Here we are then, at long last, a direct competitor to the Call Of Duty franchise has stepped up to challenge the AAA titan at its own game, to put its own slant on modern warfare and battle for Winter release period supremacy. After several misplaced steps by the series and a few years developing a new approach, Medal Of Honor is back and raring for the chance to take the crown from Activision’s FPS golden boy. But does it succeed?
Quite simply: yes. Yes it does.
Weaving a simple yet well told narrative set in the modern day war zone of Afghanistan, Medal Of Honor’s greatest quality is, rather surprisingly, its restraint and its subtlety. Whereas Modern Warfare jumps the shark so frequently that many of its set pieces feel comparatively stunted or simply ridiculous, MOH grounds everything with a sense of naturalism so that when the big moments come they pack one hell of a punch. For example: in one level area the title has you take out a group of terrorists in a single round of exceptionally stylish slow motion action, escape a falling building and kick a man booby trapped with explosives out a window. Nothing in that list is out of the realms of possibility, it’s completely reasonable to assume a sequence like that could happen in real life, yet it’s exciting, tense, high drama stuff like this that keeps the player hooked from explosive start to bitter sweet end.
You won’t be mowing down civilians in airports (indeed MOH never approaches near that level of controversy) but the range of activities you will be doing more than makes up for the more grandiose elements of COD. Laying down supporting gun fire from an Apache copter, clearing caves of insurgents, stealthing like a ninja through a populated enemy camp, quad biking through mountainous terrain, ordering surgical strikes, picking off the bad guys with sniper fire from over a thousand feet, all this and much much more is waiting for you in Medal Of Honor’s single player campaign, all of it impeccably executed, all of it equal parts terrifying, engaging and beautiful.
Staying on this purely mechanical side of things for a moment, EA’s Danger Close studio needs to be commended for what they’ve done with the Unreal Engine 3 tech at the heart of the single player experience. They’ve really made the UE3 sing; textures are detailed to the Nth degree, the frame rate ticks along nicely and the colour palette they’ve teased from it is vivid and varied. In short, it’s beautiful, perhaps the best looking game of the year. It handles beautifully too, controls are responsive but not twitchy, aim assist is present but seamlessly integrated – again, subtlety is key. On a technical level though, it’s the sound that impresses most, from ear drum shattering detonations to just the faintest whispers of Taliban fighters and everything in between, Medal Of Honor paints a picture of current combat with audio, one that’s rich in level and tone.
But now that the bases are covered, let’s talk about the really interesting stuff: subtext and emotion. Medal Of Honor is compelling, play-it-through-in-one-play-session compelling and you’ll be rooting for your squad members to come out on top within just a couple of hours of play. Downplaying any tendencies for games about heroes to ham up the acting or over play lines of dialogue, your team mates speak when spoken to, are professional, to the point, immensely helpful in battle situations and consequently the game teaches you to rely on them. Investment in character is a natural side effect of this and towards the game’s devastating ending it’s hard not to feel the unspoken camaraderie between these brothers in arms.
Many people will also be going into this expecting a highly challenging and bluntly controversial work, due to its setting in a country still ravaged by combat. Strangely enough, MOH doesn’t make any particularly outlandish comments on the war; there is us and there is them, there is West and there is East, but again it’s not over the top. The Taliban are clearly the enemy but they aren’t portrayed as ‘evil’ as such, similarly the Tier 1 Operators are capable of some pretty nasty acts themselves. If there is a clear rivalry, it’s between the self and the larger group and the question of who’s more competent to make an executive decision. Is it the more gung-ho man on the ground, or is it The Pentagon a thousand miles away? Again though, the game never makes a definitive statement, which is a refreshing and very welcome surprise.
Where Call Of Duty excels of course is in its multiplayer and Medal Of Honor brings some real heat on this front too. Developed by DICE, your average game feels like a more thoughtful Modern Warfare match or a faster, smaller and more streamlined Battlefield. There is tons to unlock here such as extra weapon attachments to provide a different angle to play and there are plenty of satisfying ‘dings’ to feel that sense of accomplishment MW does so well. Whether it will hold traction in the coming months is of course down to the community that surrounds it, but everything is present and correct to facilitate this happening.
Buy MOH new and you’ll be getting an exceptional single player of about 8 hours, great multiplayer with an online pass granting you access to a load of new maps and if you pick up the PS3 version, you’ll even be getting an HD remake of Medal Of Honor: Frontline – one of the most important FPS’ of the 128 bit era – rejigged with better visuals, a revised controller layout and an entire set of new trophies. If you ever needed proof that games can be tremendous value for money then, Medal Of Honor is absolutely it.
This franchise needed a reboot and a reboot it got, creating one of this year’s best FPS titles… scratch that… one of this year’s best titles in the process. A confident and accomplished thrill ride of a game, Black Ops will need to be incredibly special to come anywhere close to this brilliant return to form for EA.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: PlayStation 3 (Xbox 360, PC) Release Date: 14/10/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Medal Of Honor for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of 4 days on a PlayStation 3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.