Two years ago, Electronic Arts decided to reinvent its other first-person shooter series, Medal of Honor. Designed to compete with Activision's Call of Duty series, it met with mixed results. The single-player game, developed by Danger Close, was praised for its compelling story while the multiplayer, developed by DICE of Battlefield fame, was criticized for being a scaled-down and simpler version of its own series. The franchise is back with Medal of Honor: Warfighter, a game that's completely developed by Danger Close.
The basic plot feels like it's mimicking other modern military games. After a simple covert operation goes awry, you and your small team discover that a terrorist madman is trying to plunge the world into chaos by using a new type of explosive. Traveling to places like the Middle East, the Philippines and Somalia, your team must stop him before it's too late.
The prior game's story was praised for its gravitas in portraying situations that troops experience in Afghanistan. Placing you in the shoes of fictional people made the campaign feel more meaningful. MoH: Warfighter focuses on a character codenamed Preacher and his attempts to balance his military duty with his fraying personal life. The delicate balance is something that most active servicemen experience, and it's interesting to see the attempt to address it in a game.
Unfortunately, the pacing and focus of the story don't work this time around. Like most shooters, the game puts you in control of a few soldiers, but with the story focusing on just one person, this approach makes it difficult to follow that tale. It also doesn't help that the game frequently employs flashback after flashback, turning everything into a big incoherent mess with a cast of characters that doesn't evoke any personality, much less interact with one another. There's even a point when an event in the past somehow triggers a flashback to a future event, really messing up things for anyone trying to make sense of the story.
Should you finally get a grip on what's going on with which soldiers, you'll find that you don't care about these people because you aren't given much of a reason. The cut scenes let you see the trouble Preacher is having with his marriage, but during the gameplay, it feels like he's an empty shell who's just following orders. Everyone else doesn't have a story to follow, making them even more lifeless. If you're expecting the gripping military equivalent of a BioShock or Spec Ops: The Line, this is a major disappointment, especially when you consider how well Danger Close wove a tale in its last game.
As many of the title's contemporaries have demonstrated, a bad story line can easily be overcome by good gameplay. At times, the game seems to have the gameplay down pat although it tends to go by the numbers. Many missions are simple in design, with you triggering firefight after firefight by simply entering the area. Some fights have on-rails shooting and sniper sections to liven up things a bit. A few sections have you driving vehicles, and in one, you try to tail a guy without getting caught. It's quite tense and would've been quite welcome in a stealth-based title. There's also the breaching mechanic, which lets you and your squad break down a door, blind the opposition with a flashbang, and take them out in slow motion. At times, these sequences feel fun because your weapons feel powerful. It only takes a few rounds to fell the enemy, and you can't help but feel comfortable with such good gun mechanics in tow.
When the game single-player mode falters, though, it does so quite badly. While some of the missions are long enough, others are much too short. The infamous level has you sitting through a few minutes of cut scenes and then you spend less than a minute taking a sniper shot; additionally, the mission seems wholly disconnected from the bigger picture. Enemy AI is smart enough to take cover but dumb enough to not move if the cover disappears. You'll also find the enemy AI either running out into the open far too often or simply going to the same cover spot, hoping to be shot. Your AI partner often infuriates you by barking out enemy locations while failing to do anything about the situation — or even hiding instead of attacking. He'll also be rude enough to push you out of cover if you're in his pre-determined spot, and he also gets in your way when you're firing. All of this happens quite often, making you wonder why the campaign exists in the first place, especially when you encounter so many areas where you sit back and watch a copter mow down your enemies.
Non-combat components don't fare much better, either. Whether it's boats or cars, driving feels awkward. You never feel like you're in control of your craft since you slide every which way when you move the analog stick. Some of the on-rails sequences feel inconsequential since missing or hitting targets doesn't affect anything in a meaningful way. The two you encounter in the Philippines, for example, come with some nice explosions if you shoot at things, but laying off the trigger for the duration doesn't mean that the boat chase or palace takeover becomes any more difficult. Then there's the breaching mechanic, which is nice but used far too often, and the subsequent breaching techniques that you earn later on grow increasingly less efficient. While it may be fun to see your partner hack away at a door before taking cover and throwing the flashbang, the basic kick is the most-used move since it is the fastest way to end the sequence with the same results. There may be an urge to unlock every way to breach a door, but none of it is worth it unless you're going for a Trophy.
With a single-player mode that is more than a few steps below what the team did in its previous outing, it's up to the multiplayer to salvage the game. To that end, there are a good number of team-oriented game types available beyond you’re the standard Team Deathmatch. Home Run is a variation of Capture the Flag, where two teams take turns on multiple rounds either protecting one of two flags from being retrieved or grabbing them and returning them to the base. The arenas are small, and with each team member only having one life per round, games go by quickly. Sector Control is the classic mode often seen in the Battlefield games, where there are three sections of the map to take over, and occupying a section depletes points from the other team. Combat Mission is an objective-based mode where attackers must successfully detonate three sections in progressive order while defenders try to stop them. Instead of being time-based, though, the attacking team has a pool of lives, and once exhausted, the defenders win. Hotspot takes that same basic concept and expands it to five objectives but shrinks the area and puts each objective on a timer to ensure faster matches. Finally, Real Ops turns on friendly fire but turns off all HUD elements, giving you a cleaner look and a bit of a challenge.
The multiplayer mode follows the same tried-and-true mechanics from almost all multiplayer shooters. Every match gives you a chance to earn XP, with that XP feeding into a leveling system that unlocks new items and classes. In MoH: Warfighter, your class system is mixed in with a swath of other operatives from other countries, each with their own weapons loadout. Along with these soldier classes and nationalities, you can unlock different items for your primary gun, such as paint jobs, new scopes and new muzzles, all of which augment the weapon stats in some way. Also, scoring points via your actions gains you access to some support items, such as the ability to call in helicopters for gunfire support or for easier spawning in the battlefield.
The big new mechanic is the two-person fireteam at almost all times. Unless you're in an odd-numbered side, you'll always be paired up with a partner at the beginning of a match. On the defensive side, you'll always be able to see your partner through any object, and you can respawn next to your partner after you die as long as he isn't engaged in combat. Offensively, everything done by you or your partner gains experience. His kills, for example, give you a little bit of experience and vice versa, while getting revenge on the one that killed your partner ensures that he returns to the battlefield right away. It is a seemingly little thing when you consider that most players will forget about this mechanic and play the game like any other shooter, but once the benefits start to pile up, you'll appreciate it.
For the most part, the multiplayer feels like the single-player game in that there are some benefits mixed with questionable design decisions. There's plenty of gun customization but nothing for your soldiers. You have the choice of many nationalities per class, but if you wanted a Canadian soldier with the loadout of a Korean one, it isn't going to happen. Leveling up also doesn't seem to produce anything worthwhile until you get in the Private rank, so you can expect your loadout to not change much; it's a problem when you find out that your matches are populated with some pretty high-level people. What will really irk players is that the low-level guns don't do much damage. You may get lucky with a few headshots from the hip, but taking the time to aim with anything but high-level guns only guarantees that you'll get killed more often than not. Most FPS players may not be prepared for that.
Graphically, the game is quite different depending on the mode. In the single-player portion, the game is on par with some of the other Frostbite 2 engine titles. Character models look excellent with good animations and texturing. Particle effects are abundant and look stunning, especially in the non-desert areas. The environments really take center stage, though, due to the destruction you can deal. Concrete barriers chip away and eventually erode with enough gunfire. Wood splinters as it is hit, and buildings crumble with a horrible sort of beauty. Though some of the stuff may be scripted, like seeing a floor blown apart or a metal shanty collapse under heavy rain, the animation and physics are believable, serving as a good demonstration of the in-house engine.
The only part of the single-player campaign that looks bad is the cut scenes. There's a soft focus in every scene that looks fine, but every model has at least one glaring problem that can quickly change things from too realistic to unbelievable. Preacher's family perfectly exemplifies this with everything from facial structure to too many visible veins on the body. It's distracting and could've hurt the story — if it weren't so convoluted in the first place.
While the single-player part looks great most of the time with only a few falters, the multiplayer is quite the opposite. The environments look worse due to a lack of destruction and lots of lower-resolution textures littering the field. Most structures stay intact, and those that are destructible simply disappear instead of showing signs of decay, as they do in the solo game. The particle effects seem to sport a lower degree of quality, and while the animations are fine, the character models are not. Their textures are good, but the facial structure and lack of emotion don't look as advanced as expected. It's almost as if the multiplayer game is using the original Frostbite engine or something older, making for a sharp contrast when you see what the team was able to pull off with the campaign.
From a sound perspective, the game is done well. The music is arresting and clearly the best part of the game, as you can't imagine the game without the score playing in the background. The sound effects are top-notch, with some nice volume tricks to spice up the typical explosions and bullets whizzing by. The muffling of some explosions and subsequent temporary deafening of your character makes the whole thing feel deep and polished. The voices are cast well enough, and their delivery, while annoying when paired with their behavior, is still good. There's even an effort to get the language and accents of each region correct, something that's often glossed over with poor voice work. The only flaw comes from some of the dialogue sounding distant and containing an echo despite the speaking character standing right next to you. Other than that, this is a game clearly made to be heard at all times.
As a complete package, Medal of Honor: Warfighter is disappointing when you consider the amount of hype surrounding it. The single-player game has some exciting moments, but it gets constantly bogged down by some odd levels, bad AI on both sides, an overuse of some mechanics, and a poorly told story. The multiplayer portion has a few good modes and a great fireteam mechanic that is overshadowed by poor weapon strength for just about every class and not much customization for your soldiers. Wrapped in a package that sounds great but varies wildly in the graphics, the title makes for a perfect rental. You'll get through it and can get some enjoyment out of it, but you won't seriously consider making it part of your permanent gaming library.
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