When Danger Close ushered the Medal of Honor franchise into the present-day with its namesake 2010 reboot, the modern military FPS genre was already incredibly stale. A solid title, Medal of Honor nonetheless did little to distinguish itself from its rivals beyond offering those burned out on the "big two" a marginally less obnoxious yet still completely generic singleplayer experience.
Since then, no fewer than five big-name modern FPS titles have dropped: Medal of Honor’s EA stablemate Battlefield 3, Activision’s sales-record-breaking duo of Black Ops and Modern Warfare 3, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and coalmine canary Homefront (which killed its developer but is still getting a sequel). That the genre has not yet reached saturation seems incredible, but factor in the homogenised nature of each product and it becomes ostensibly ludicrous; a dam that ought to have burst eons ago. It hasn’t burst, of course, because it’s bolstered by a metric ton of publisher profit, itself a reflection of the public’s appetite for the familiar and perhaps also reviewers’ reluctance to penalise slick yet similar products.
Enter Medal of Honor: Warfighter.
To joke that Warfighter is as bland as its title is easy but sadly accurate. Inspired by actual events, it hews as close as it can to a formula perfected in late 2007 that has been mined for diminishing returns ever since. It presents players with the same heavily-scripted shooting gallery that must be navigated at the game’s sloth-like pace; one full of the standard euphemisms and jargon, easy turret and driving sequences, stealth and foot chases, thunderstorms and deserts, “shocking” twists and betrayals, stereotypes and bloodlust. The usual needlessly-convoluted narrative is seasoned with typically preposterous crash survival scenarios and large-scale explosions. It’s like a recurring nightmare, but it does separate itself in one unique way: despite a day one patch, Medal of Honor is a mess of bugs and AI so bad that even the biggest FPS fan will likely not stick around for its inevitable slow-motion climax.
The most significant and most obvious issue is the bullet detection, or a lack thereof. Simply put, hit detection in Warfighter is appalling, to the point where it alone should have delayed the game’s release. Enemies possess the unique ability to completely ignore entire clips of ammunition passing through their bodies, as if the player has accidentally chambered blanks. This is most obvious in the genre-standard door breach sections where the mandatory slo-mo neatly showcases both body and head shots simply refusing to register.
This perhaps explains why so many enemies don’t bother taking cover at all throughout the game – whether tossing a grenade or simply kneeling and looking into the distance, their bullet-avoidance is only rivalled by certain inhabitants of The Matrix. Amusingly, enemies that do take cover also have the unique ability to sprint out into the open but then fly rapidly backwards back into cover as if a fellow terrorist had attached a bungee cable to their backpack as a gag.
Allies also act as if inhabiting a parallel universe. They push the player out of cover, warn him or her of an enemy that they are in a better position to shoot, briefly open fire on some nearby vegetation, and then sprint off – presumably to ruin someone else’s day – but not before suggesting to the player that they really ought to be in cover as they are being shot. That’s not an exaggeration, and considered in tandem with the way enemy soldiers stroll unimpeded through the middle of an entire squad of friendlies just to get at the player is enough to make one suspect the AI have some sort of truce going on. All effective fire is instead concentrated on the player to comical proportions, as if the terrorists also understand that he or she is the only real threat.
Even more so than usual, this means the player will be doing the bulk of the killing while their squadmates play grab-ass and push each other into bushes. Again, door breaches highlight the issue, with the player often needing to take out six enemies while their squad files politely into the room. Incompetent doesn’t even begin to cover it. It’s actually possible to be pinned down by gunfire from a turret that an entire friendly squad has simply walked past on their way to the next door breach.
The repercussions of some questionable design decisions also ruin Warfighter’s singleplayer section. Enemies become bullet sponges in the game’s second half, with some able to recover completely from neck and headshots, often once the player’s attention is already elsewhere. Players must unscope before they are able to run – this does not happen automatically upon holding the run key – and if they reload when scoped they will be returned to that view, which is just plain weird. There is also never a reason to switch weapons as all enemy guns are inferior to the standard arsenal and squadmates double as infinite ammo dispensers anyway, which is handy when facing turrets that may or may not be able to be destroyed.
Given the state of everything else, it’s not surprising that the game’s story is a contrived pile of propaganda that seeks to deify Special Forces Operators by showing them taking care of business back home yet sacrificing all without complaint for the good of the Red, White and Blue. It’s not so much offensive as it is clumsily melodramatic; a ridiculously po-faced embarrassment that would be too cheesy even for the Disney channel.
The multiplayer is somewhat more likeable though, and a much better way to experience the game’s Frostbite 2 visuals. Developed by Danger Close rather than DICE, as 2010’s Medal of Honor multiplayer was, multiplayer here revolves around fireteams – groups of two that can resupply one another, and act as a spawn point for each other provided they aren’t under fire. The latter is a neat addition to an otherwise fairly rote online experience, and effectively builds camaraderie, even between strangers.
Movement and response speed is slower than that of Battlefield and Call of Duty, with inertia playing a noticeable part in proceedings. A lean mechanic seeks to aid players here, but the general rule is commit fully or not at all, as weaving to avoid fire isn’t really an option.
There are six largely generic classes, with some variety offered by their country of origin. Assault classes from the game’s 10 nationalities each have their own specialties and weapons, but each must be unlocked, which is arduous when facing those who already have a better weapon and class selection to choose from. Arduous too are the menus, which obfuscate and frustrate in equal measure.
As to gameplay modes, it’s business as usual with a couple of wrinkles: a capture the flag mode with no respawns and a bomb planting/defusing mode where the location shifts are both fleetingly interesting, for example. But that about sums it up – while Medal of Honor’s multiplayer is a fine distraction, small variations on the standard mode, perk, and class systems won’t keep anyone away from the deeper, more rigorous multiplayer of Call of Duty or Battlefield for long.
Moreover, a passable if indifferent multiplayer can't atone for Medal of Honor's greater sins. In summary and in case it is not crystal clear: Warfighter’s campaign is a bug-ridden, tension- and fun-free slog through utterly uninspired setpieces, all in service of a story only the emotionally undeveloped or completely dim could possibly care about. It’s awful in a way so few titles – blockbuster or not – manage to be, and was clearly pushed out the door half-dressed in a bid to relieve the non-discriminating of their spare change before BLOPS2 rolled into town and hoovered it all up. It’s a cynical release, devoid of entertainment, that should be avoided at all costs.