Medal of Honour
Worth a shot?
Review For all the pre-release controversy surrounding Medal of Honour, EA's contemporary world shooter is surprisingly understated.
The controversy that players would be able to "recreate the acts of the Taliban" was, like most other videogame controversies, founded on rumour and speculation. Served up by credulous politicians and journalists for consumption by an even more credulous army of virtuous curtain twitchers, it was defused by EA's eleventh-hour decision to rename playable Taliban fighters as "Opposing Forces".
Come on in, the gang's all here
Politicians and journalists placated, EA was able to ship the game with only nominal changes to multiplayer menus. But it doesn't take a genius to work out who you're fighting as, as you and your kaftan-wearing, bearded compatriots run around the snow-capped mountains of Afghanistan's Hindu Kush shooting US service personnel with RPGs and AK-47s.
Contrary to the hullabaloo, the real danger of MoH's currency was never that it would trivialise the sacrifice of 'our boys', but that it would trivialise the highly contentious War on Terror itself. And on that point, MoH at times skirts worryingly close to propaganda.
Set just a few months after 9/11, the fervent patriotism and righteousness of MoH's early levels is understandable. But seen through the lens of the near decade-long quagmire it feels uncomfortably naïve.
Shotgun owners are so rude: one cock and they blow
Fortunately, focus quickly shifts from this early dose of flag-waving to stories of individual soldier heroism, better balancing reverence for their sacrifice without unnecessary demonisation of the enemy. The narrative and level structure intertwines the actions of Navy Seals, Delta Force and Army Rangers into a convincing account of US Advanced Force Operations, where a mix of intelligence gathering, reconnaissance and heavy fire support affords distinct variety to gameplay.
The enemy is brainless
This variety impresses, with all the ubiquitous military-FPS elements in place: run-and-gun skirmishes, night-vision goggles, long-range sniping, laser target-painting and, of course, tense stand-offs against insurmountable enemy numbers. But while all these elements are solid and enjoyable, few stand out as memorable, and all suffer from heavy scripting and limited AI.
OK, who dipped my gun in paraffin?
Funnelled through MoH's scripted paths and invisible walls, there's little room for strategy. The AI sees enemies jog leisurely towards predefined shooting points, oblivious to all danger. Even behind cover, enemies are slow to react to imminent threats, instead focusing fire on your team-mates as you saunter towards them across the battlefield.
At close quarters, enemies reload blithely as you rush them with your knife. And when you do stab them, it's like stabbing Action Man's long-lost Afghani cousin, as they crumple unblinkingly to the floor without so much as a wince or grimace.
While MoH's variety and set pieces camouflage its lack of polish, at six hours in length, the paucity of single-player content is all too apparent, even with the bolted on Tier 1 mode, which provides time attack replays of levels scored against a global leaderboard. And so it's left to MoH's multiplayer content to extend the game's appeal.
Taking the pistol
As a result of separate development teams and engines – Danger Close's single-player campaign using a heavily modified Unreal Engine 3, and Dice's multiplayer offering based on Battlefield's Frostbite Engine – MoH's multiplayer looks and plays like a separate game. Weapon handling and feedback is altered, and several single-player mechanics are disappointingly absent, such as the ability to lean around corners, slide into cover, or even go prone.
Send in the cavalry
Multiplayer is also a much tougher game. Noobs schooled exclusively in MoH's campaign mode graduate woefully unprepared for the rigours of its exacting challenge. And weapon and kit unlocks place the balance of power firmly in the trigger fingers of seasoned FPS players.
Hole in the wall , but no money
It's a surprisingly hardcore experience that sits somewhere between the immediacy of Modern Warfare 2's gung-ho shootouts and Battlefield Bad Company 2's more measured squad-based objective gameplay, mixing up map sizes to good effect to suit both game styles.
But multiplayer is ultimately let down by the inheritance of Battlefield's divisive dynamic spawn points, which on one side see you spawn suicidally beside team-mates under heavy gunfire, and on the other fighting countless enemy reinforcements as they pop out of thin air. And static spawn points and objective locations are also too easily dominated, especially by the heavy ordnance, and rewarded by kill-streaks.
"Shoot it? It's our plane, numbnuts."
"Yeah, but Tom Cruise is inside!"
Considered in the context of the franchise, Medal of Honour represents a successful reboot. Although short and flawed, the campaign mode offers a robust shooter with excellent pace and variety. And multiplayer should carve out a hardcore niche for itself as a more challenging battlespace than MW2 or BFBC2. But, by positioning itself as the more serious alternative to both, and by staging its first deployment in the current real-world theatre of Afghanistan, it's difficult to see where EA can take the series from here. ®
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