While the Medal of Honor pedigree predates the successful Call of Duty games, in recent years the franchise has fallen on hard times, the last outing being the poorly received Medal of Honor: Airborne. As Activision did with Call of Duty, the Medal of Honor franchise has been dragged, shell-shocked, from World War II into a 21st Century combat theatre. The big question is whether or not EA’s Medal of Honor reboot is simply riding on the coat tails of Activision’s successful Call of Duty series or a worthy addition to the already saturated first-person shooter genre.
Medal of Honor follows the exploits of a Tier 1 US special operations team in place behind enemy lines within Afghanistan. It is a game of two halves, the single-player and multiplayer games coming from different developers using different game engines. The single-player game is brought to us by EA’s Los Angeles Danger Close team using a modified version of the Unreal engine. Multiplayer is provided by the obvious – and at the same time surprising – choice of the team at DICE using the same Frostbite engine from their own Battlefield games.
The first half hour of the single player game failed to engage me: a load of bearded ZZ Top lookalikes sneaking though cookie-cutter ‘Middle-Eastern‘ environments, breach-shoot-clear, breach-shoot-clear, rinse and repeat. It is only with this rather dull preamble out of the way that the game starts to reveal where it is going. Gunfire spits up dust and splinters wood, feeling more like bullet impacts and less like squibs. Whereas Call of Duty is your Michael Bay, balls-to-the-wall Hollywood-style war, Medal of Honor is more visceral and gritty. Explosions feel like explosions, throwing up soil, reducing visibility, drastically altering the battlefield environment.
The single-player campaign is short, weighing in at about six hours. There are three difficulty settings to up the ante (and increase your playing time), plus there is the unlockable Tier 1 mode, which features harder enemies and where death will send you back to the start of the level.
Tier 1 mode also uploads your time to an online leader board system, allowing for bragging rights against your mates. The single player is good, if not as memorable as the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games. Nevertheless, it serves its purpose well in setting the scene for the multiplayer game. As with the rest of the recent batch of first-person shooters, it is with the multiplayer game that they are hoping to keep your interest (to sell you more DLC).
While the Battlefield series provides a large-scale warfare experience, Call of Duty and Medal of Honor both have the same sense of scale.
The difference being that Call of Duty feels more like you are running around a Hollywood set, whereas Medal of Honor propels players into an environment that is just as much part of the combat as the combatants themselves. Walls shatter, wood splinters. Poorly aimed shots will kick up enough dust to completely obscure your target from view (or vice versa). The superb Frostbite engine provides a vivid combat environment that actually feels as if it is being blown apart around you.
The multiplayer game types don’t really offer anything that hasn’t been seen before. In the combat missions, one team must breach five positions one at a time while the other team does its best to defend against the attackers. Team assault is team deathmatch, where two teams vie for the highest body count. Sector control is a standard domination-style game where teams compete to hold the most control points. The final game mode, objective raids, tasks one team with arming explosives while the other team defends. Indecisive players can also choose the ‘any game‘ option and get thrown straight in. Seasoned players can choose the hardcore mode, which will put them in any one of the game types on hardcore settings.
There are three soldier classes available to players. Riflemen are best at medium range and are equipped with smoke grenades to provide cover. Special ops are more up-close-and-personal, equipped with fragmentation grenades and a handy RPG for when things get out of hand. The sniper obviously comes equipped with a sniper rifle and also some C4. As you rank up, more equipment is unlocked, giving players extra weapons and accessories such as additional sights, higher capacity magazines and muzzle brakes for reducing recoil.
The maps offer a variety of different terrains, from a snow-encrusted pass in the Shahikhot Mountains to the narrow alleyways of the Kandahar Marketplace. It is still early days and the obsessive players have yet to scientifically study the maps to develop an optimum killing method. Without a kill cam, it is pretty easy for campers to continuously pick off spawning players, and matches can easily end up with two teams of snipers firing at each other across the battlefield.
Medal of Honor is a solid first outing for the rebooted series. It is not as polished as the Call of Duty games; the single player is a bit short and the multiplayer could do with some more balancing. But, on the whole, the game is still a very enjoyable experience. EA is not quite there yet, but I really believe that Activision should start looking over its shoulder; Medal of Honor 2 could very well be the Call of Duty killer.