Rather than fabricate a modern war, developer Danger Close has decided to feature an ongoing conflict: the war in Afghanistan. As the game opens, sound bytes featuring the tragic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, cycle through the speakers. As the camera pans and zooms over the globe, it freezes on the Middle East. In the new Medal of Honor you will square off against ruthless Taliban forces, holed up in the Afghan region.
Although the single-player campaign attempts to show the true nature of this war by featuring a realistic representation of those in the service, the game is only somewhat effective. As a generality, Medal of Honor does a good job of showing reverence to those who currently fight, have fought, and have fallen in combat. Medal of Honor is a love-letter to those brave men and women. Where it falls short is in getting the player to care about the characters they will control. The story paints soldiers with a single broad stroke--really giving zero time to develop its core cast--that you don't care anymore for the soldiers with a name floating over their heads than those spotted throughout the game's pre-rendered cutscenes.
While this lack of character focus hurts the game's story, it also puts bullet-holes in Medal of Honor's gameplay. While you play as multiple characters, including a much talked about "Tier 1" operator, gameplay is pretty much the same throughout. Certain characters are given certain weapons and objectives when they are pushed into the spotlight, but the only thing that really separates them are the A.I. controlled allies by their side. In fact, on more than one occasion I was only reminded which character I was in control of based solely on his company. If you thought playing as a Tier 1 operator would mean Medal of Honor would take bold steps in story or gameplay, you'll be disappointed. They aren't in the game what I suspect they are in real-life: terrifying, ghost-like enemies of opposition forces. In Medal of Honor, they're little more than a skin with a set of keys to a military ATV.
The game also suffers, somewhat, from its location. Because it's based in one region, the environments never drastically change. You'll jump from dirt covered locations in the first half of the game and progress to similar looking snow covered ones later but it always feels familiar. Of course, this stands to reason as a realistic representation of the landscape for the real war the game is based on; however, it doesn't make it terribly interesting to experience as a video game when competing titles have so much variety.
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Medal of Honor suffers from numerous technical quirks (Note: I only played the retail version on the PS3). Textures have a tendency to pop into place seconds after loading a level is complete or during in-engine cutscenes. Animation is fantastic; however, the characters themselves don't show the same level of polish as EA's other military shooter franchise. Then there are just strange errors: In one level I was tasked with sneaking past a enemy-occupied bridge with a computer ally. Although my partner told me stealth was the only way to ensure survival in this area, he would constantly walk out in front of me during a key, scripted sequence and engage the enemy. The only way to stop this cycle was the restart the mission. Nothing appeared to change but he eventually stopped firing on the group of adversaries. There's a general lack of polish throughout the entire experience.
As a single-player experience, Medal of Honor has some intense set-piece moments, including an outstanding sequence where a squad of soldiers attempt to survive an ambush with very little ammunition. Gameplay does try to "change it up" every so often by giving players control of some of the stronger muscles in the American military's arm, like the "now-ubiquitous" AC-130 sequence. The game also features an outstanding on-rails helicopter mission, giving players the chance to devastate enemy forces from the sky. There is also a single-player, online mode called "Tier 1 Mode." Here players can replay single-player levels attempting to best competition "par" times. It's a solid addition that gives players a reason to replay the game. Gameplay throughout the experience, although lacking variety in location, provides 6 to 9 hours (depending on skill) of fantastic combat. However, the game's story lacks development for its specific characters. As a general tale for all soldiers the ending works well, but Medal of Honor doesn't earn the emotion it expects from players for the story it tells with these particular soldiers.
Although my online experience suffered from pre-launch server issues, I was able to put a few hours into Medal of Honor's multiplayer component. Developed separately at DICE, of Battlefield fame, the game's multiplayer is a more fast-paced experience than DICE's previous title, Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Sadly, Medal of Honor's online component isn't as well executed as DICE's last effort. There are three classes, each maxing out at level 15: rifleman, special operations, and sniper. Progression is tied to each class, unlocking a limited set of accessories and weapons at a relatively slow pace. There are a multitude of maps available for various modes, including a team deathmatch variant, multiple attack and defend modes, a domination (or "King of the Hill") mode and a multitiered objective mode called "Combat Mission."
What Medal of Honor executes better than other military shooters is give players in-game reward bonuses, like calling in missile or mortar strikes, based on skill rather than a predetermined number of kills. Instead of rewarding players after three kills with a special ability, the bonuses are based on how many points are collected. Kills gain players 10 points; however, based on the situation (like getting revenge for previous kills, saving an ally, defending an objective) you can earn more. The first bonuses appear after stringing together 50 points. These streak bonuses are also more strategic. Rather than have a set streak in place, players can choose to utilize their bonus as either an offensive or defensive reward. Call in a mortar strike to net yourself more points or scan the area for enemy placement, sharing the updated map with your team. It's so much better and more rewarding.
While multiplayer will be the draw here, the overall Medal of Honor reboot experience still lacks the quality found in competing titles, including EA's own Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Although it will capture the audience looking for the latest shooter on the market, Medal of Honor falls short of being the game that can compete with Activision's premiere franchise. However, as a reboot to an important franchise in EA's catalog, Danger Close has done a great job with this first effort. It may not be perfect, but Medal of Honor has helped rekindle, in some small part, our dream of being the heroes that risk their lives for freedom.
This review is based only on a retail version on of Medal of Honor on the PlaySation 3, provided by EA. The PC and Xbox 360 versions were not provided for the purposes of this review.