Medal of Honor
Though Call of Duty has left the M1 Garand behind in favor of the M4, Medal of Honor has barely strayed from the series’ roots. Set in Afghanistan and given an injection of gore and enough bad words to earn the franchise’s first mature rating, Medal of Honor plays almost identically to its predecssors. Invisible barriers still stand in your way to make sure you don’t stray too far from the linear path, shallow squad mates push along a scattered plot and after just a few hours, the whole thing ends rather abruptly. Medal of Honor boils down to being little more than an over-the-top celebration of the American military while avoiding all the complexities of the war in Afghanistan or making substantial changes to the franchise’s legacy.
Players control several soldiers from various military branches. You aren’t introduced to the characters in any significant way. At one point, I didn’t even know the name of the soldier I had assumed the role of. While you’ll briefly take to the air in the gunner’s seat of a helicopter, most of your time will be spent in the boots of interchangable infantrymen. Though one is a Navy SEAL, playing as one of America’s most elite soldiers doesn’t feel different from playing as a grunt. You’ll see the opening salvos of the war from three different perspectives, but the story-telling only takes place in a couple of scene. When it does occur, the plot is hardly intriguing.
In terms of presentation, there are few games that can top what Medal of Honor brings to the table. This is an absolutely gorgeous game. Everything from the environments that you’ll traverse to the weapons you’ll have at your disposal are beautifully rendered and an extremely clean HUD really lends to immersion. Minor details are really what make the difference: blue skies reflect off your weapon’s scope, trees peppered with bullets fall to the ground, enemy limbs tear away from shotgun blasts. These elements, combined with excellent sound effects, give Medal of Honor one of the most impressive presentations that the franchise has seen to date.
Despite this great look and feel, the game is bogged down by legacy issues that have hindered the franchise for years. Medal of Honor is still a largely on-rails experience, with players corralled along one path. You’ll trigger a scripted event that leads to the next path and the next scripted event. You’ll still encounter some object you should very easily be able to climb only to find that you’re blocked by an invisible wall.
The Taliban also isn’t a very smart enemy, taking some of the satisfaction out of taking them down. They come in essentially two varieties, the bulk of which carry small arms while others are armed with RPGs. Neither are very bright and for the most part, they simply pop up and down until you take them out. At one point, a glitch caused my AI-controlled companion to stop fighting and I was still able to take down about 30 or so of them by myself without too much effort. The Taliban only present a real challenge when the game throws seemingly endless waves of them at you, but when that happens, you usually just retreat.
I also couldn’t help but pause a few times while playing to think about what was going on in the game. Medal of Honor is the first title in the franchise that actually depicts an occuring war and that left me with mixed emotions. The game does an adequate job of recreating the setting, though having not been to Afghanistan my perception of what it is like only comes from film, television and fiction. As a soldier in the game, you’ll never have to deal with the messier aspects that have become real-life problems, such as distinguishing civilians from enemies. You’ll blow up entire towns, but never encounter a single non-combatant. With Modern Warfare 2 boldly tackling civilian casualties, it’s a glaring omission in Medal of Honor. That said, showing US soldiers accidently killing a civilian would present the military in a bad light, which is something this series in particular would never do considering the game closes with several paragraphs commending the military’s awesomeness.
Medal of Honor’s multiplayer component is where players are left after completing the disappointingly short campaign (less than six hours from start to military love letter). The multiplayer mode plays like a fusion of Battlefield and Modern Warfare, picking up the engine and capturing the general feel, weapons and design of the former with the speed of latter. I’ve long appreciated DICE’s warzones, though I have to say, this is one of their weaker efforts. A few maps were a blast, but several of them just weren’t that interesting. That said, coming from a Battlefield background, I found the multiplayer to be an enjoyable holdover until Battlefield: Bad Company 3 comes out.
As a comeback for the Medal of Honor franchise, this entry stumbles. The single player campaign is hit-or-miss, a brief foray into the Afghan campaign that fails to keep a steady pace. Enemy AI is weak and the game’s limited story-telling keeps players from developing a meaningful relationship with any of the characters. A decent multiplayer component gives the score a boost, but for the most part, Medal of Honor is held back by the developer’s unwillingness to take risks with the franchise.