It’s been roughly three years since we last saw any addition to the Medal of Honor series. Well known for their World War II perspectives, the developers, Danger Close, have firmly staked their claim in the realm of first-person shooters. For the first time in franchise history, they step foot into a modern-day setting, but not without a bit of controversy. Their look into the War in Afghanistan took media outlets by surprise when they announced players would assume the role of the Taliban in multiplayer. Electronic Arts saw pressure from varying branches of the military, which led to some bad publicity. They slightly remedied the situation by renaming the opposition in multiplayer to the “Opposing Force”. This change was merely cosmetic and fortunately didn’t affect anything in terms of the story or its gameplay.
In the campaign, players follow the affairs of several Tier One Operators within the US military. An elite special operations unit, these small battalions work under the standards of the Nation Command Authority. During our time in Operation Enduring Freedom, aka the current War in Afghanistan, not many people have really seen what is actually taking place on the frontlines. The general plot in Medal of Honor gives you an in-depth look into their everyday operations, inspired by real events, and the harsh reality that our soldiers face on a daily basis.
It would be an understatement to say the story is intense. You begin in the role of Rabbit, a member of a Tier One squad who is trying to secure special intelligence from an Afghan informant. After being ambushed by a group of insurgents, your squad becomes separated and a multitude of events slowly begin to unfold. The player will also take control of three other military personnel throughout the campaign, and eventually all stories combine to reveal a bigger picture.
The all-to-real scenarios in the plotline almost play out like you’re a war journalist loaded for bear. It’s a very refreshing take on a war game, considering it strays far from action-film gimmicks like other franchises in the genre. It stills manages a great sense of drama, with the push and pull between government and frontline officials, and the action is still very present. The story seems to focus on showing the truth of the matter, which is far more exhilarating and even more terrifying.
While the plotline can surely hold its own in a gaggle of war stories, the combat in the game is very refined as well. Targeting is precise even on the most difficult setting when there is no snap-to ability. There is also a very smooth slide maneuver for use when obtaining cover. This makes shootout scenarios very fun when charging the lines of an assault.
The AI squad mates are also very capable in battle situations. There is a great line of communication, as they tend to call out enemy locations, and you always feel like they are watching your back. Unlike most AI teammates, they’re also very handy at taking down opponents. Your squad is very accurate when it comes to shooting and can handle themselves in hectic circumstances. Enemy AI is also very efficient during a skirmish. They can pull off the same moves the player can, sliding into cover, peek around corners, and have great shooting accuracy as well. Although there were a few moments of quirkiness, for the most part the AI is solid.
Unfortunately, the multiplayer doesn’t feel as well thought out as the single-player campaign. Known for their work in the Battlefield franchise, EA Digital Illusions CE developed this aspect separately from the Danger Close studios. Their initial hopes were that it would be able to compete with the Call of Duty franchise in multiplayer success, but it falls very short of the mark. Simple aspects that play a great role in single-player are no longer present. There is no quick sliding move, no leaning in and out of cover, and not even the allowance to go prone. It feels like the slickness of the game was completely removed from multiplayer for no apparent reason.
In addition, the classes are also very basic and have a poorly executed upgrade system. No matter what class you choose, you’re severely unbalanced from the get-go. Other players are like bullet sponges with your weak starting weapons, and scoring kills will most likely only come through headshots. There are also plenty of lag-issues to go on top of it. Death animations come a bit later than expected, and just as you think you’ve ducked behind cover in time to dodge a bullet, it’s already too late.
The map variety is also a bit disappointing, not to mention the ones available are all very small. There is only a handful when playing through any given mode and the repetitiveness will come early and often. Granted, the Combat Mission mode is the only one that strays from this formula. This mode allows you to battle through five different sectors on a map, one at a time, either defending or attacking an objective. Matches can become pretty fierce as the attacking side tries to storm through each point, but it’s hardly enough to go along with other modes that feel very similar to one another.
Although the game looks very polished in some aspects, there are still plenty of frame rate issues to deal with. Large explosions during the campaign cause drastic stutters, but fortunately it’s never severe enough to halt the game. The textures and facial animations are all very well done, and the backdrops can look pretty phenomenal. They also made use of a modified Unreal Engine and decided to go with full-motion video cut scenes, rather than keeping it all in-game.
Medal of Honor certainly put forth a valiant effort with this attempt to reboot the franchise. The campaign looks and feels great with its many slight hints at realism. After an unexpected attack and smoke blinds your vision from an explosion, you almost get a sense that you’re fighting ghosts. Even as the player begins to speculate an ambush, you get an overwhelming feeling of tension as you walk through a decimated village. All these subtleties only add to the experience, not to mention the impeccable audio and music to go along with it.
If the game didn’t lack true polish because of its frame rate problems, or contain a regrettable online component that neglected cues from the campaign, this could have been a game to look out for. However, neither is the case and it leaves Medal of Honor feeling stale when compared to other games of its kind. The single-player is its only saving grace, and fans of the genre might not warrant a purchase without an equivalent online experience to back it up.