Based on real battles fought in Afghanistan in 2002, Medal of Honor has you taking on the role of rangers and other Tier 1 operators as they fight their way through enemy territory on the hunt for Taliban encampments.
This Medal of Honor is very different than anything seen in the more than ten-year-old series. While the biggest change is the game's setting, pushing the action from World War II to a much more provocative contemporary Afghanistan, the tone and nature of the gameplay has changed almost as dramatically. This time around character-driven narrative takes a backseat to high-action gun fights, and fast-paced interdictions.
Long-time fans of the Medal of Honor games and those interested to see what happens when the developers behind Battlefield Bad: Company lend a hand in a reboot of the Medal of Honor series. Fans of military first-person shooters set in modern times looking for another take on a game like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
Why You Should Care
The Medal of Honor series kicked off, with the help of Steven Spielberg, back in 1999, delivering a half-dozen solid shooters based around the battles of World War II before it started to lose ground to its competitors. By 2007's Medal of Honor: Airborne, the series seemed to have lost its way. This modern-day reboot could be Medal of Honor's last chance at reclaiming some of it's former glory. It's also one of very few games lining up to directly take on Call of Duty.
How does Medal of Honor compare to the Call of Duty games? Very well. I loved the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, but felt the second Modern Warfare didn't quite live up to expectations. Medal of Honor falls somewhere between those two. I was surprised to find just how quickly I made my way through the game's campaign, wrapping it up in a tidy five hours or so. But in retrospect I realized that there wasn't a scene I would cut, a level that annoyed me, or any backtracking to speak of. This is a fat-free experience. It's pure engagement packed with spikes of cleverly crafted crescendos.
Putting the Taliban in the game, especially in the multiplayer, was a controversial decision, did it add anything to the experience? The Taliban are the game's ever-present bad guys, nothing more than the game's threat. When Medal of Honor kicks off there's a moment when you think the story is going to drop deep into the mire of 9/11 and the wars it spurred, but that moment ends before the cinematic does.
The game's use of authentic audio, particularly in the Apache helicopter level of Medal of Honor, received a lot of attention. How important is it in the overall game? Medal of Honor has some of the best audio I've experienced in a game. The constant chatter over your headset sets a subtle tone of military efficiency sometimes weighed down by rules and regulations - a tone that heightens the game's tension. The sounds of combat, made authentic with the retort of actual gunfire, vary depending on the acoustics of where you're standing when you pull the trigger.
This looks like a typical first-person shooter, was there anything that was surprising? The game's graphics are unusual. The developers offset the bright blues of the skies above Afghan mountains with flat, washed-out colors that capture the heat and texture of the ground. The maps are layered with smoke, swirling trash and destructible debris. The sharp contrast between dark rooms and desert sky can make you miss waiting enemies. Beams of light shoot through the holes left by recent sniper fire.
Was there anything that was disappointing? The biggest problem I ran into was that the game's scripting, the hidden cues that tell the digital characters when to say their lines, couldn't always keep up with my actions. There were moments when I'd run ahead and clear an area only to hear my sidekick walk up seconds later to warn me of the dangers that now lay dead on the ground.
Two different teams made single-player and multiplayer. Who did better? Danger Close's single player campaign is the better crafted of the two, but it's also the one you'll spend the least amount of time playing. While you can replay the campaign maps in the much harder Tier 1 mode, there's no way to play them with a buddy. Online, the game is a bit harder to master. Once you do it's a satisfying experience. But with just three upgradeable classes, four modes of gameplay and eight maps, Medal of Honor doesn't offer the same assortment of choices as its competitors. Each class has to be leveled up independently, and the game is stingy with the weapons and accessories it divvies out when you hit a new level. While I've enjoyed the game thoroughly online, fans of more robust online shooter offerings, may grow bored of the comparably small selection.
Does this game prove that the Medal of Honor series was worth reviving? Absolutely. Shifting the game from the thread-worn settings of World War II to a fictionalized account of real battles that took place in Afghanistan seems to have given the developers a second wind and gamers a reason to keep an eye on the series again.
Medal of Honor In Action
This video contains no story spoilers, but a glimpse at a lot of settings and gameplay elements.
The Bottom Line
Medal of Honor's campaign is a short, though taut experience with engaging level design, deft pacing and surprising audio and visual touches. Online, the game maintains most of what makes the campaign sing, but doesn't quite deliver the number of options modern day shooter fans may expect. Despite the hoopla over modern settings and the inclusion of enemy Taliban, there are no deep messages in Medal of Honor beyond one of the effectiveness of the U.S. military in the Middle East.
Medal of Honor was developed by Danger Close and DICE and published by Electronic Arts on Oct. 12 in North America. Retails for $59.99. A copy was given to us by the publisher for review purposes. Played through the campaign on a retail copy in Normal mode, replayed through many of the levels on Tier 1 mode. Played multiple matches of multiplayer, testing out all modes and sniping many heads.