Medal of Honor is a "reboot" of the former grand champion of military shooters. The Medal of Honor franchise reigned supreme in the PS2 generation, and other than this game, Medal of Honor: Airborne wasthe only other current-generation Medal title, though it covered the hackneyed WWII era.
The single-player campaign occurs around the time of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in the early part of the 21st century. The gamer plays as a Tier 1 Operator in the American forces fighting the "opposing forces," a scenario in which even trusted allies turn out to be enemies. Medal of Honor makes an honest attempt to tell a gut-wrenching story of hard combat in a forbidding land. It takes itself seriously without preaching or pedantry, but it's still a game and that shows through the narrative. Although the real-world material behind the Medal of Honor story lends itself to both an exciting and moving experience, the story ultimately provides an enjoyable single-player military shooter experience but has few, if any, insights into this real-world conflict or the nature of war.
The writing and voice acting are both competent, but not transcendent: It was always clear that I was gaming, not living a soldier's life. Even played at the highest difficulty level — hard, not Tier 1, which is a separate mode in which the difficulty is ramped up to the extreme — the game is short (about six hours) and rather easy. The AI is unspectacular, and with auto-aim switched on (by default), it's a breeze to make headshots and lazy hip-fire spray kills. It's also not difficult to take out AI-controlled insurgents even without auto-aim.
Occasionally, checkpoint saves aren't well placed, but it doesn't matter because it's rare you'll die and have to repeat a particularly arduous sequence. When you do, the single-player gunplay is interesting enough to hold your attention until you get through.
The online competitive multiplayer modes, developed by EA DICE of Battlefield fame, should be remembered as this edition of Medal of Honor's highlight gameplay. It's class-based guerrilla warfare in right-sized teams. The classes are simple and few, with limited customizations, but most importantly, they're fun to play at any skill level. It's a forgiving multiplayer game for a wider range of multiplayer shooter fans, more so than other recent titles of the same genre. While learning the maps — only eight at launch — is time well spent, this is not a game requiring a couple of weeks of regular practice to start finishing in the middle of the pack.
At launch, only four multiplayer game modes are included: Combat Mission, Objective Raid, Sector Control and Team Assault. All are based on common multiplayer modes of the genre. A mere four modes may seem ridiculous compared with the 10, 20, or even greater number of multiplayer modes and sub-modes in today's shooters, but with rare exception, only a handful of those modes becomes wildly popular.
Developer EA DICE has a way with online multiplayer, so their selections here are good, and all are worthy of playtime. In the case of Medal of Honor, I don't consider the short list of modes a dearth of content but more a culling of modes that likely wouldn't have attracted large, quality audiences. If you're the sort of shooter player who prefers long mode playlists, the low count here may cool your interest in the game.
In multiplayer, gamers rank up, as usual in modern military games. Higher ranks unlock better weapons and upgrades to existing weapons, as well as other offensive and defensive features, like mortar strikes. In general, the advanced weapons are well balanced against some of the more basic firearms. Outlandish advantage isn't necessarily gained by using a powerful rifle unlocked at higher ranks, though rank unlocks do count for something. There are some play-balancing issues that tend to improve as rank and skill of matched players increases. For example, the low-rank sniper rifle is merely a single-shot assault rifle outfitted with a red-dot scope and weak magnification. It's a wiser choice to play as a sniper, using the sniper rifle as an assault rifle, than it is play in the Rifleman class. There are often an excess of snipers, and some sniper spawn camping. A sniper in good position overlooking a spawn point can kill the same players several times before another sniper gets the drop on him, forcing him to respawn and regain the advantage.
In the technical details, control in the game is rock-solid and easily learned. Graphics are very good, if not stellar, for this console generation and PS3 specifically. It's a nice-looking shooter, although the arid environments eventually become a bit bland and repetitive. There's not much to be done about that, since they're based on real-world locales. Human and vehicle models are reasonably detailed, and animations of man and machine are fluid and believable. Of particular note, there is a great deal of graphical fidelity between the single-player campaign and online multiplayer modes in Medal of Honor. You don't lose much detail transitioning from campaign to multiplayer. There are infrequently a few common networking issues on PSN. I experienced some lag and jumpy play a couple of times, but online play is at or above reasonable standards.
I can't say enough about the audio. Sound is outstanding and truly cinematic in both campaign and multiplayer modes. Try playing another modern military shooter and then jumping into Medal of Honor; it's often a night-and-day difference for your ears. This is a rich, rewarding digital multichannel audio production.
The PS3 Limited Edition includes, in addition to the early weapon unlocks and content available for both console Limited Editions, a version of the celebrated PS2 title, Medal of Honor: Frontline, remastered in HD, with modern updates like Trophies and iron-sights aiming. The bonus game comes on the disc and installs to the PS3 hard drive, but you'll need the game disc to play. This isn't a review of Frontline, but it's certainly a nice extra in the package. You'll likely enjoy replaying the title, or, for some, playing it for the first time. However, old hands should note that console shooter mechanics have changed a lot in eight years. Don't expect anywhere near as smooth and fluent an experience as you will in the new Medal of Honor title on the same disc.
Medal of Honor also requires an access code for online features. There's a free one in the box, if you buy the game new. Otherwise, you'll have to buy one for $10. The code is tied to a single EA account, which is associated with one PSN ID; you'll need a code for every online gamer in your household, and the included code is only good for one.
Medal of Honor isn't the perfect marriage of campaign and robust online features, but it is certainly an entertaining, often exciting, shooter experience — especially in the multiplayer modes. Future addition of free or low-cost downloadable content will be welcome. Tier 1 mode is engaging if you enjoy pushing your shooter skills to their upper limits. If you often play shooters on the hardest, craziest difficulty settings you'll probably dive right into Tier 1. As a "reboot," Medal of Honor has gained favorable footing, but there remain several areas for improvement and enhancement in future outings for the franchise.
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