Tier 1 operators go up against their toughest foes ever in this Medal of Honor Frankenreview: The assembled video game critics, otherwise known as the Appraising Force (ApFor).
Does Medal of Honor have what it takes to make millions of Call of Duty fans turn their heads? Can we still call them Taliban even though EA didn't stand by their bad men? Is two developers really better than one? These questions and more answered in the Medal of Honor Frankenreview. Cue Linkin Park music.
While Medal of Honor is the latest in a long and venerable franchise, it's not likely to remind you much of the older games in the series. This installment moves things up to the modern era, putting you in the boots of American soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. Though the setting may sound a bit edgy, in practice Medal of Honor offers a brief campaign with little story and a smattering of technical issues that range from annoying to decidedly disappointing. It also delivers a multiplayer component that feels like it's desperately trying to split the difference between Modern Warfare 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2. There are flashes of excitement peppered across the game's modes, but it's hard to get too excited about any of that when it's been done better elsewhere.
The single-player campaign isn't bad, but it hardly feels inspired. If you've played any of the modern-day military shooters, you've experienced most of Medal of Honor's set pieces – a helicopter-based rail shooter segment, a section where you paint targets for air support, and other levels where you and your bearded buddy sneak through camps as snipers. Medal of Honor's campaign lacks the excitement that would help it stand tall against the considerable competition. Character animations are gimpy, weapons feel slightly underpowered, and the AI is downright suicidal. This works to your advantage when enemies show a complete disregard for cover, rolling out of safety to stake out firing positions in the open.
The real purpose of the campaign isn't to provide an action packed thrill-a-minute experience, though it is but rather to open the window into the lives of the men who are on the front lines of this war, the ones who have sacrificed their lives at home in order to protect the country they love. A brothers-in-arms story takes shape though the 6-7 hour experience, as you shift story perspectives between the different characters, which all link together in some way as their paths intersect. As they interact with each other, you move from one character to the other and it makes for great pacing as there is hardly a let up in the action or story telling. The story is also broken up with a variety of things to do and accomplish, as you don't just run and gun the whole time, but rather you are rewarded with a few gems through out the game. At the end of Medal of Honor's story, I was feeling the same thing I did when I first saw Black Hawk Down, empathy.
Medal of Honor's campaign isn't a technical marvel either. Danger Close went for Unreal Engine 3 to tell the main story, and it seems ill-suited to the long draw distances and proposed detail levels, frequently diving well below the 30fps baseline and popping in textures on the console versions . . . DICE's vaunted multiplayer, however, uses the Frostbite engine from Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and looks much better throughout. There are five game modes - team deathmatch, capture-and-hold, two asymmetrical assault set-ups (one fast, one slow) and a "Hardcore" mode where expected crutches like ammo pick-ups and regenerating health are either removed completely or heavily regulated - and it's set over eight well-designed and varied maps.
Multiplayer is always a balancing act. Too many weapons and players will simply skip out on the bulk of them. Too few and players will hone in on the lack of variety. Well, there is plenty of variety to go around in multiplayer this time. After dropping into multiplayer you can either play with friends or via quickplay. You can select from several different modes other than the "Any Game" mode which drops into any active game near you. Combat Mission allows players to fight through a campaign of five objectives against insurgent fighters, Team Assault which is essentially team Deathmatch, Sector Control is a domination mode asking players to capture and hold flags for score, Objective Raid asks players to defend two objectives against insurgent saboteurs, and finally Hardcore mode which is the aforementioned Team Assault, Sector Control, and Objective Raid but with Hardcore settings enabled. This means you'll heal less, take more damage, and it'll take a far more precise shot to take down your foes.
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.
The Frankenreview deserves a medal of honor for being so sadly neglected.