Once upon a time first-person shooters set during the Second World War were all the rage, and franchises like Medal of Honor, Call of Duty and Battlefield dominated the European and Japanese theatres of war. But when the trend lasted longer than the actual war itself, gamers eventually grew tired of fighting the Nazis. That’s when Infinity Ward struck gold, transporting its Call of Duty franchise from World War II to present day with the release of Modern Warfare. DICE were quick to follow with a modern update of its Battlefield franchise in the form of Bad Company. Now it’s Electronic Arts’ turn to re-invent its long-running series, a modern take simply titled Medal of Honor.
The setting for Medal of Honor is the war in Afghanistan. Alternating between the perspectives of three soldiers – Tier 1 Operators “Deuce” and “Rabbit,” and Ranger Specialist Dante Adams - the campaign takes place over the course of a 2-day period. The objective is the elimination of high value targets and enemy positions in the area surrounding the Taliban-held town of Gardez, but eventually it turns into a rescue mission when contact is lost with a pair of Tier 1 Operators on the mountains. As a whole, the campaign feels a little pedestrian compared to Modern Warfare 2, or Bad Company 2 for that matter, and there are a few reasons for that.
The first is the setting. I like that the events of the campaign feel like they could be happening today, unlike the fanciful work of fiction that is the ongoing Modern Warfare storyline, but Afghanistan is a harsh country comprised mostly of desert terrain, jagged mountains and snow-capped peaks. It’s an unforgiving environment that isn’t conducive to memorable set pieces, and it isn’t long before the levels of the campaign start to look and feel like one another.
The campaign also suffers from a variety of technical issues. Examples include textures not loading and dropped weapons clipping through the ground, rendering them unable to be swapped. There were a couple of instances when I had to reload a previous checkpoint because a scripted event didn’t execute properly. And don’t get me started on the invisible walls; that’s a major pet peeve of mine. I wouldn’t go so far as say the campaign is unfinished, but it’s definitely unpolished.
Last but not least is the length of the campaign, which runs between 4-6 hours. That’s not much time for plot development, let alone character development, yet the final scene is amazingly poignant in spite of this. I’m not saying the campaign doesn’t have any highlights, it does. There’s a tremendously intense scene where your Ranger team gets holed up in a hut that’s slowly being disintegrated by incoming RPG and machinegun fire – not to mention a runaway truck – and all you can do in the absence of an ammo dump is hope and pray that air support arrives before its too late. The tension crafted in this scene is palpable. I only wish the campaign featured more exciting moments like that.
An online-only, single player mode called Tier 1 brings a competitive twist to the campaign, allowing players to replay levels at an increased difficulty (no mid-level checkpoints). The goal is to complete them in the fastest time and achieve the most skill kills (headshots, melee and grenade). These stats and others, like accuracy and longest-range kill, are posted to online leaderboards so you can see how you rank against the rest of the world. It’s quite possible you’ll spend more time in the Tier 1 mode than you will the actual campaign, especially if you’re into speed runs.
Then there’s competitive multiplayer, which wasn’t developed by Danger Close but by DICE instead. That’s right, DICE, the team behind the Battlefield franchise. Was EA’s brass unsure Danger Close could deliver a compelling multiplayer experience, or were they simply more confident in DICE’s ability given their previous track record? I’m certain it’s the latter reason, but I’m not so sure it was the correct decision. Multiplayer and single player end up feeling like two separate games. In crafting multiplayer, DICE left prominent single player features, such as the ability to go prone or slide into cover, on the cutting room floor.
Ultimately DICE settled on incorporating elements from Bad Company 2, like the class and weapon-unlock systems, into an up tempo style of play more along the lines of Modern Warfare 2. There are four multiplayer modes to play across eight maps. All of the modes are team-based, featuring the usual deathmatch, zone control and objective-based variants. As you rack up kills and accomplish mission goals you’ll unlock new weapons for your chosen class, and when you string together enough kills in a single round you can call in offensive and defensive support such as artillery, air strikes or a UAV drone. It’s pretty much would you would expect a mix of Bad Company 2 and Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer to be like…if you stripped away the tactical nature of Bad Company 2 (including the Engineer and Medic classics, and most of the vehicles) and pared-down the progression system of Modern Warfare 2. In other words, multiplayer is neither as deep as Bad Company 2 nor as rewarding as Modern Warfare 2. And did I mention the respawn system is a little flaky?
I’d be remiss if I wrapped up my review without mentioning that the audio design in Medal of Honor is phenomenal. The radio chatter and squad speak is so authentic, and the weapon and sound effects are equally impacting. In terms of visuals, the lighting and particle effects are something to see, but as I said the game is plagued with graphical glitches. This game would have certainly benefited from a little extra development time all around.
I had high hopes for EA’s modern reboot of the Medal of Honor franchise, but it fails to establish an identity. The single player is too brief and underdeveloped, and multiplayer too disconnected from single player to set any kind of tone. It’s not a bad game by any means – the Tier 1 mode is a winner, the campaign has its moments, and the audio is fantastic – but you can experience most of what Medal of Honor has to offer in a single rental. With the likes of Call of Duty: Black Ops looming on the horizon, Medal of Honor needed to do a lot more to entrench itself in the era of modern combat shooters.