October 16, 2010
With the billions of dollars that Modern Warfare 2 raked in last year, it’s not surprising that EA would want a slice of that rather large money-filled pie, and considering the current state of Infinity Ward after its mass employee exodus, the global powerhouse were presented with a perfect opportunity to worm their way into that space. Taking advantage of the expertise of multiplayer specialists, DICE, and their Danger Close studio, formerly EA LA, EA decided to pull the Medal of Honor franchise out of the doldrums and resurrect it in all its glory. Well, that’s how it should have been, but in truth, EA has created a game that is neither here nor there.
EA’s big goal with Medal of Honor’s single-player campaign was to weave a tale and create a series of events that was more serious than certain other shooters in the genre. Set in Afghanistan and following the elite soldiers of the Tier 1 and their more infantry-like counterparts, the events tell the story of... well, to be honest, I have no idea. Sure, there’s a plot in there somewhere that involves rescuing fellow soldiers, stopping local hostile forces and hampering the insurgent’s attempts to win back their land, but in creating a more realistic shooter of sorts, there is less to engage the player from start to finish.
Taking control of Rabbit, Dante and Deuce, who form a mix of Danger Close’s “scalpel and sledgehammer” mantra, the campaign will have you infiltrating villages, storming caves, rescuing hostages, acquiring intel and plotting the demise of the Taliban. The events that transpire throughout are surprisingly varied, but you get the feeling of been here, done that on more than the odd occasion. Breach into a room and headshot someone who’s holding a hostage? Check. Mark a series of hostile vehicles for a gunship to decimate them? Check. Lean over and silently slit someone’s throat? Check. In fact, most, if not all, are derivative in some way shape or form. That in itself wouldn’t be so bad if they had brought something new to the genre, but simply put, they have not.
Danger Close do however get the ambience spot on and it’s a lot darker both in terms of plot and feel than any other military-themed narrative based shooter we've seen in quite some time. Teamed up with the same crew throughout each character’s missions does help promote the togetherness and camaraderie of being behind enemy lines with your fellow soldiers, and the more serious context does give Medal of Honor something different to a lot of the other shooters on the market currently. It is unfortunately let down at times by some frankly frustrating squad AI whereby they’ll decide that standing in front of you while you unload clips on enemy forces is a wise idea and there’s a particular ATV scene that really feels out of place. It’s also exceptionally gruesome at times as well, especially with the high velocity sniper rifle that can cause quite a mess... and even includes a little pop on impact. As far as the five hour campaign goes though, it’s a decent effort from Danger Close, but it definitely falls short of some of the other military based experiences currently available.
If you really dig the single-player though, you can choose to go back after you've completed the campaign on normal and test yourself in the Tier 1 mode. Here you'll be tasked with repeating the single player missions in much more difficult circumstances - health regenerates slower, ammo is harder to accumulate, one death means game over and so on - with different skill kills stopping the clock temporarily in a bid to register your time on the leaderboards.
I don’t recall a game in recent memory that takes advantage of two totally different engines for two halves of the game, with the single-player campaign using the Unreal Engine 3 and the multiplayer using DICE’s impressive Frostbite engine. That does pose its problems though, and rather than being able to use the single-player as a warm up for the multiplayer, such opportunities do not exist. It’ll definitely take a readjustment period as soon as you head online to get used to the subtle differences between the engines, but anyone who’s played Bad Company 2 will feel right at home. Well, mostly.
In the online space, there are four main modes to get stuck into – with a hardcore mode for those looking for something less arcadey. Sector Control, AKA King of the Hill and Objective Raid - which is a mini assault mode - do pale in comparison to the more traditional Team Assault, AKA Team Deathmatch, and the almost addictive, Combat Mission, which is Medal of Honor’s take on one of my favourite game modes of all time: Bad Company’s Rush mode. However, the aspects that make Bad Company’s Rush mode so charming are almost stripped away entirely, leaving a mode that is an empty shell of its inspiration.
I’d be lying if I said that Medal of Honor’s online mode wasn’t fun, because it is, but it’s marred by so many technical design flaws, that the experience is a somewhat frustrating affair. In trying to become the next Modern Warfare, DICE has stripped away and streamlined what made its online modes so successful in years gone by: that is vehicles; an in-depth class system; large, expansive maps; a wide range of gadgets and weapons; fully destructible environments; and an in-depth progression system. Even the experience, ribbons and medals system in Medal of Honor has been severely streamlined from DICE’s last effort – which isn’t a good thing.
It’s almost like it’s a dumbed down version of Bad Company 2, with there being less than a handful of weapons per class, only one vehicle that you’ll hardly see and a class system that really promotes an individualistic approach – in other words, it doesn’t make a difference in the grand scheme of things who chooses what class.
In moving towards the Modern Warfare style of play though, we do say a big hello to battlefield tactical support, which can be earned through building your score chain. These range from the simple mortar attack to the devastating cruise missile, but it’s no easy feat to earn the more powerful supports. If you’re feeling generous and a team player though, instead of using the offensive tactical support options, you can even exchange them for defensive supports, which benefit your whole team, like enemy location intel, a jammer, improved armour and improved ammo.
So why streamline it you ask? Simple, to make it a much more accessible and a much more tightly knit affair in the same vein of Modern Warfare, but in doing that, it’s clear that DICE has left their comfort zone ever so slightly.
With making a class system that doesn’t really promote team play and togetherness – a far cry from the single player – and coupled with a really basic spawn algorithm, Medal of Honor’s online play soon descends into a battle dominated by snipers, camping and plenty of spawn-killing. To make matters worse, not seeing a snap of where your killer was when he kills you like you’ll see in Bad Company 2, you could soon find yourself in a never ending cycle of death. With the way it’s crafted, Medal of Honor’s online arena encourages camping and punishes the aggressors, which has a seriously negative effect on the pace of the overall experience. Any game that has you dying within two seconds of spawning seriously needs to go back to the drawing board. It’s clear that DICE hasn’t really had much experience with smaller battlefields like this in terms of spawn points, and in any mode other than Combat Mission, that inexperience really shows. Pretty much all 8 of the maps are plagued by this design flaw.
Other than that, the odd frame-rate/lag issue that can cause play to freeze for a split-second, the invisible walls on the battlefield and watching players shoot through walls, means that an experience that has the potential to be fun, can lose its charm pretty fast. To make matters worse, the progression system rewards veteran players once again, so those who are looking to be eased in are sure to have a rough ride. At the end of the day though, the fact remains that despite these flaws, the online is still relatively fun, yet it still pales in comparison to other multiplayer shooter experiences of similar ilk on the market.
The achievements are fairly decent as far as shooters go in this day and age of achievement lists, with there being pretty much a 60/40 split in favour of the single-player. With each single-player mission having a fairly simple secondary goal to achieve and the difficulty achievements being stacked means that you won’t have to dabble in the single player for too long. As far as the multiplayer achievements go, for the most part, the achievements are designed to keep you invested in that side of things without them being too difficult, however there are a few like earning all 7 offensive tactical supports and using them that will take a fair amount of skill and patience. Not a bad list, but one that definitely needs more originality, rather than spend 2 hours here and 2 hours there online.
The problem for Medal of Honor, Danger Close and DICE is that attempting to topple the genre’s number one and really offering nothing new or exciting, they fall into that category of “what could have been.” While the single player campaign offers an enjoyable few hours of entertainment, it really doesn’t have as much of a heart and compelling narrative like we would have expected. But wait, war doesn’t have a story? No, you’re right, but this is meant to be a story-driven game after all. And the multiplayer, although being fun for the most part, if anything, Medal of Honor only goes to show how much of a great job DICE has done with Bad Company 2, and this streamlined version of its multiplayer, that’s looking to drag in the Modern Warfare-esque shooter fans, just doesn’t cut it by today’s standards. Medal of Honor is, for all intents and purposes, the poor man’s Modern Warfare... that’s actually more expensive.
Competent sums up the voice acting and in truth, the script rarely tests the actor’s vocal prowess. The score on the other hand when you hear it, is fitting, moving and very appropriate. It’s very rare that you’ll notice it though, which is a damn shame.
Medal of Honor suffers from the classic “fit from far away” phenomenon that college students have become fixated on over the years. Pretty impressive at a distance, but the textures look muddy and undefined up close. The ambience is spot on though.
While the Frostbite engine and the multiplayer is very reminiscent of the control and feel of DICE’s Bad Company franchise, the Unreal Engine 3 tech and the single player seems worlds behind. Simple to control, and yes, it may very well be responsive, but having two engines that feel so different is an issue. You’ll notice that in everything from the running speeds to the hit detection boxes.
To say Medal of Honor is derivative is an understatement and with little to no unique ideas to separate it from its rivals, it for the most part fails to get its hooks into you. With a short single-player campaign that lacks any heart and a multiplayer arena that suffers from numerous odd design choices, you have to wonder how these issues were overlooked in the development stages.
A decent enough achievement list that looks to reward players for trying out every facet of the game. Unfortunately, other than a few single player mission secondary goals, the list offers nothing original and seeing as we expect more originality from our lists in 2010, it fails to raise itself to the dizzy heights of being classed as a great list.
By attempting to topple the genre’s leaders and offering nothing new or exciting, Medal of Honor unfortunately pales in comparison to the competition. The single-player is short, but rather than being short and sweet, it’s a little soulless, while the multiplayer, which is plagued by some bizarre design choices, falls somewhere between Bad Company 2 and Modern Warfare 2, and in comparison to those two big hitters, it’s clear it doesn’t offer the same engaging and worthwhile experiences. We expected more, and for the next outing, Danger Close and co. are going to have to up their game significantly.