For all the fuss surrounding Medal of Honor’s brash decision to include a playable Taliban army and subsequent backtracking following negative reaction from the US military, the end product is unsurprisingly neither realistic nor controversial. Outside of the implication that these snowy mountains and caves belong to a modern-day Afghanistan, this may as well be any other fictional setting from any other modern military shooter. The narrative is almost entirely unconcerned with the politics of the region, and whilst that might be a wise move considering the recent reaction of the Daily Mail brigade, it’s also a little disappointing considering the opportunities that were available with a total franchise reboot.
Freed from any wider motivations, the campaign we end up with is about as connected to reality as that of Modern Warfare or any Tom Clancy game, albeit with a veneer of authenticity in the form of ‘Tier 1’ military operatives. These bearded and hardy fellows are a ‘new breed of warrior’ according to developer Danger Close, although quite what separates them from traditional special ops squads is never made entirely clear. Their mandate is to pursue mission objectives considered high-risk, and, in traditional style, Medal of Honor splits its storyline between separate groups as they weave through trouble spots before being thrust together in pursuit of a common goal.
For the most part your mission objectives are cut from the same well-worn template as other shooters, and you’ll no doubt recognise the familiar presence of stealthy sniper sequences, breach-and-clear sections, airborne assaults, and pitched hillside battles. That isn’t to say the developer hasn’t managed to wring considerable excitement from them however, and the action is at its best when set against the beautifully-rendered midnight blue and glistening whites of high-altitude assaults. There are even mountain goats for company, rocking their own brand of extreme beard action and indifference to the indigenous population.
Crucially, Medal of Honor also satisfyingly nails its core combat. Gunplay is responsive, and pronounced visual feedback never leaves you in any doubt as to the damage you’re dealing. Enemy soldiers drop after one or two rounds to any limb, with headshots marked by an on-screen icon and corresponding melon-squishing audio clip. Ranged and mid-quarters combat against the AI plays out to a pleasing rhythm, and it’s good to see a developer finally working a lean control into a console shooter – despite the application being occasionally marred by some twitchy aiming.
The level design, however, is another matter entirely. Although there’s nothing structurally wrong with the environments, extensive use of scripting ensures they fall some way short of the competition. All too frequently you’ll have to wait for your colleagues to catch up and kick down a seemingly impervious door, or the curtain will be pulled back to reveal infinite spawn points and enemies that are oblivious to your presence and ordinance. Such fallibility is excusable on the odd occasion in any videogame, but Medal of Honor is dangerously close tobeing broken a little too often for comfort. As a result, the immersion in the otherwise well-produced campaign is undoubtedly hampered.
Removing that dodgy scripting entirely, the DICE-developed multiplayer components prove to be a familiar spin on their Battlefield series, much to nobody’s surprise. Filling out the roster with well-worn deathmatch and territory control modes, players are encouraged to continue progressing through a 10-level unlock tree for each of the game’s three playable classes. The usual slew of weaponry and perks are offered as incentive, although in truth it all feels a little half-hearted in comparison to either Bad Company 2 or Modern Warfare 2. There is nothing unique here, and no hook to call their own. Battlefield is the better game for breadth of environment and vehicular action, Modern Warfare is the title for community, rank incentives and close-quarters combat. Medal of Honor skims from both, but isn’t as compelling as either.
Of course the big question here is whether EA has done enough with the reboot to justify a continuation of the series, but you get the feeling that’ll be a decision based on sales data rather than anything else. As it stands, Medal of Honor is a competent shooter in both online and offline form, but in a genre as competitive as this it needed to be more. A supreme level of polish and unique selling point were required for it to even come close to dislodging the heavy hitters, and inciting a media controversy by (not) using the name of the Taliban was, in the end, a moot point. Underwhelming then, but not without some merit.