Reviewed: October 19, 2010
Released: October 12, 2010
Iíve been following the development of Medal of Honor for a few months now, ever since the big reveal at E3, all the way up through the recent controversy with the use of the Taliban as playable characters, which I thought was completely ridiculous. What many people donít realize is that many of the military FPS games we play in America are reverse-engineered and rebuilt to be used as training or desensitizing tools by our enemies overseas. Iím certainly no stranger to seeing a 12-year old with an AK-47 walking down a dusty street, but for every one of those you can be sure there is a 10-year old inside playing a heavily modified version of Call of Duty or Medal of Honor where enemy models have been replaced with U.S. soldiers and Osama Jr. is the hero.|
Despite some last-minute PR nightmares, Medal of Honor made it to retail and we finally get to see what all this Tier 1 hoopla is about. Supposedly, Danger Close, EAís new studio, consulted with several off-the-books spec op soldiers to make this game as realistic as possible. While I commend the studioís efforts on proper use of tactics, procedures, and realistic jargon, Medal of Honor quickly devolves into a Michael Bay version of The Unit that reminded me of a shorter and much more tightly scripted version of Modern Warfare 2. Scripting is so tight that you often find yourself at a loss for your next action, at least until you stumble onto the proper piece of real estate that triggers the next event.
Medal of Honor suffers from some of the most rigid scripting of recent memory, which means your path is narrow and your actions are limited. While this design mirrors real-world military tactics perfectly it doesnít make for entertaining gameplay, yet I would hardly call the game a simulation either. There are numerous inconsistencies and blatant attempts to force gameplay moments. You might require a buddy-boost to reach a high ledge but your buddies can vault that same ledge solo. Sometimes your team might kick down a door, other times you might be the one, but there is no rhyme or reason as to why or when this happens, but rest assured there is a tango behind the door with a shotgun ready for a cheap shot whenever it is you.
There are moments in the game where you are supposed to go stealthy, but even if you donít it doesnít matter. There are nighttime missions that encourage you to use your night vision gear but itís easier to see without. There is an entire mission with some painfully bad ATV driving moments where the handling is so bad you want to toss the controller. Control issues make their way into the regular gameplay as well with a targeting assist that screams casual gamer. You can pop-lock with unrealistic accuracy simply by squeezing LT a hair-moment before RT and get headshot after headshot as long as you are pointed in the general direction of the target and your own men don't run in front of your gun then scream "friendly fire".
For every five negative issues I had with the game there was maybe one positive element. The squad chatter was very realistic and immersive. There were some moments of true awesomeness, my favorite being the sniping mission where you are taking out tangos on a distant mountainside while your spotter called them out. As a sniper myself, I can seriously relate to this part of the game. Other touches like the use of strobes to identify friendlies at night and from the air was a realistic element, even to the point of using those strobes to mark targets.
The game follows several groups of specialty soldiers including; Rangers, Spec-Ops, a SEAL team, and those covert Tier 1 guys. Other than weapons and tactics and a subtle change in chatter, not much changes in the narrative. I was surprised at how little story there was in Medal of Honor not to mention character development, especially for being such a linear game. So when somebody dies, even a major character, you donít really suffer from too much, if any remorse. Everyone is pretty much disposable, which is totally opposite of what the military will ingrain in their soldiers from day one.
There were also many adrenaline-fueled moments that were so epic I can only assume they were based on actual events as related by those Tier 1 consultants. Perhaps the most frantic was being holed up in a stone hut as wave after wave of enemies descended down the hillside trying to flank our position, and the occasional RPG round blasted away at our cover. I actually found myself getting caught up in the emotion of the panic as well as relief when air support finally arrived.
There was also some inconsistency when it came to gameplay elements. In one part of the game you had to suppress an entrenched machinegun nest as noted by a special icon, but that was the ONLY time. There was one time you could call in for air support and even dictate the direction of the strafing run but that was the ONLY time. And that moment I mentioned in the previous paragraph with the building getting blasted away Ė that was the ONLY moment of destructible cover. It just seems like they had all these great ideas but never made them a part of the game.
Medal of Honor deals with real-world locales, none of which I have been to personally, but having been in the same region, I can attest to their authentic recreation in architecture and texture details. As far as visual quality the game is a mix, with a few fairly uninspired opening levels that get progressively more detailed and engaging about halfway through. Lighting and shadows are good and there are decent special effects, especially for dust that will realistically obscure your view. Character models are detailed and realistically animated. The HUD is minimal and will even vanish when nothing is going on, but I did find the hit icon indicators a bit distracting, especially when 90% of my kills are headshots.
Iíll give special kudos to the mission that takes place from the gunnery seat of an attack chopper. Despite being an on-rails shooter moment, this was one of the most visually stunning and exciting levels in the game with the potential to induce vomiting if you are prone to motion sickness. Even more authentic is one particular cutscene where a transport chopper is getting shot up and a bunch of QRF guys are getting shot and tossed around inside. As a survivor of a similar incident I can completely vouch for the chaotic realism of this scene.
As far as the audio, Iíve already complimented the excellent squad chatter and realistic jargon but what really made my day was the extreme attention to detail for the weapon sounds, not only in the firing, but the metallic clank you hear as your magazine empties. Explosions are suitably loud and there are realistic sounds for the vehicles, both land and air. Again, my favorite sound, or rather sound effect in the game is probably on that sniper mission where the designers perfectly captured the delay between squeezing the trigger and watching your target blow in half Ė but you wonít hear that sickening thud in real-life. Thatís just a game effect. The music, for the most part, is suitable and does its job of driving the action in key moments, but I did take issue with the Linkin Park song used to underlie the tribute messages to our past and current troops. It felt more like the closing credits to Transformers.
With a campaign that can be completed on Hard in less than 4-5 hours by even casual gamers, the single player experience seems more like a tacked on afterthought to the more complex and slightly superior multiplayer modes. Considering Danger Close was only responsible for the campaign, I was dumbfounded when the credits started to roll at what I thought was the halfway point of the game. And then they follow the credits with a teaser for what is most likely to be DLC down the road. If they try to charge $10-15 for the second half of the story there will be an uproar for sure.
There is also a Tier 1 mode, which allows you to go back and replay the story missions while trying to beat the Par times for each level. When you add up those times and realize the entire game can be won in 157 minutes if you rush through, only then do you realize just how short the single-player game is, despite these arcade-type modes used to artificially extended the gameplay.
DICE handled the multiplayer component of the game and as veterans of the genre perhaps that explains why the online modes are so much better than Danger Closeís story mode. But despite their impressive resume, even the multiplayer suffers from several inexplicable issues that we shouldn't be seeing in this generation of FPS from a designer who has already proven capable of releasing so much better. Plus, only original purchasers of the game will get the required Online Pass to play online. Renters and secondhand purchasers will have to pay extra to play the multiplayer modes.
Currently you have Modern Warfare 2 and Bad Company 2 as your main online FPS competition. Medal of Honor doesnít come close to either so you have to ask yourself, ďwhy even botherĒ, especially when Black Ops is just around the corner. Medal of Honor plays a lot like Bad Company 2 only without all the classes and at a much more frantic, almost arcade shooter-like pace. As always, I chose to play as a sniper and was surprised to find that almost everyone else in nearly all of the games I played was also choosing this role. Normally, people donít like playing a ranged fighter since it is much easier to rack up more kills in close and mid-range combat, but the sniper rifles in this game seem to work just as well as a standard rifle, so itís not uncommon to see a bunch of guys running around at semi-close range wielding sniper rifles and actually being effective against guys with assault rifles.
There are only four modes; the fast-paced Team Assault match, where classic Deathmatch rules and quick reactions are king, or engage in the story-driven Combat Mission mode, where Coalition forces look to take over specific objectives. I did like the ability to customize weapons in mid-game and the Tactical Support Actions help mix up the gameplay. Still, the levels are depressingly small, making the sniper class all but useless. Maps are restricted to certain game types so you might have trouble playing a mode you enjoy on a map your like. There were also some framerate and various technical glitches in the full 24-player games on the 360, whereas my friends who are playing on PC suffer none, or at least not as many of these hiccups.
I was pretty impressed with Medal of Honor after my third hour of play, but that was before I realized I only had another hour left. With a disturbingly short campaign and an unpolished and unbalance multiplayer mode, I canít help but feel this game was rushed out the door to get a couple weeks worth of sales before Black Ops ships. If EA doubled the size of the campaign and cleaned up the online multiplayer then Medal of Honor might be worth playing, but as it stands now, this is a premature release that should have been postponed until 2011.