Of all the various factors considered when reviewing a game, "why" is seldom touched upon.
It's fairly obvious why Bungie made Halo. Ditto for Polyphony's Gran Turismo. And I'm fairly sure that any interviewer asking Rockstar why Grand Theft Auto IV was made would be swiftly ejected from their up-scale, elaborately decorated corporate office in New York.
It's inescapably necessary to ask why the Medal of Honor franchise has been rebooted. Even sidestepping the questionable logic involved in further fragmenting gaming communities, why release a title that outwardly appears virtually identical to every other recent take on modern combat?
Presumably, at some point, developers Danger Close realised that the traditional WWII setting wouldn't cut it, and decided to roll forward to the current Afghan conflict, despite the presence of more than enough competition in this sphere already. We have Modern Warfare 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Shortly we'll have Call of Duty: Black Ops, followed by Battlefield 3. When you've seen one dusty shantytown full of insurgents, you've seen them all.
Differentiation, therefore, is the key. Medal of Honor stakes a claim to authenticity, realism, and the accurate portrayal of elite soldiers in challenging situations. The singleplayer campaign can be blasted through in five or six hours, and features a number of different combat scenarios presented from the perspective of varying squads. You'll have night missions to infiltrate towns, elaborately constructed rescue operations, sniper assignments, and even a memorable turn controlling an Apache's airborne arsenal.
Weapon load-outs are always applicable for the operation you're tasked with, and vary from the chirpy M14-EBR, to the dependable M4A1, along with various sniper weapons and side arms. Your fallen foe will drop enough AK-47s to supply a small military coup, but as they're almost always worse than the weapon you started the level with, there's no point in picking them up. Particularly as your teammates typically have an inexhaustible supply of ammunition and will gladly share it with you when asked, even if that involves handing over a thousand rounds in the blink of an eye halfway up a mountain during a blizzard.
Assuming the role of a pack mule is, sadly, about all your team is good for. As you'll need to perform most of the tasks and take out the vast majority of visible combatants, Medal of Honor rarely feels like a squad-based experience. Two game-breaking bugs encountered during the first play through were more than irritating; both occurred when squad members failed to trigger a particular cut-scene, resulting in the need to roll back to the beginning of the chapter.
Sadly, the enemy AI isn't any better. If the real Taliban consider their primary military strategy to be "running towards the enemy", it's little wonder they've failed to achieve the kind of military supremacy enjoyed by Western powers in recent years. On occasion you'll see a glimpse of strategy - a hand clutching an automatic weapon blind-firing from behind a rock, for example. And in one memorable moment, a suicide attack on a desert compound you're defending as it's shot out from under you. But for the most part, the AI are content to exist as crosshair filler; little more than wandering peasants waiting for a bullet. You really have to question if this is a representation of Afghanistan that the locals would approve of, or indeed, a representation with any claim to realism whatsoever.
Under the hood, it's a different story. The heavily modified Unreal Engine 3 performs admirably, managing to find the limits of our GTS 250 video card pretty swiftly with AA enabled. Texture quality and character animation is superb; the scenery in particular an exemplary demonstration of persistence on the part of the developers. From sweeping valley floors to majestic mountain ranges, Afghanistan is represented with the kind of attention to detail that should have carried over to the game mechanics themselves. The audio, in particular, is compelling - military banter is exchanged with precision; the ambient effects are precise and believable - indeed, the aural quality achieved by Danger Close should be considered amongst the best of the genre.
EA's DICE have pulled multiplayer duties for the reboot, opting to use the Frostbite engine from Bad Company 2. By handing the multiplayer over to a different team, along with different technology, Medal of Honor feels more like two titles, rather than a seamlessly integrated package. DICE are traditionally respected for their ability to manage large-scale FPS action with a reasonable level of balance, but for whatever reason (an unwillingness to shoot Bad Company 2 in the foot, perhaps?) Medal of Honor falls short in a heavily populated market.
We've covered the Medal of Honor multiplayer beta previously, and little has changed in the interim. The interface is refined, and clearly more robust, however the game sports the same ‘Combat Mission’ (objective based domination) and ‘Team Assault’ (deathmatch) 12v12 modes, with an emphasis in popularity on the latter. Playing the game prior to the NZ release resulted in the necessary utilisation of the matchmaking mode, which had an acceptable level of latency, although with dedicated server support we should see some local games up after the October 15 release.
Naturally, compulsory experience-based progression abounds, and it's necessary to sink some real time in to unlock additional weapons for the three classes. Sadly, our concerns regarding spawn camping from the beta haven't been addressed. Snipers have a huge advantage on the larger maps, and typically wind up at the top of the leaderboard whilst spec-ops and rifleman classes are relentlessly shot to hell from places unknown. Despite any personal preference you may have regarding a killcam, the uniform and unforgiving terrain means Medal of Honor suffers for its absence.
Somewhere between the singleplayer campaign and multiplayer, the Tier 1 mode allows you to replay various chapters from the singleplayer mode against the clock, typically with a much higher level of difficulty. Those capable of setting the fastest times with the highest level of precision are ranked online through the leaderboard system, encouraging strong competition and adding an element of longevity to Medal of Honor once the campaign is clocked.
But after spending the past few days with Medal of Honor, it's still not really obvious as to where this title belongs. Virtually everything included can be found in titles already on the market, most of which deliver a better experience. In attempting to appeal to both Modern Warfare and Bad Company apologists in one package, Danger Close (and particularly DICE) have underdelivered to both groups.
The strain of realism that should run through this title is simply too weak to provide a point of leverage, and whilst the game is certainly admirable in many respects, it simply doesn't offer the kind of experience once associated with the franchise.