Not content to allow dominant reign of "Call of Duty" to continue any longer, Electronic Arts and developers DICE and Danger Close have gone all out with “Medal of Honor”, the next generation reboot of EA’s once prestigious World War II-themed, first-person shooter franchise. Set in modern day Afghanistan and based on the accounts of real-life special forces operatives in the U.S. military, “Medal of Honor” delivers an action-packed ride that fans of the genre will thoroughly enjoy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do a whole lot more than that.
“Medal of Honor” predominately follows a shadowy group of special forces commandos as they traverse across Afghanistan, stabbing, shooting and bombing any Taliban member that stands in their way. For better or worse, the story isn’t at all like “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2”. There are few cliffhangers or radical plot twists, and for the most part, it focuses more on the kind of military operations that U.S. forces face overseas rather than relating a compelling narrative full of intrigue and excitement. As a result, characters are never fleshed out and you never feel any real personal investment in the missions you’re undergoing. The stiff writing, regularly laden with esoteric, military lingo that only military veterans will understand, doesn’t help matters either. The story and writing of “Medal of Honor might faithfully recreate the war in Afghanistan, but it does little to actually engage gamers and encourage them to keep playing.
The story mode has tons of cool set pieces that have you laser targeting enemy positions, sniping mortar teams from a distance, shooting missiles out of an Apache helicopter, and much more. There’s a lot of variety to keep things exciting, and what “Medal of Honor” might lack in narrative prowess, it makes up for in explosive action that immerses you in the game. Whether you’re kicking down doors or dodging gunfire in the mountains, there are moments where you actually feel like you’re a Tier 1 operator shooting it out in Afghanistan.
However, what kills this illusion of realism is how painfully linear the levels are designed. You’re ushered along a path that’s heavily punctuated with scripted events, which look cool, but are so glaringly artificial that they lack any real impact. Invisible walls keep you from exploring or even performing flanking maneuvers against the enemy, and some sequences are so scripted that you’ll end up getting killed unless you perform exactly what the game needs you to. For instance, during a stealth mission, I snuck up on a guard and stabbed him in the back. However, the game evidently wanted me to perform an actual stealth assassination, because it alerted all the guards in the area even though I had silently killed the Taliban member in one blow.
“Medal of Honor’s” multiplayer component, which was developed by "Battlefield" creators DICE, fortunately fares better than the campaign. Players are divided into two teams, Coalition and Opposing Force, and then can choose between three classes: Rifleman, Spec Ops, and Sniper. Each class has its own set of weapons and equipment, and as you earn experience points by killing enemies and accomplishing objectives, you’ll unlock new gear. There are four different types of multiplayer modes and eight maps to play on, offering a fair (but not exceptional) amount of selection to keep hardcore FPS aficionados busy.
The game multiplayer combines the best of “Modern Warfare” and “Battlefield: Bad Company” to create an experience that will appease even the biggest fans of both. Though you rarely will be able to commandeer vehicles online, “Medal of Honor” emphasizes the penchant of "Bad Company" for coordination and cooperation. You get kill-streak bonuses like in “Modern Warfare”, but without the abundance of personal perks, and that makes it much harder to be a one man army. You can’t survive taking more than a few bullets, so you’ll have to rely on your teammates if you don’t want to be staring at the respawn screen a whole lot. Oddly, I hear teamwork is a tactic the military uses in real life. Strange, huh?
One area where “Medal of Honor” absolutely excels in is in its audio and visual presentation. Graphically, “Medal of Honor” is gorgeous. The character models, admittedly, look a little strange, but the amount of detail that the designers have put in to bringing every aspect of Afghanistan to life is stunning, especially once the game takes you out of the city and places you in the country’s more mountainous regions. In regards to sound, “Medal of Honor” takes the bar set by “Battlefield: Bad Company 2” and raises it. Every sound effect, ranging from gun shots, to the revving of an engine, to an explosion, sounds incredibly authentic. For instance, if you fire a sniper rifle in an enclosed space, the echo of the rifle retort will sound drastically different than if you fire it out in the open. It’s the small details like that that make “Medal of Honor” such an outstanding technical achievement.
“Medal of Honor” is a very enjoyable game, but it still comes up short. The campaign mode is too brief (clocking in at eight hours on the hardest difficulty level), and even the inclusion of Tier 1 mode (which challenges you to complete campaign missions as quick as possible without any checkpoints) doesn’t do enough to disguise this fact. The game’s multiplayer mode, though, is top notch. Its strategic, team oriented nature is a nice reprieve from the lone wolf, run and gun tactics that “Modern Warfare 2” favors. Well, until “Call of Duty: Black Ops” comes out in a month at least.
“Medal of Honor” is a solid title, but given the hype and controversy surrounding its release, the final product is a little disappointing. However, that shouldn’t deter you from checking it out. “Medal of Honor” is rough around the edges and is in definite need of some substantial tweaks before the inevitable sequel hits in a year or so, but it still offers enough to thoroughly satisfy even the most jaded FPS fans.
Final Grade: B-
"Medal of Honor"
Developer: Danger Close, DICE
Published: Electronic Arts
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Release Date: 08.12.10