graphics, including texture issues and shading. The single-player campaign runs on an enhanced version of the Unreal Engine 3, but it’s still showing its age. Visual problems aside, we found some other technical bugs that simply distracted us from the game. For instance, at one point we saw the same two Taliban combatants respawning, literally 15 times. Not pretty. Meanwhile, the enemy AI is overall fairly basic and you’ll find better enemy interaction in other first-person shooters.
Multiplayer is a bit hit or miss, again on many levels. Developed by DICE using the Frostbite 2.0 engine, the action comes fast and relatively smooth. Online feels like a different game all together than the single-player campaign. You’ll lose some of your abilities, like the slide and cover mechanic, in online play, but you’ll gain a much more frantic gameplay experience. Like other online games in the genre, it’ll take some time to get used to each class and weapon.
The maps are fairly varied, but overall quite dull. The online component feels tacked on to an otherwise decent single-player first-person shooter. Multiplayer co-op in a campaign would have been great, but sadly that’s not available. There are plenty of game modes, but none are unique. We’ll likely see more multiplayer content in the coming months, and hopefully that will offer something a bit more exhilarating and long lasting.
Medal of Honor is probably the most conflicted game we’ve played. It tries hard to capture the essence of the American war in Afghanistan, and in doing so created a fair amount of controversy. Sadly, it doesn’t live up to all the hype, but it does capture a slice of modern war, as ugly as it seems. For those looking for something outside of Call of Duty, this reboot of EA’s venerable franchise is certainly worth checking out – just don’t expect it to blow you away.
-The Final Word-
Medal of Honor re-enters the crowded FPS market with a modern war setting that will likely not shock anyone. While seemingly conflicted at its core, Medal of Honor is a refreshing break from the likes of Call of Duty, just don't expect it to have as big of an impact.
|Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3|