The Medal of Honor series started way back in 1999 on the PlayStation and blew gamers away with its graphics, gameplay and intense portrayal of action during World War II. A number of successful sequels followed, but it wasn’t long before the war setting lost its appeal. Plus with the first title of current generation consoles, Medal of Honor: Airborne — released the same year as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare — the series was quickly eclipsed. However this year Danger Close and DICE are determined to bring it back to life with a bang.
The most drastic change is the historic Medal of Honor focus on World War II, instead this time the sights are set on the ongoing war in the Middle East. Naturally this means rather than facing those pesky Nazis as before, players will be directing their bullets and explosions to the Taliban forces.
Unfortunately because the game is going for a realistic approach, the majority of the environments are taken from the same sandy/chalky colour palette with mountains, sparsely dispersed trees and the occasional snowy areas to mix things up. While this makes the game authentic, it’s still a little disappointing to be fighting through familiar surroundings throughout most of the campaign.
The game follows three different ‘Tier 1’ soldiers and their stories during the ongoing war in Afghanistan. The conflicts feel very grounded and human which further accentuates the realistic angle that this title is going for. On the plus side, Danger Close have managed to pull this off in a way that keeps the game fun but ensures there’s still plenty of excitement featuring some truly tense situations.
One particular highlight is a section that sees your four-man squad pinned down with deteriorating cover, fighting a losing battle until the cavalry arrives. It manages to evoke far more of a survival instinct than most shooters out there and centres a lot more on the small conflicts rather than all out chaos. Ultimately though you’ll find yourself playing a lot of what’s already been seen in other FPS games during your short five to six hours and with the levels themselves being very linear there’s little room for experimentation.
To add a layer of variety there’s an extra mode that runs alongside the main campaign known as ‘Tier 1’. This gives gamers an opportunity to replay levels to challenge themselves on a higher difficulty setting to earn medals along the way. This is also timed and feeds into online leaderboards to promote bragging rights, something that a lot of hardcore gamers will no doubt take advantage of.
All of this gameplay is tied together with solid controls that stick to the tried and tested button configuration to aim down sights, fire, throw grenades and change stance. This instantly makes the game feel familiar for FPS veterans and eliminates the initial learning curve. However a few additional moves have been included in single player, like a slide to quickly transfer from sprinting to a crouching using a single press as well as a handy peek move for popping in and out of cover. All together it’s the perfect move set to tackle the enemies and is responsive enough to provide the accuracy that’s needed.
The visuals on display are suitable but not mind blowing, so while the guns do look like their real life counterparts, you won’t find yourself in awe of the heavily modified Unreal 3 engine. As mentioned before, the environments aren’t that varied and don’t lend themselves to particularly stunning vistas. The game does however does a great job in the audio department with guns sounding spot on and explosions rocking the speakers as you scramble to avoid their blast radius.
DICE, the masterminds behind the Battlefield games, have been brought in to deal with the multiplayer side of Medal of Honor using their Frostbite engine, and it’s safe to say they have done a superb job. It manages to not only feel like a substantial online component but successfully differentiates itself from DICE’s current title Bad Company 2 as well as the other giant in the FPS world – Call of Duty. It does this by taking cues from both series’ using the pace and intimate levels from the CoD gene and the class system plus some destruction (albeit dialled down from the ability to level buildings) brought over from the Battlefield side of things.
This isn’t to say that Medal of Honor simply copies what’s come before, as this would be selling it very short. It adds its own twist in many ways, including its approach to killsteaks, which instead build up based on your actions during a match to offer a number of support actions such as mortar strikes, or a UAV every time a 50 point increment in the ‘scorechain’ is reached. It also implements an interesting levelling system, which focuses on separately levelling each of the three classes: rifleman, special ops and sniper to unlock new weapons, sights, barrels and magazines.
You play on either the side of the Coalition or the Taliban who have been dubbed as the ‘opposing force’ due to oppositions from various military forces and veterans’ organisations. The game modes are the usual suspects with team deathmatch, zone control and attack and defend all present. There’s also an objective mode which challenges attackers to complete a series of tasks while the defenders do their upmost to stop them. It’s all highly entertaining and there’s a hardcore option for those who fancy a bit of a challenge.
The kills however do come thick and fast, and it seems that only a few shots is all it takes to end a life. This may frustrate some but you learn that a quick trigger finger soon solves this. As a consequence of this everyone on the map seems to, for the most part, have an equal chance and this prevents certain players dominating proceedings too much. Whether this was intentional or was simply a product of aiming to be authentic isn’t clear but it’s certainly a welcome inclusion.
Medal of Honor is a great return to form for the series however it’s still playing catch up and doesn’t quite reach the standards of its closest rivals in Bad Company 2 and Modern Warfare 2, at least in terms of single player action. The highly focused multiplayer on the other hand manages to separate itself from the pack by combining the intensity of twitchy intimate firefights with a strong class system that allows enough customisation to cater for most player’s needs. Whether this will still keep gamers attention once Call of Duty: Black Ops releases in November remains to be seen but there’s plenty of fresh action to satisfy your trigger finger until then.