Also available on: Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Danger Close, EA DICE
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: First-person shooter
Medal Of Honour is back, but this time the World War II backdrop has been ditched in favour of the contentious setting of modern day Afghanistan. There are times when the single-player campaign really clicks and revives the old Medal Of Honour magic, but there are equal moments when things just feel rather confused. The story is haphazard and the game suffers from numerous design flaws, while the multiplayer doesn't have quite enough in the locker to beat main rivals Modern Warfare 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Despite its faults, Medal of Honour is still an enjoyable, immersive and gritty first-person shooter; it's just not quite the triumphant return that we'd all hoped for.
The story focuses on a notoriously tough battle in the early stages of the Afghanistan war, when the US ground forces assaulted the treacherous Shah-i-Kot Valley. In the prologue and two acts, the player becomes two elite Tier One Operators, a US Army Ranger and, for a single mission, an Apache gunship pilot. During the short but largely enjoyable campaign you'll be driving dirt bikes in the dead of night, sniping Taliban warriors from miles away, pounding rockets into villages from a helicopter gunship, targeting airstrikes with a laser guider and killing a hell of a lot of mujahedeen fighters. At times, the scale is incredible and the fire-fights intense, but all too often the game trips up on simple errors.
The weapons all feel authentic and impactful, while initial fears about the poor hit detection in early builds of the game are thankfully unfounded. There are some quality design touches, such as a double-button-tap to whip out the pistol or the ability to request ammo from colleagues. There are also moments when Medal Of Honour's lineage can be seen, such as flanking heavy gun posts by heading down side tunnels. However, many of the fire-fights feel like turkey shoots, with opposing forces robotically running out to be slaughtered. The most enjoyable missions are the Tier One infiltrations, sneaking behind enemy lines to take enemies out silently, before escaping without a trace - in a similar fashion to Modern Warfare's classic 'All Ghillied Up' level. These moments, though, are simply not frequent enough.
Medal of Honour is at times a stunning looking game. There are some of those golden gaming moments where the player walks out to a simply jaw dropping scene that they would never encounter in real life. Snow-capped mountains, ramshackle villages and dusty open plains are all well recreated, and there is a surprisingly varied range of territories to wage war on. The terrain itself poses dynamic challenges, such as dust clouds covering the line of sight to enemy positions. The sound effects are also impressive, from the echoing judder of machine gunfire to the creaking of scrapped jet fighters in the desert wind. A real success is the talk between the soldiers, which feels immersive and real. It's great to hear AI colleagues dynamically spotting that you are out of cover and ordering you to get back in.
However, the overall presentation is tarnished by some alarmingly frequent bugs, including heavy frame rate drops during the more frantic battles. There are other moments when the levels crash entirely, requiring the player to restart from the last checkpoint. This amount of design flaws is simply unacceptable for a next generation shooter. The main campaign feels a few missions short, but the strong moments are definitely worth replaying. There is also a Tier One mode that strips out the checkpoints, toughens the enemies, and runs proceedings against the clock. High scores can be shared with the online community on global leaderboards for an extra layer of replayability.
Despite initial criticism of the game's chosen setting, waging war in Afghanistan is not as jarring as first feared. Danger Close wisely focused on a specific battle in the war, but unfortunately failed to tackle the complex issues around it with any real conviction. A series of cut scenes in a communications centre attempts to deal with the problems caused by impossible expectations from generals, weak communication and botched mission objectives, but it all comes across as a touch confusing. The characters lack much depth beyond the usual military stereotypes and the Hollywood action moments serve to cheapen the campaign's impact. It would have been better if Danger Close had pitched the game as a critique of the organisational failures in the war to create a genuinely engaging commentary rather than a wishy-washy soldier's story.
Unfortunately, the game's multiplayer delivers a similarly mixed bag of good and bad points. The mode is handled by EA DICE using its own Frostbite 2.0 engine, which powered online shooter hit Bad Company 2. All the game's modes - including team deathmatch, capture the flag and two objective modes - involve players becoming either the Coalition or the Opposing Force (renamed from the Taliban due to criticism from serving personnel). Upon entering the game for the first time, there is a momentously steep learning curve, meaning most players will die frequently before getting used to the fast-paced combat. Compared to Modern Warfare, the multiplayer fighting is more stripped, with players needing to fully understand the nuances of each weapon and how to use them in the environment. Simply spraying gunfire without due intelligence or caution is certainly a quick route to death in Medal Of Honour.
Some of the maps are really strong, such as the Kandahar Marketplace and the Kabul City Ruins, but others have less impact. Often players are just funnelled into a big clash in the middle of the maps, while the lack of Bad Company-style environmental destruction is a bit of letdown considering the Frostbite engine is being used. Other problems occur - the support actions earned from kill streaks are a touch underwhelming and the rewards gained from ranking up classes rather lag behind Medal Of Honour's competitors. Still, players wanting stripped back, tactical and fast-paced combat that falls between Bad Company 2's open destruction and Modern Warfare's heavy blasting may well find a home in Medal Of Honour.
Overall, Medal Of Honour promised a lot, but ultimately failed to fully deliver. The single-player campaign has some genuinely majestic moments and the visual presentation is occasionally jaw-dropping. However, the story falls short of dealing with the complexities of the Afghanistan war and the frequent design flaws rob the campaign of its immersion. The PS3 version contains a remastered version of the classic Medal Of Honour: Frontline, with the still quality game rather bringing the new Medal Of Honour's faults into focus. The online multiplayer provides an equally mixed bag - the stripped back combat will click with some players, but it overall lacks the magic of its rivals. Medal Of Honour's biggest battle will not be in the hills of Afghanistan but in the Christmas sales market as it goes up against the goliath Call Of Duty: Black Ops. Unfortunately, it appears as though that is a battle the game has already lost.
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