Medal of Honor: Warfighter Review
A lot of gamers have argued that the modern military shooter - what was made hugely popular in 2007 with Call of Duty 4 - jumped the shark long ago. Still, I held out hope that this subgenre could open up its claustrophobic, linear nature in both online and offline play, that's just not happening much. The Battlefield series is probably the only series that has really opened up the battle with more players, bigger maps, and more hectic battles, and even then the developers decided not to try that in Battlefield 3's campaign. Unfortunately, EA-run developer Danger Close's Medal of Honor games - this year's Warfighter being the second one - seem to be caught in the middle. They rely heavily on the stereotypes and tropes of simpler (but admittedly well-polished and smooth-running) games like Call of Duty, and on the other hand, they're weighed down by the heft of their slower-running engines and slightly more complex rules of the Battlefield games (which share a publisher with Medal of Honor). They wind up taking the worst of both worlds and combining it all together into something that's just not really appealing, and even though Warfighter brings its own brand of thrills as well as a commitment to the impressive Frostbite engine in full this time around, it's just not working out for Danger Close.
The game follows a group of top-level, Delta Force/Navy Seal-type soldiers that will be working throughout the Middle East and elsewhere to covertly complete objectives and save the world, although you'll find that most of the covert missions, as expected, go completely haywire with tons of screaming, explosions, and barked orders in your ear at all turns. The shooting mechanics are pretty much exactly what you expect and generally feel pretty similar to the Battlefield 3 campaign's gunplay, which isn't surprising since it's running on the same engine. Warfighter throws around nice little perks like multiple scopes and vehicle sections, but it's nothing you haven't seen assuming you've played a few similar games over the last five years.
The developers have pushed a focus on authenticity, with as many real-world locations, weapons, and situations as possible, as well as some hefty reverence towards the men that fight these covert wars around the world. With that said, a lot of that gets undermined to some level simply because the gunplay and objective structure apes Call of Duty almost entirely, and at this point, that style has become so tiresome and frustrating that all the authenticity in the world won't save this game. The developers would have had to include a true realism that balances a choice of tactics and fun to match the authenticity they tried so hard to maintain, but the very small level and objective design - which is imposed by the developers' abilities, the limitations of the Frostbite engine, the relatively weak horsepower of the current generation of consoles, or some combination of all three - severely hampers the entire point of this game. The developers built some great stuff, including a thrilling, great-looking car chase through a city in Yemen was an excellent highlight early on, but it's all constructed on top of a foundation that's just not sound enough to make Warfighter feel anything more than a slightly inferior clone.
The campaign does include an interesting human element to the story of these guys' battles with their families and the struggles they go through, but I think it's really telling that for me, these completely non-interactive scenes became the most interesting things in Warfighter. Especially after the real-life Seal Team Six took out Osama bin Laden, there are stories about who these guys are, how they train, the difficulties they face, that people would love to have told - and probably won't ever hear due to the secrecy of these groups. This game picks up on a fictional version of some of what people desire, but it's really strange to feel disappointment every time the game gives me control - probably because the whole thing would almost feel better as a movie. Once the player gets involved, there's little that can be done to divert from the scripted path, and every bullet I took and every missed bullet I fired meant that I was only delaying the interesting story scenes that little bit more. I felt weary of playing Warfighter once I got several missions in, but I had no conventional reason to be tired or sick of it: I've been a huge fan of all kinds of first person shooters for two decades, I was well rested, and I was playing on PC where my aim was at its best. Still, Warfighter just felt like a slog - this has got to be what "genre fatigue" feels like, and I haven't had this feeling very many times over my last three decades of gaming.
I decided to switch to multiplayer before continuing on, but it's here in the online play that the problems with Medal of Honor: Warfighter's issues have a light shone right on them. Health regens quickly and players can take a lot of bullets before they go down, and your "fire teams" - essentially being forced into two-man squads - don't help players coordinate nearly as much as you might think. First, the ability to spawn on your buddy after dying is great, but if he's taking fire, you have to wait to spawn on him - and your buddy will rarely change his play to help get you spawned in faster. But the bigger thing is that few PC gamers use headsets to play with, so there's little worthy communication. In fact, at one point I went through three matches in a row where no one said a single word in text or voice chat. We just wordlessly danced around small levels, shooting at each other with pre-set classes piled up with rifles, support items, and gadgets. The wide-open, vehicle-oriented maps of BF3 are gone here, but the more complex rules and gameplay modes stay - and holy crap, is there a ton of information piled up onto every squad spawn, customization, and Battlelog-styled screen. Props to Danger Close for actually encasing all Battlelog functions inside the game's menus themselves - something that DICE refuses to do for BF3 - but the game has to be worth playing for at least a few weeks online to make all of that effort worth it. And I just don't feel that this game fulfills that requirement.
At the very least, the PC port of Warfighter is solid. It's an Origin exclusive, but the game itself works just fine, with Battlelog either working like BF3's browser-oriented server browser or directly in-game where you can browse through dedicated servers, use matchmaking, and get a lot of the stats, unlocks, and copious amounts of numbers and stats that online gamers apparently now require in order to have fun. (Ok, that's not fair - sometimes those numbers are kind of fun, but I don't know that I could ever fault a game for not having them.) Performance is solid and the use of the Frostbite engine gets you some great lighting and destruction, but I have give credit to Battlefield: Bad Company 2 for still having the most destructible environments in a modern-day military shooter. Seriously, when does Bad Company 3 get announced?
While I do think that there's got to be a way to bring combat realism to first person shooters that proves to be more accessible than the serious sims like the ARMA games, Medal of Honor: Warfighter is not the way to do it. There's never anything really wrong with the game, except that we've seen and played these scenarios so many times before in other military shooters, but that's just not enough at this point. To really enjoy offline play, you'll need to have an absolutely insatiable appetite for war-themed action games as well as a rather hefty tolerance for the tropes that come with them. In online play, if you've got even just one friend that owns the game so you can jump into a fireteam with him, that might be a good choice - but if he's already playing BF3 or picking up Call of Duty Black Ops 2 in a few weeks, then it's tough to recommend this game over those. I feel that Danger Close is a talented, dedicated and well-meaning studio and I do hope they can stay together and make more games, but at this point, I think it's probably a good idea that EA helps them come up with a new IP or new style of game. This current revival of Medal of Honor just isn't working out.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a digital copy on Origin provided by the publisher.