Medal of Honor review

Medal of Honor deserves respect. It single-handedly launched the WWII-shooter craze 11 years ago, hooked PC gamers with Allied Assault, invigorated console shooters with Frontline, and then, tumbled into irrelevance. Trading Nazis for the Taliban, and trenches for modern battlegrounds is more than an attempt at a sequel — it is a complete reboot of the series, and a chance for redemption. But, effort alone does not warrant praise in our hobby.

The single-player campaign begins with a nondescript mission in Afghanistan, sans a purpose or background story. What follows is a calamitous chain, or rather, circle of events, in which the SEALs are aided by the Rangers, the Rangers are saved by gunships, and the gunships are then helped by the SEALs. Danger Close wanted to avoid political storylines in order to focus on the heroics and sacrifices of the servicemen depicted. It’s a noble cause, but ultimately pointless if the depictions are hollow shells.

There’s zero attachment to any character in Medal of Honor. Rabbit’s lucky rabbit’s foot and Dusty’s beard carry the brunt of characterization. Mother, Preacher, Voodoo, and Deuce have cool codenames, and that’s it. I don’t need sappy monologues, but I would appreciate something more thought-provoking than Dusty’s plan of, “kill our way up this mountain until there’s nothing left to kill.” The ‘plot’ hints at bureaucratic mishandlings, a rising network of terrorists, and bonds of friendship, but lacks the guts to address any of it, thus depriving an otherwise emotional ending of the power it should hold.

What remains is a 3-4 hour sequence of action scenes, and there are some genuinely exciting moments. You can feel the weight of impending doom as you try to hold off unyielding waves of Taliban. You might have to stifle a battle cry as you ride shotgun straight into the heart of a Taliban camp, and few moments get the adrenaline pumping like bursting into a room and taking everyone out in slow-motion. It’s a shame that any pride you feel is instantly cheapened by heavily-scripted gameplay.

Medal of Honor spares little room for ingenuity and personal choice. Most levels are narrow corridors masked by rocks and debris, and closed off by invisible walls. You can feel the guiding hand of Danger Close at every corner. It’s a rare moment when someone isn’t telling you what to shoot, when to move, and where to go. Moreover, Medal of Honor is interspersed with so many forced moments of manning turrets, operating laser guidance systems, and gunning from helicopters, that it’s dangerously close to rail-shooter territory.

The enemy AI only compounds the rail-shooter feeling and the mechanical pacing of gameplay. Enemies are programmed to always take cover in the same spot, and so begins the whack-a-mole routine as heads pop out. Enemies have no initiative. They conveniently turn blind and stupid during stealth missions, and they refuse to hunt you down even when given the opportunity. At most points in the game, you can position your character in cover, set the controller down, and walk away for a break without worry.

These concerns dissolve in Tier 1; an arcade-style mode that takes the single-player experience, amps up the difficulty, and adds a timer. Players compete for the shortest completion times by freezing the clock with headshots and melee attacks. Checkpoints and Aim Assistance are stripped away, and health regeneration slows to a crawl. Tier 1 is only available after completing corresponding chapters, but it is worth the effort. I find it ironic though, that the highlight of the single-player experience is the mode in which story matters least.

Multiplayer is the subject on everyone’s minds. With DICE helming multiplayer development and a recognizable name on the marquee, Medal of Honor harbored vast potential to strip Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 of its crown. No sane person believed that would happen of course, but a close second seemed possible. Medal of Honor’s 24-person multiplayer matches are enjoyable, but they can not compete with Call of Duty or Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

An abnormally exciting round of multiplayer.

Much like DICE’s own Battlefield 1943, Medal of Honor has three classes; Rifleman, Special Ops, and Sniper. Each class has a separate track for ranking up, which rewards you with gear to customize your loadout. The armory is surprisingly barebones. By the final rank, each class has two guns, two slightly more powerful copies, and two enemy guns. Most of your time is spent chasing basic gear. Snipers don’t even get scopes to begin with. Medal of Honor’s rewards may have the power to lure you forward, but they offer no significant, strategic differences.

There are four modes, including the deathmatch-style Team Assualt, capturing territories in Sector Control, and Combat Mission and Objective Raid, both of which require the destruction and protection of objectives. The standout features of multiplayer are the maps, which are impeccably detailed with foliage, market stands, and seemingly endless opportunities for tactical maneuvering. Ill-placed respawns are a major issue, sometimes placing you amid enemy squads, and spawn-killing has become a regrettably frequent tactic.

This is not the prestigious resuscitation of the series I had hoped for. There are valiant moments of glory that shine through the debris, although they are always burdened by mechanical gameplay and shallow characters that expect you to care without reason. Medal of Honor’s Tier 1 mode and online multiplayer are the heroes of this story, but are ultimately on a suicide mission against the current opposition.