The war that broke the camel's back
Medal of Honor: Warfighter is a funny name. Yes, "Warfighter" is a term with a real-life military application, but that doesn't stop it from sounding incredibly silly. It is gratuitously macho, not to mention rather redundant. It is, however, a perfectly fitting name for one of the many annual "me too" military first-person shooters that hit the market toward the end of the year.
It is, in fact, the perfect name for Danger Close's latest offering. If Warfighter is anything, it's as gratuitous as it is redundant.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Medal of Honor: Warfighter takes the uniformity of the military FPS to its logical, strained conclusion. In both its single-player campaign and competitive online mode, it is a "Who's Who" of every overplayed stereotype the genre has to offer. Crossing off an invisible checklist of must-have features, Warfighter plays it absolutely safe, doing very little to rock the boat, but even less to capture the imagination.
First things first, the single-player mode is abysmal. For the most part, it's another common romp through the Middle East and other war-torn parts of the world, as players hide behind crates and shoot at silhouettes spawning across murky arenas of nondescript space. So linear and formulaic is each mission, it comes across less like the "EXTREME REALISM" of modern combat and more like a cheap, slow fairground ride. There is an attempt at a story, featuring characters that make no impression and a villain that appears for no other reason than to be an obligatory foreign bad guy. In short, it's a tacky and melodramatic look at military life with a script that could have been trotted out by a twelve-year-old. Just like so many others.
Worst of all, the game regularly attempts to grab for the heartstrings by introducing a wife and a daughter to one of the interchangeable protagonists -- attempts that fail partly because the writing is so corny, and mostly because the character models are horrendously creepy, clearly being designed by artists who have never had to draw females before. Yes, Danger Close, women do exist -- but they don't look like sheets of pink latex pulled taut over a chimpanzee's skeleton.
The campaign takes players on a tour through familiar and increasingly weary scenarios -- there's the boat level, the city streets, the customary shoot-out in an Arabian village, the moonlit stealth adventure, the sniping section, and the expected helicopter level. Warfighter seems content to just go through the motions with most of its campaign, copying entire scenarios from its own reboot, as well as Battlefield and Call of Duty, to create a set of missions that feel like the videogame equivalent of a TV series clip show.
In fairness, there are a few brief glimmers of originality, mostly coming from those levels where shooting isn't part of the action. A couple of car chases, one of which becomes a surprisingly effective vehicular stealth challenge, manage to offer welcome sanctuary from the rest of the story's relentless shooting gallery. They're not exactly exciting, but they're something else, and that's all that matters. Sadly, they are but brief flashes of respite among a brown sea of brown guns firing brown bullets in brown deserts.
Outside of such momentary flickers of newness, the rest of the game is a one-note song droned repeatedly from beginning to end. Every single level plays out the same way, albeit with different (yet wholly familiar) setpieces.
Boasting a cover system that barely works, the action of Warfighter gets stale within the first few minutes and never freshens up, as players pick their fragile way from chest-high wall to chest-high wall, popping off the clairvoyant -- yet nonetheless stupid -- enemies who are one scream of "Durka Durka" away from becoming Team America stereotypes. As seems to be increasingly common with games of this nature, there's no sense of pacing or tension. The stakes never feel high and the action never heats up, because nothing ever happens. For the five or six hours the campaign lasts, not once does anything actually happen in it. Bullets are fired, people fall over screaming, but ultimately nothing memorable occurs, and nothing changes from that first shot fired to that last generic terrorist killed. It is just shooting. Ducking behind boxes and shooting. Forever.
Most egregious of all is the fact that door breaching is now championed as the prime feature of the experience. Any player of military FPS games should be familiar with breaching -- you stand outside a door, kick it open, toss in a flashbang, and then pop off the startled enemies in slow-motion. Most campaigns use them once or twice in order to provide something a little different, though these days it's becoming tacky in its overuse. Naturally, Warfighter took that overuse and made a farce of it. The first hour of Warfighter has more breaching in it than entire games do, and like everything else, it's always the same bloody thing. You kick a door, and kill folks in slow motion. It was already getting old before this game even released. Danger Close has officially murdered it.
Still, if you score enough headshots in slow-motion, you can unlock the option to open the door with an axe or a crowbar instead of kicking it. Hardly feels like a reward, though, when you realize kicking the thing is quicker and gets the whole sorry display over with more efficiently.
After years of military shooters, the single-player portion of Warfighter just comes off as depressing. It's sad to play through the same old stuff I've played countless times before, and I say this as a fan of the genre. I still think there's life in the military FPS, but not the way this game does it. Not with such a lack of creative ambition and a steadfast refusal to give us even the slightest motivation to care about what's happening. Even after beating it, I still don't know why I was supposed to hate any of the villains. I know the "heroes" of the piece hated them, but I didn't like any of them much either. Nobody gave me a reason to be quite so invested. Call of Duty has its ludicrous-but-satisfying story, Battlefield has its energy and vehicle variety, but Medal of Honor has no identity. It is merely a hollow reflection of the market leaders, too timid to strike out on its own.
The multiplayer, of course, is clearly where Danger Close put all its effort, and while it does little to stand out from the ever-swelling pack, it's certainly not bad, and at least provides a more compelling competitive arena than the last Medal of Honor did.
The one thing it truly does differently is the "Fire Team" system, an admittedly inventive little idea that blends co-op gameplay with traditional competitive battles. In each match, players will be paired up to form Fire Teams, and will be responsible for providing benefits to each other. An active player will serve as a walking spawn point for his or her teammate, and can also hand out health/ammo replenishment. What's more, players will get to earn points for their partner's successes, and each team will be judged as a duo more than individuals.
The psychological effect of the Fire Team system is quite noticeable. I found myself more willing to stay out of harm's way as my partner was spawning in, allowing him to appear quicker and safer. I also regularly kept my teammate stocked up and felt vengeful when he died, despite him being a complete stranger. It's a great idea that adds a little rewarding extra level to the combat.
Outside of this new feature, you're looking at a fairly standard multiplayer affair, no matter how much it tries to obscure the fact by assaulting you with information. From the very moment you jump in (after installing the massive patch, setting up Origin, and inputting an online pass), you're introduced to a screen littered with options and pop-up info boxes. Designed to resemble a post-modern website, the lobby screen is full of tabs and windows allowing you to view your Battlelog social networking nonsense, customize your weapons, and pick your own squad of playable soldiers using six classes made up of characters from a whole host of different nations, each country carrying its own set of special equipment. There is a ton of content, but once you know where everything is, you realize it's more of the same, thrust violently down your throat in the hopes that you swallow too quickly to realize you've eaten it before.
The actual gameplay itself is similarly busy, shoving text and explosions at the player with such wanton abandon, it's initially alienating in its chaos. However, after a few rounds, the style-over-utility visual information starts to make sense, and you settle into a rather bland -- but totally serviceable -- online shooter that really could be interchanged with any other.
That's really the big problem with Medal of Honor: Warfighter -- it has no big problem. It has no great highlight, either. The Fire Team dynamic is a neat twist, but ultimately it's not enough to save the overall experience from pointlessness. Warfighter is a largely pointless game. It exists simply to be just another brown FPS, and in that endeavor it undoubtedly succeeds. As with the single-player mode, you shoot people, they fall down, but nothing really happens. You just go through the motions, doing the same stuff you've been doing for the past five years.
These games have now gotten to a point where they need to do more than expand the content. Warfighter is officially one game too many. When even Call of Duty realizes it needs to move away from the "modern warfare" setting and try new things, you know the good times are over. Sadly, Danger Close didn't get the memo, so it dutifully trotted out more of the regular fluff in an attempt to keep up with what everybody else has been doing for half a decade. Ironically, it would have been better served if it never rebooted in 2010 and stuck with World War II -- barely anybody's doing those games anymore.
It is also quite clear the studio rushed development to get out ahead of the competition, demonstrating what a soulless pissing contest these games have become. It suffers from a litany of visual and audio glitches, with cutscenes particularly afflicted by stuttering framerate, poorly compressed visuals, and horrible audio pops. In-game, there are issues with enemies spawning before the player's very eyes, bodies disappearing or freezing mid-air, and bits of scenery having epileptic fits. Important things like notes about sniper rifle bullet drop had to be patched in, and even then, they weren't patched in well. The information appears briefly, once, and then never again, even if you miss it or have to restart the section.
Not to mention, the game just doesn't look very good. Aside from a few nice lighting effects, its graphical offerings are severely unimpressive, with poor textures and dated character models that do little to make the brown, dreary art style any less dismal. This is all after installing the optional texture patch provided on the 360 disc.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter is for the kind of person who goes into a bar and asks for the usual every single night, not even vaguely curious about trying something else for a change. It's not entirely Warfighter's fault -- it didn't know that, after five years of Activision and EA releasing several military shooters a year, it would be the straw that broke the camel's back. As I said, I still like these kinds of shooters, but the core idea has stopped being compelling on its own, and new games desperately require something to identify them. Just running through the same old routine isn't working anymore.
I believe it's telling that every screenshot on this review was provided with a giant logo bearing the name's game. Even the publisher realizes how homogeneous these titles have become, that a screenshot alone is not enough to tell which one we're actually talking about.
It doesn't help that previous titles simply do what Warfighter does better. Danger Close implemented a curious little co-op flavor, but it's attached to a bog-standard shooting experience that can be better enjoyed in last year's games. The only thing this latest Medal of Honor has going for it is a noisier presentation and an avalanche of content, none of which matters when the core gameplay is so mind-numbingly dull at this point in time.
Charmless, cynical, and uninspired, Warfighter encapsulates everything wrong with the annual big budget shooter industry. It's really not an awful game, it's just insipid and shallow, a title that exists solely to exist, and squeeze whatever profit remains to be had from serving the same flavorless porridge to the same unadventurous customers. It will make its money, and keep the FPS factories in business for another year.
To anybody working on these games who have a shred of creative integrity: I hope the money is worth it.
THE VERDICT - Medal of Honor: Warfighter
Reviewed by Jim Sterling