XBOX 360 Review: Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor is one of the most storied first person shooter series (FPS) in the history of games. For a time the series was synonymous with how a World War II FPS should be developed. At least until the development team moved on to create the current king of the industry, Call of Duty. Since the rise of Call of Duty, Medal of Honor has been relegated to an also ran and the once gargantuan franchise has spent the last few years wandering aimlessly trying to recapture even a fraction of its former audience.
The series had no direction and publisher Electronic Arts realized that if they did not reboot the franchise that they were going to waste a huge asset in their arsenal. Enter Danger Close, the special development team put together out of EA Los Angeles with the express mission of giving Medal of Honor a new identity. And give the series a new identity they did. Gone are the historical battles of World War II against Nazi and Japanese soldiers and in their place the very real battlefield of Afghanistan with the Taliban as the opposing force.
This new Medal of Honor focuses on a two day span of time in the Afghan mountains bordering Pakistan and a lot has been made of Danger Close’s close work with real life Tier 1 operatives to help enhance the realism factor. Tier 1 operatives are the deniable ops, elite soldiers that handle a lot of the military’s dirty work and thus you can get an idea of what is in store for the narrative of the single player campaign.
Without spoiling the storyline it is suffice to say that despite all the claims to be aiming for a realistic battlefield experience, you have probably played this campaign before and you have probably played a much better executed version of it as well. Medal of Honor’s campaign narrative is at its best an interactive action movie stereotype. Players will be part of a four man group that is given special tasks, most of which require the elimination of the population of Afghanistan. While I am sure that Danger Close was aiming for something a little more high brow than what they ultimately delivered when their narrative is on, it is really on. Unfortunately, more often than not the narrative takes second fiddle to a bevy of odd design choices and weird scripting bugs that not only take you out of the game’s story but actually cripple the game completely.
Medal of Honor is one of the most heavily scripted games to be released in the past three years. Plenty of games have been heavily scripted before and as long as the scripting is coded with a variety of different trigger points its use can actually enhance a narrative driven game like this. Sadly the scripting in Medal of Honor is coded to have such a narrow focus that it is quite easy to actually break the game, requiring one to reboot their last save and try it again. I myself “broke” the game a dozen times in one particular section where I couldn’t figure out exactly how the game wanted me to proceed. In another spot the game wouldn’t move forward instead continuing to throw wave after wave of enemies at me until I accidentally stepped over the correct swatch of land.
In addition to the scripting issues, Danger Close themselves included some questionable “features”. Many FPS on consoles have some sort of aim assist but the assist in Medal of Honor borders on ridiculous with how the game helps players out. Add in the fact that the enemy AI is atrocious and there is very little challenge to mowing down the swarms of Taliban as the gun almost always will target one for you and if it doesn’t there is a good chance your enemy isn’t moving very far anyway. And as if babysitting players with those things was not bad enough, Danger Close has included the ability to ask a team mate to load up your ammo cache at any point in the game, so there is absolutely no need to conserve ammo. While these design choices certainly cause issues with the gameplay, it is actually the narrative that suffers the most from their inclusion and it kills any tension, including a scene that had the potential to become quite iconic.
Medal of Honor’s visuals, like much of the campaign, is very hit and miss. Levels set at dusk and dawn look downright amazing and contain some of the best lighting effects in a game to date. Sadly levels set during any other time of the day are muddy and bland. There are also some little graphical glitches that one may or may not run in to, like NPC characters walking through closed doors, getting stuck on the environment and/or getting stuck in a looping animation.
If it seems like there are a lot of problems with Medal of Honor’s campaign that would be because there are a lot of problems. However one area where the game has no issues is in its sound design. The sound design in the game is stellar and some of the best put into a game this year. Sadly the sound design is not enough to redeem the many problems the game has. All in all though the campaign is at the very least, serviceable.
In a game that already had some odd design choices, the single biggest one has to be having developer DICE produce the multiplayer for the game. DICE, the developer behind the far superior Battlefield: Bad Company 2, was tasked with making a competitive multiplayer piece that would compete with other top tier shooters on the market. What they delivered is a serviceable yet feature lacking multiplayer suite.
If one has played Battlefield: Bad Company 2 then there should be nary a problem adjusting to Medal of Honor because the gameplay is near identical minus a couple key Battlefield features. Medal of Honor ships with four different modes (five if you count Hardcore), Combat Mission, Team Assault, Sector Control and Objective Raid. Team Assault is your basic team death match mode. Sector Control and Objective Raid are miniature version of Bad Company 2′s Conquest and Rush modes and Combat Mission is a full scale version of Rush. Included with the four modes, are a total of eight maps, three of which are only playable in Combat Mission. Unlike Bad Company 2 though, the Medal of Honor maps are extra small, to facilitate a fast paced match.
Not everything in the game is pulled from Bad Company 2 though as DICE introduces their own version of the kill streak reward. There are different levels of rewards based on the player gaining consecutive point totals and when a reward is unlocked the player will have the option to give a defensive bonus to their entire team or to call in special offensive support, like a mortar strike, etc… It adds an element of strategy to the deployment and while they can be exploited they do seem more balanced than the kill streak rewards in Call of Duty.
Like many other FPS titles, Medal of Honor has a player investment system but like everything else in this game it too feels lacking. Players can play as one of three classes, assault, special ops and sniper but being as there is no support actions like there are in Bad Company 2, they feel a bit forced. In addition to that, snipers seemingly dominate every multiplayer mode and the unbalance in class selection sucks a bit of the fun out of the game and enables some major spawn camping.
It should be noted that the graphics engine and the quality of the audio for the multiplayer suite is as different from the single player as Danger Close and DICE are. DICE uses their own Frostbite engine for the multiplayer (Danger Close used the Unreal engine) and as should be expected, it works really well. However the practical use of the Frostbite engine does make the game look even more like Battlefield than it probably wanted. The audio sounds fine, guns have a nice pop to them, but much like the visuals it kind of feels like a “been there done that” kind of thing.
Anyone who has followed the development of Medal of Honor know that Electronic Arts was taking aim at Call of Duty with this title. They missed and in a season that also features Halo: Reach and the latest Call of Duty title, Black Ops, Medal of Honor does not meet the requirements to be labeled a top tier shooter, let alone a recommendation that you should go and play it. Hopefully though Danger Close and DICE can build on what was good about this game and move forward to create something that can genuinely compete in with the big dogs, because a little competition is always a good thing.
Originally published at Hooked Gamers.