Quiet everyone. Take a moment to silence you cell phones, stay the clicks and clacks of your keyboards, and turn down your stereo devices. Now, listen carefully and you still might hear the reverberating wisps from the collective groan over World War II first-person shooters. Once a proud and revered theme, one where players could reenact historically momentous textbook events, the virtual theatres of Europe and Japan have since been exclaimed as “overdone!”
In dropping the M1 and picking up the M4, EA has reacted to the genre's staling popularity by following trend and updating their preeminent WWII franchise to a more contemporary setting. Vocally pronounced as a tribute to America's military servicemen and women, Danger Close and DICE bring Medal of Honor's storytelling to some of the opening events in the war in Afghanistan. By grounding the franchise reboot in recent fact, Medal of Honor should be capable of delivering some solemn drama to a more overtly over-the-top landscape. Unfortunately, what's playable in the sub-five hour story is a Wikipedia outline of events mashed together as an action flick compilation.
That isn't to say I would presume to know the mike-by-mike details of Tier 1 operators and Special Forces deployed to Afghanistan's Shahi Kot Valley during Operation Anaconda in 2002, but I doubt distilling a soldier's experience down to a highlight reel of “hoo-rah” and “oh [schnikes]” moments would be representative. But with Modern Warfare the hit that it is, to compete, Danger Close offers up a fairly similar product with its pacing, set pieces and scripted events. Rotating play time as either a SEAL, Ranger, or Delta Force recon sniper (and Apache helicopter pilot, briefly), you get your fill of dire straits to escape from and destructive weapons to play around with, sure enough.
Truth be told, Medal of Honor's story is told well, smoothly transitioning between points of view and synching together each character's role in the overall conflict. It all makes sense, but by leap frogging the exposition, we're left with just a series of events and a cast whom we care little about. An opening sequence does well in creating an air of uncertainty about your surroundings; as you stave off a relentless enemy in the middle of the game you feel helpless against an overwhelming threat; and a cutscene ends the game saluting the sacrifice of a nation's soldiers. Between each of these moments we get to play every other shooter out there: highfalutin whack-a-mole.
As a linearly progressing action experience, Medal of Honor works. The problem is, by focusing on the conflict and not the characters in a time when the dust has barely settled from the real life events, it doesn't work as a dedication.
No matter how you perceive the game, expertly crafted sound design and slick, varying environments dogear a single-player campaign full of bugs. Whether its the Unreal Engine or missed QA checks to blame, MoH is subject to gratuitous amounts of slowly loading textures or washing out some altogether, dead enemies dancing about as they clip through objects, and crawling framerates at times—some of the most egregious hiccups caused me to reset the console twice in the same place, and mysteriously die in a cutscene. Luckily Ramin Djawadi's score is there to comfort your ears while your eyes take a beating.
Things become a bit smoother in DICE's contribution to the project, albeit with a multiplayer in need of a few patches that should have been implemented by the time the game shipped. Known for their tracts of Battlefield, DICE show they can do small arena play as well. Despite a reward setup that is fairly stripped compared to both already released and upcoming shooters, MoH's online component presents a quick, infantry-focused pace where every weapon is equally deadly and accurate for each of the three class trees. The 24-person matches accommodate every play style in maps where centralized battles allow more tertiary players the opportunity to flank from multiple directions; there are no safe positions since cover can be blown to pieces (thanks to the Frostbite infrastructure) and multiple pathing options.
Connection issues and missing animations (or assets, like the sniper's C4 detonator) are prevalent, and there isn't much incentive to unlock gear since the default weaponry is plenty effective; but by racking up the in-match scorechain to call in destructive airstrikes or defensively tactical Support Actions, MoH's multiplayer has a surprisingly addictive makeup even in a limited number of on-disc maps.
After you've played through the campaign, and killed enough Taliban—excuse me—OPFOR online, those with a PS3 can install the over four gigabyte Medal of Honor: Frontline to their hard drive. It's a hefty bit of space to take up with a game that certainly hasn't aged well. It's a nostalgic if not comedic romp. The game looks better with its face lift, but playing it is testament to why we accept regenerative health and forgiving checkpoints as a norm.
There's an obvious “me too” look and feel to the Medal of Honor reboot that undeniably positions the franchise right in the thick of this generation's FPS landscape. While the single-player portion does a good job at telling its story, without a deeper connection to its characters, it's a short one that doesn't necessarily honor American military personnel; it only serves to create awesome spectacle. On the multiplayer front, there's a solid foundation lacking the intricate facade of other games in its space.
Ultimately, as an expansion franchise, Medal of Honor's debut in the Modern Warfare League isn't a championship run.
What do you want to see in modern shooters? Are you a fan of crazy mission design or do you want to see more characterization? Tweet us some intel @Gamers_Hell