World War II just isn't cool anymore. Thanks to market saturation and the immense popularity of Activision's Modern Warfare titles, there was no way that Electronic Arts could have gotten away with putting out another run-of-the-mill title where you pick up a Springfield and shoot Nazis in the face.
So it is that Medal of Honor has, perhaps somewhat shamelessly, followed in the footsteps of Modern Warfare and dragged itself, kicking and screaming, into the present day. Trading the Springfields for PKMs and the Nazis for them thar brown people, Medal of Honor goes even further than Call of Duty in providing an authentic modern warfare experience.
Here's the only real problem ... authentic modern warfare isn't all that great, and that's why we play videogames.
Medal of Honor (Xbox 360 [Reviewed], PlayStation 3, PC)
Developer: Danger Close, DICE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: October 12, 2010
Rather than simply conjuring up a fictional terrorist threat in an undisclosed middle eastern country, Medal of Honor pulls no punches with its Afghanistan setting. The Taliban are the enemy, the US Marines are the good guys, and that's all there is to it.
Medal of Honor's single-player campaign attempts to tell a story, but it doesn't lay the narrative on too thick and you'll be easily forgiven for not knowing who any of the characters are by the end of the title. There aren't really any bad guys apart from the generic Taliban forces, and there isn't really any reason for what you're doing, apart from the obvious fact that you're in a war. Which I guess is the only reason that real soldiers have.
This, however, is Medal of Honor's biggest issue. It does a remarkable job of recreating an authentic war experience, coming much closer to emulating popular FOX News Iraq footage than the Modern Warfare series has managed. Unfortunately, what is Medal of Honor's biggest achievement is also its biggest drawback. Real war isn't very entertaining from a game perspective. It's slow paced, it's disaffecting, and it's rather ponderous. Terrifying for a real soldier, absolutely, but somewhat boring for a gamer.
Medal of Honor trades out Call of Duty's over-the-top combat situations and absurd storyline for a methodical, grounded, situation-driven (rather than story-driven) approach. There are certainly some explosions and epic battles, but even when the intensity is raised, the game still feels rather muted and even alienating. This isn't helped by the fact that the game regularly halts the action in order to make you spot and mark targets, or engage in long, slow, thermal sniping sections.
Arguably the campaign's biggest failings are the moments that attempt to be emotional and memorable, but simply come off as cloying. Putting some slow string music as your squad is overwhelmed seems a meaningless gesture when you've been given no reason to feel anything for any of the squadmates. The supporting characters don't sport any personality and spend most of their time saying "Hooah," so it comes across as cynical whenever the game tries to artificially stimulate a reaction from the player, especially during the incredibly mawkish ending which feels increasingly more awkward as it lays on the military tonguebathing.
This isn't to say that Medal of Honor isn't a decent game. The shooting is very tight and competent, and the gameplay is surprisingly varied, with the dirtbike and helicopter sections standing out. Several of the stealthier missions are also quite immersive and engaging, far moreso than the action-heavy sequences. The guns all have a nice kick to them and each one feels different, not to mention satisfying. Ammo is never an issue either, as you can always request some from squadmates. It seems a little touch, but it makes all the difference to the gameplay and means you can concentrate on fighting, rather than looking around for ammo boxes.
The campaign is short, taking anywhere between four and six hours to beat depending on how efficient you are, and while there are difficulty levels and a "Tier 1" challenge mode, there isn't much to return for. If you're buying this game for the single-player, prepare for disappointment.
Fortunately, of course, the main focus is the multiplayer mode, and it has to be said that the action is kicked up a gear. However, the campaign's methodical approach has been traded for straight chaos, and not always the good kind. With twenty-four players on big open maps, it becomes a meat grinder the likes of which not even Call of Duty has managed. The "spawn kill die spawn kill die spawn kill die" mentality that Call of Duty perfected has been taken to an exaggerated effect in Medal of Honor, with death coming from all angles, and usually from someone you never knew was there.
Players can choose one of three classes, the standard Rifleman, the close-combat Special Ops and the long-ranged Sniper. As players earn progression points and level up, they earn new weapons and attachments for each class. It's a lighter system than Call of Duty's, but it does the job and will provide just enough depth for those looking to really get into the game.
Unfortunately, Medal of Honor just doesn't have the staying power of its rivals. Its gametypes are all fairly standard, and with such open, chaotic maps the novelty is likely to wear off rather quickly for most players who are used to more robust experiences.
I hate to say it, but Medal of Honor's multiplayer mode really does just feel like a lighter, less engaging Modern Warfare. It's enjoyable enough, and certainly has its fun moments, but it just doesn't have anything special or unique. It has the killstreaks, the fast pace, and the progression system of Call of Duty, with none of the soul. It feels like a game that was made for the sole purpose of attempting to be better than Call of Duty, and that transparency has led to a game that doesn't feel as good by a long shot.
Medal of Honor is a solid title. It satisfies and it provides a decent bit of fun, but the best you can say is that it's okay. It's not a great example of the FPS genre, it has nothing to say, and there's really not a lot of meat on its bones when you get down to the nitty gritty. If you really, really love war games and you literally cannot wait for a few weeks until Call of Duty: Black Ops is out, then this game will at least swallow a weekend for you.
More discerning players, however, might want to just wait. Medal of Honor isn't bad at all, but it simply doesn't do anything that hasn't been done better, except for create a realistic and immersive war situation
Realistic and immersive war situations, however, don't make for great gameplay.
Score: 6.5 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)