The original Medal of Honor from 1999 did its share in legitimizing game consoles as a viable platform for first person shooters (even though Goldeneye 007 did most of the work two years earlier). MoH also pioneered the production methodology of utilizing experienced servicemen and weapon specialists as consultants. By PSOne standards, those extra steps made all the difference offering an impressive degree of authenticity. Over a dozen releases later, not to mention a three-year break, the series is leaving worn out World War II campaigns in favor of an almost-equally worn out modern day Middle East setting.
Taking design inspiration from Medal of Honor: Heroes, this 2010 Medal of Honor puts the player in shoes of multiple soldiers in Afghan territory shortly after 9/11. The first third of the game introduces these characters and their respective squads. Their connections with each other are not too clear early on, aside from the fact that they’re all in the same region hunting down Taliban, Al Qaeda, and their allies. It is by the fifth mission that the story starts to feel a lot more cohesive and fluid with minor intertwining of the sub-plots of these troops, codenamed Deuce, Dante and Rabbit. There is also a fourth character who goes by the name of Hawk who unfortunately is relegated to just one chapter.
Not deviating much from the standard issue console FPS controls, Medal of Honor defaults to the familiar modern settings, where L1 takes care of precision aiming, Square reloads, holding down L3 is dash, etc. (assuming you’re on a PlayStation 3). Aside from two weapon slots, tapping triangle twice brings up the pistol, which is actually very effective, regardless of the fact that it also has infinite ammo. Other notable controls include the ability to steady one’s sniper aim and being able to slide into cover.
At its best, the squad-oriented design of Medal of Honor does a lot to deliver a sense of realism, ditching the traditional one-man-army approach. The professional demeanor your team members convey an almost Rainbow Six-like level of orderliness without getting too boring or too methodically strict. Indeed, much of what makes Medal of Honor’s plot so compelling is how you and your squad improvise when unexpected developments occur, while still keeping level heads. It is also this level of unpredictability that allows for a variety of gameplay situations to keep things fresh and not rely solely on straight-forward run-and-gun scenarios. There will be chances to sneak through enemy encampments, surgically eliminate targets in an extensive sniper mission and even act as the target marker for the occasional aerial strike. What you have in the end is a greatest hits collection of modern FPS situations, enough to show a convincing level of variety but also ends a little too early for some gamers. This kind of variety also extends to the often-impressive environments which shows practically every type of Afghan region imaginable, from the rundown small towns, to the obligatory caves, to the snowy mountain ranges.
What was also a gutsy move by developer Danger Close is that your team members are actually helpful in taking out enemies, a rarity in first person shooters. We’re not talking about dealing minor wounds to the enemy so you can finish them off; your team will actually help out even if it means stealing some of your kills. The banter from your buddies is often integral in guiding you along the mission. There will be times where it feels like enemies are endlessly spawning in the distance, not realizing that the game will only stop this influx when you run to the next checkpoint or follow your CO’s current directive. It is a form of subtle scripting that can turn hairy if you’re not paying attention your team. Your mates also do a darn good job in informing you of nearby enemies by either yelling “Contact!” or pointing out to you enemy locations by way of “o’clock” navigation.
This degree of immersion would be truly impressive had it not been for the few glitches that many players will surely encounter. As I progressed through the Campaign’s 10 chapters, I found myself unable to exit a vehicle, got stuck running in a circle (eventually dying from not being able to run for cover) and could not progress to the next objective because my CO was not moving. Thankfully, Danger Close managed lay out frequent save checkpoints so these issues can be bypassed by loading the last checkpoint (assuming the respective glitch did not reoccur).
The added Tier 1 mode is essentially a Master difficulty setting of the Story with bragging-rights functionality. It features global leaderboards where gamers can compare every common skill from headshots to single grenade kills to long range kills. Then there is the completion time, which awards medals based on matching or beating a specific par time. It is easier said than done since you cannot continue after dying, enemies are obviously tough and you also run the risk of ending the round if you accidentally kill a team member. It is a decently-dressed, replay-extending mode that should make successful participants feel a sense of accomplishment despite the repetition needed to reach the par time.
EA’s deep pockets have afforded Medal of Honor the benefit of a dedicated studio to handle the multiplayer component. DICE is of course no stranger to multiplayer-centric first person shooters, having developed the Battlefield series. The grit and detail in these MP modes are not all that different from what DICE pulled off earlier this year with Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
This time around there is a larger emphasis toward on-foot combat and less on vehicles. Tanks do provide considerable support in Combat Mission, which is a multi-stage mode where American forces push through five objectives protected by the opposing force. It will most likely be a favorite among the four modes, which also include the classic Team Deathmatch, known in MoH as Team Assault, the Domination-influenced Sector Control, and Objective Raid, where two ground targets need to be defended from incoming combatants. Those who do feel they are at Tier 1 level can try out Hardcore, which goes through the aforementioned modes (except Combat Mission) on a very hard setting.
What adds a welcome level of depth are the various Support Actions that are awarded when reaching specific score milestones. A player on who chooses an offensive action will be granted artillery options, the most spectacular being the quick fly-by air support. On defense, extra health, protective gear and other support items will be made available to the whole team.
One feature that long time Battlefield fans will recognize is the class system. The player can specialize in the general infantry skills of the Rifleman, the heavy weapon capabilities of the Special Ops or the lethal talent of the Sniper. Those won over by Medal of Honor can upgrade each class as high as 15 levels each, with better weapons and helpful accessories awarded with each level up.
Of course all these elements would be worthless if there weren’t solid maps to play on. These levels are indeed large and complex enough to pull off a worthwhile multiplayer experience, even if a given map has a few camping sites. Urban settings have their share of nooks and multilevel pathways, while wide open settings offer chances to sneak around the action for surprise takedowns.
It is disappointing that the same motion glitches that appear in the Story mode also crop up in Multiplayer. In the 4 hours I spent online (2 of those hours were spent after the game formally launched), the aforementioned movement bug would appear about once per hour. I was also booted out 3 times even though the servers had gone officially live. Granted, such day-one issues are not uncommon in FPS multiplayer, though it would be great if DICE could address these issues as soon as possible.
Those who pick up the Limited Edition version on the PlayStation 3 will also get to enjoy a remastered version of 2002′s Medal of Honor: Frontline as bonus. No, it is not a full graphical overhaul, but the textures have been smoothed, the frame rate has improved and trophy support has been added. It should be noted that this bonus game requires a 4444 MB install.
As big budget games go, Medal of Honor was a couple patches away from being a superb reboot. and hopefully such corrective patches are in the works. By setting its Campaign in the context of the 9/11 aftermath, EA could very well have given itself a starting point to a prolonged story arc spanning this country’s current involvement in the Middle East. That is not to assume that consumers can handle another decade’s worth of games in the same conflict, but at least EA, Danger Close and DICE have proven that they can pull off other time periods besides World War II.