Medal of Honor Review
EA never seemed to recover back when the guys at 2015 Studios closed up shop and quit to create Infinity Ward and the Call of Duty franchise. These guys had been working on successful Medal of Honor games, but they left due to EA trying to crush them in the iron grip of creative control, all for a few extra bucks. Funny, then, that Activision did the same thing to them several years later, although not after riding Call of Duty's success to become the world's largest video game publisher. Now, we hear that the ex-Infinity Ward, ex-2015 developers are partnering with EA at their new studio. (Talk about coming around full circle.) And considering how mediocre this attempt to reboot Medal of Honor is, maybe EA can even give them their old job back as the stewards of this franchise.
This new title is co-developed by EA's Danger Close studio for the single player mode, and Swedish developer DICE for the online play. Each portion of the game uses its own engine and control systems, and even has different rules for the kinds of movements and things your first-person-controlled soldier can do. Right off the bat, this makes for a very disjointed, schizophrenic experience. The weapons even feel and act differently between the online and offline play. The only thing similar between the two seems to be some of the settings and art, and the rest is just like two different half-games mashed together into one.
But the identity crisis actually permeates deeper, too. The developers tried to bill this game as one that honors the soldier above all - a "reverence" for the people fighting every day - but what we really wind up getting is a heavily scripted, mildly-fun knockoff of Call of Duty. Admittedly, some of the more ridiculous Jerry Bruckheimer-esque moments of Modern Warfare 2 were wisely left to hopefully die a final death. But I can't say that these parts were replaced by anything better. We've got some super-accurate soldier lingo that will require a glossary of terms to decipher (one that the game doesn't actually bother to include), constant talk of "Tier One operators" (basically, Army Special Forces), and a seemingly continuous switching of perspectives between soldiers in a days-long fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Each sequence feels like a separate setpiece without a worthwhile narrative driving any of it. Sorry, Danger Close, but video games like this need exciting plots, not just exciting gunfights.
To explore that further: the conflict you participate in is not some kind of "final" battle to cleanse Afghanistan of extremists, and your enemies don't have any special mega-nukes aimed at Washington or anything to make you feel like you're saving anyone that's in immediate danger - it's just a relatively well-equipped group of Al-Qaeda soldiers that the Army decides they really, really need to take out right now. So even inside this game that reveres soldiers so much, the only point in doing this is to squash yet another threat to the Western world, and the overall impression the game gave me was that everyone knows another threat like it will pop up the week after the campaign concludes. It might make you question the real-world point of the US military having gone over there, but considering just how full of action and shootouts this game is, Medal of Honor is not likely to spark your thinking braincells. Well, unless they're the same braincells that you also use to kill d00dz with a nice 360 no-scope headshot or something, because that's usually the part of your brain that's going to be engaged here.
Because of some issues with pacing and other scripting bugs that can break the game the moment you walk even fifty feet off the beaten path, Medal of Honor seems like it's about as stable and secure as one of the makeshift shanties you'll be trotting through in-game. Sure, the visuals are great and the Afghanistan setting offers a lot more than the desert/cave scenario that many people imagine the whole country to be, but we need more than that at this point. We need interesting characters, a reason to care built right into the game, and a point to it all, and those elements are just not present here. Some might say that this is how EA is paying respect to the soldiers - by allowing them to be real-world heroes instead of comic-book ones - but this is still a video game, and I think there are better ways to honor our military.
Then there's the multiplayer. First off, there are at least a few things that you could do in solo play that you simply can't do here, like leaning, swapping between two main weapons (along with a pistol on your hip), or going prone. Well, it's not like you'll need to go prone, as you'll blend right into the scenery if you want to camp and just snipe people all day, and there's no killcam or any way for the enemy to see where you were hiding. Beyond that, there are a scant three classes, each with unlockable weapons, attachments, and perks, but overall this feels very much like a stripped-down version of DICE's last game, Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Sure, the visuals - again - are great, but the building destruction technology in the Frostbite engine is grossly underused here, and the levelups don't unlock near as much as you might be hoping for.
On the PC version, single player runs fine, but the multiplayer is a bit of a disaster at launch. With a manually-updated server list that refused to populate itself, I had to rely on matchmaking to get on servers, and it'd often dump me onto an empty server when I knew there were at least a couple with three or four slots open. I suffered through numerous Punkbuster-violation server kicks even though I had the anti-cheat module set up right (and as of this writing, Punkbuster doesn't even officially support Medal of Honor yet through the version available on their site). Getting on a server and staying on it was an exercise in frustration, and when I did succeed, it was a camper's paradise, with one team either spawn-killing the other team up-close or sniping them almost right as they spawn from half a mile off. Essentially, the game's unbalanced to the point that once one team gains an advantage on any given map, they're very, very likely to keep it. The two included multiplayer modes are generally simplistic versions of stuff DICE did in Bad Company 2. They're just a little bit dull considering the large map sizes, and while the action was solid and the gunplay and hit feedback worked great, everything surrounding those core gunfights is just inferior compared to other online shooters we could be playing.
I really had hope for Medal of Honor and I was excited at the prospect of Call of Duty getting some competition, but I think we'll have to wait for the ex-Infinity Ward guys to be the ones to do it. Simply put, Medal of Honor is kind of a mess, and the whole is worth less than the sum of its component pieces. Maybe these guys can come together in another year or two with a more cohesive experience, but until then, there's no stopping the Call of Duty train that will likely steamroll other games when it is released next month.