The flashlights look pretty good.
As I went through my notes searching for something positive I'd written about Medal of Honor Warfighter, that line stuck out to me. "The flashlights look pretty good."
They do look pretty good. Whatever lighting magic Electronic Arts has handed around to its subsidiary studios is nifty and authentic-looking. Often, when a guy shines his flashlight at you, you'll think, "Wow, that really looks like a guy with a flashlight!" before shooting him.
If only the rest of the game measured up.
The questionably-named Medal of Honor Warfighter is a first-person military shooter developed by Danger Close and published by EA. The Medal of Honor series has become, in most every respect, a flagrant imitation of Activision's much ballyhooed Call of Duty series. You play the game from the first-person perspective. You hold a machine gun and shoot bad guys, almost exclusively foreigners. That's about all there is to it.
The video game industry perpetuates a number of tiresome trends, but none is more remarked-upon than the reign of the realistic military shooter. Ever since 2007's (quite good) Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the world of video gaming has seen shooter after shooter after shooter after shooter, all set in modern times, all dedicated to the deft recreation of the latest in man-killing machinery. Given the earth-shattering financial success these types of games find, casual observers could be forgiven for assuming that all gamers prefer to view the world through a reflex sight down the barrel of a gun. "Don't be silly young man," the old woman replied. "It's reflex sights all the way down!"
Medal of Honor Warfighter has the dubious distinction of being the Ultimate Brown Military Shooter Of All Time. It's so brazenly unremarkable, its storytelling so amateurish, its action so rote, that it feels like a master class in middling modern warfare. Put another way: I've been playing the game for hour upon hour and the nicest thing I can say about it is that the flashlights look pretty good.
Well, that's not entirely true. There are exactly two non-flashlight things I enjoyed about Warfighter's single-player campaign. First, the fact that you can lean. This makes it possible not only to take cover while engaged in a firefight, but to use it. This is wonderful! As I plodded my way through the repetitive shooting galleries that Warfighter calls "firefights," I came to greatly value the fact that I could run up to a corner and peek around it. I would run up to the corner, lean out, shoot some guys, lean back, and reload. And then lean out, shoot some guys, lean back, and reload. It didn't exactly make the game fun, but it was a welcome change from the disorienting "run entirely out of cover, shoot, run back, reload" rhythm of Call of Duty.
WHY: Medal of Honor Warfighter is slipshod, uninspired, unpolished, and unfun.
Medal of Honor Warfighter
Developer: Danger Close
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC (Reviewed)
Release Date: October 23
Type of game: Military first-person shooter, ostensibly based on the real-life exploits of a team of Army special forces operators.
What I played: Completed the single-player campaign in about six hours, played an hour or two of various multiplayer modes.
My Two Favorite Things
- A mid-game stealth/driving mission that's interesting, at least.
- The flashlights don't look half bad.
My Two Least-Favorite Things
- The often hilariously dimwitted enemy AI.
- Several sections that are far too easy to fail, forcing you to restart at a distant checkpoint.
Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes
- "I like beards as much as the next guy, but this is ridiculous."
-Kirk Hamilton, Kotaku.com
- "For a bunch of special forces badasses, these guys sure can't shoot. Maybe it's the beards, somehow."
-Kirk Hamilton, Kotaku.com
- "There will be other opportunities to get into the Battlefield 4 beta, folks."
-Kirk Hamilton, Kotaku.com
Warfighter also features some pretty good driving. Wait, driving? Yes, driving! At a couple points in the game, you'll wind up behind the wheel of a vehicle, tasked with putting the pedal to the medal (so to speak) and following a prescribed route until a scripted event happens. The two car-driving missions are well put-together (the studio behind Need for Speed helped craft them), and while they don't fit with the rest of the running and shooting, they're so much better-constructed that I didn't really care.
During one of those levels, you're suddenly—and I'm not making this up—put straight into a car-stealth sequence and given a glowing mini-map that shows patrolling enemies' lines of sight. You then have to escape a locked-down neighborhood by stealthing your car through the streets. It's cool! The part of your brain reserved for new experiences suddenly wakes up, stretches out, and blinks: "What day is it?"
Maybe Warfighter should have been a driving game. Medal of Honor: Wardriver.
It would have been better than the rest of what's on offer in Warfighter. The story is a hodgepodge of unconnected ideas that leap and bound with next to no narrative glue tying them together. It's not for lack of trying—the game's writers have made every attempt to weave together some sort of vaguely emotional post-Clancy techno thriller, but by the time the last level rolled around I literally had no idea where I was, what was going on, or indeed, who I was controlling. Every character is a gruff white dude with either A) a beard or B) no beard. They have nicknames like "Stump" and "Voodoo" and "Tick" and there is no way to tell them apart. One guy wears a hat, but he doesn't turn up until the last level.
This may be a reality of the armed forces—at least, while watching HBO's adaptation of Generation Kill, I spent the first four or so episodes unable to tell all the young white guys with short hair apart. But while it may be realistic, it's not good writing—there's a reason that war movies default to clichés like The Rap-Loving Black Guy and The Big-Talking Texan. There's a reason Call of Duty's Gaz and Captain Price wear distinctive accessories. In the heat of the moment, you need to write in big letters for players to be able to read anything at all.
Anyway, the story. I wouldn't make such a big deal out of the story, but EA has marketed the story and its authenticity to an exhausting degree, and so that story demands scrutiny. Here it is: There are some guys. And they have some weapons. And you play as some other guys, who seem to do a lot of intelligence-gathering, considering that they're not CIA operatives. Or maybe they're working with the CIA? Anyway, they/you have to stop the weapons. So you visit the usual array of first-person shooter locales and shoot a lot of dudes. You'll shoot dudes in a desert, you'll shoot dudes on a boat. You'll shoot dudes in a castle, and you'll shoot dudes in a cave. Oh, the places you'll shoot dudes!