Medal of honourable mention, as you may well have read already, isn’t perfect.
Feeling like a 'best of' album that the label rather than the band put together, it lacks originality. The sense of déjà vu playing this game isn’t helped by market saturation of modern war shooters either. Coupled with a story that’s suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder, the game has understandably been sitting around the seven-out-of-ten mark in the review stakes.
Perhaps this is as much the fault of the hype machine as anyone. Surrounded (and no doubt bolstered) by controversy over the inclusion of Taliban forces in multiplayer, publishers Electronic Arts have still sold a lot of copies. Which would be great, except that controversy only works by propelling a good game into the limelight and securing pre-orders. It worked for Grand Theft Auto. Unfortunately, controversy over a mediocre game only leads to a sense of disappointment, and selling a record number of copies of a lukewarm product is worse for your reputation than selling only a handful.
This doesn’t make Medal of Honor a bad game. It’s still fun, will add some achievements to your gamerscore, and will fill in the remaining few days before Call of Duty: Black Ops comes out. And hey, Black Ops may turn out to be worse, wait and see.
Sold on the concept of realism, I was eagerly awaiting a gritty, morally challenging title that would make me think about my actions. No Dice. (well, except for multiplayer). Medal of Honor is a generic modern shooter. Run, gun, follow team mates along pre-determined route, repeat.
Suspension of disbelief, or buying into the realism concept, isn’t easy when there’s lots of on-screen prompts babysitting you along the way. Press X to climb. Press X to kick open door, Press X to request ammo. These statements pop up every time you have the option to do these actions, which is curious given that Electronic Arts must be aware of the successful minimalist approach Fight Night took in removing the user interface; by relying on the fighter’s behaviour, the commentators and visual damage to show you how you were doing, the game had a real sense of immersion.
Yet Medal of Honor does the opposite by holding your hand and constantly reminding you how to play the game, even though there’s only one button to perform every interaction. Singleplayer developers Danger Close could do with an afternoon on the EA Sports campus.
Additionally, the game plays like you’ve activated an aimbot. Flick around, hold the sights button, and bingo, your target is lined up. Sure it’s fun for a little while and for the first half hour I thought I really was that good. Then as the game progressed, it dawned on me that it was simply the overly enthusiastic aiming mechanic. When you're performing effortless headshots, it feels like the babysitter is on overtime.
Graphically, the game is rather off and on. Some levels look far better than others, and the game suffers from some terrible jagged edging in some places. Daylight scenes are visually more enjoyable, while night scenes give off a weird blue light. Again, in terms of realism, it’s slightly off the mark. No real physics, very square buildings, and a rather short view distance do nothing to immerse you.
The terribly generic and overtly macho main characters look like stereotypes taken from other war games, designed to appeal to people who call each other "Broseph". And who the hell wears sunglasses on a night mission?
It’s the little things, the lack of polish, that prevent it standing out, such as your inability to put out lights by shooting at them, or the clumsy team AI. There’s no real variation in your approach to a mission due to the linear level design. These things don’t ruin the game, but they stop it being the title it could have been.
Multiplayer is a DICE product and the differences are obvious. The levels are better designed, and far more open. Arguably the more interesting part of the game, the biggest issue is that it’s own developer made a better game in Bad Company 2. As it plays very similarly, it will appeal to Bad Company fans, but is unlikely to make them switch.
Unfortunately, the multiplayer is let down on the Xbox 360 by the sub-par graphics. It's not so much a matter of quality as capability. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled on PC, but it’s very hard to spot snipers with the draw distance and level of detail produced on Microsoft's middle-aged console. Aiming feels different from singleplayer, which does little to help as you have to readjust your technique. As usual, the controller isn’t as precise a tool as a mouse. It also seems that given the lack of precision inherent in controller-based first-person shooters, people resort to grenade spam a lot more.
That said, on a decent map full of players, it’s chaotic fun.
At times the game shows glimmers of brilliance, with some fun set pieces like a crazy ride in the back of a Ute through an enemy encampment, or a blast over the hills in an Apache. The audio is impressive, and some of the humour and pop culture references raise a wry smile on occasion.
However it’s not as good as the competition from the current crop of FPS titles. Releasing only a few weeks after Halo Reach, and a few weeks before Black Ops, Electronic Arts took a huge gamble rushing this game to shelves. As such, it feels like yet another shooter, and one that despite being set in a ‘modern’ war, plays and looks very much like games most fans would already own. Much like Transformers 2, it had all the ingredients, yet just somehow didn’t pull it off.
Despite its faults, or all the things that could have been more polished, there's a lot of enjoyment on offer. If only Danger Close and DICE were prepared to put in just a little bit more effort during the development process to separate Medal of Honor from the rest of the flock in this saturated genre, we could have been looking at something very special indeed.