With Electronic Arts and Activision locked in a fierce battle to win fans of the military-themed first-person shooter genre, you’d think the quality of games from the two publishers would be on a continual upward trajectory. Nope. Instead, the duo are pumping them out just as fast as they can and, in the case of Medal of Honor: Warfighter, it shows. (As reviewed on Xbox 360)
The best thing that can be said about the game is that we’ve seen it all before. A group of U.S. troops must unravel a terrorist plot to steal and use Pentaerythritol tetranitrate, or PETN, a deadly explosive. The squad travels around the world to exotic locations, from the Philippines to Pakistan to Yemen, to find and stop the bad guys.
Requisite sniper missions: check. Battle aboard a cargo ship: check. Slow-motion door breaching: check. A surfeit of such military lingo as “I’m on your six:” check. Manning the door gun on a helicopter and shooting explosive barrels in the terrorist camp below: check. Yawn: check.
There are a few missions that take you off the battlefield and into the driver’s seat of a car, where you chase or evade enemies in parking garages and city streets. Those sequences are indeed a nice change of pace, but unfortunately they always feel overlong. They don’t really require much of you, other than to drive and drive and drive. In each case I’d wonder how much longer it was going to go on, only to have it keep going … and going.
Developer Danger Close tries to change things up by adding a storyline that provides insight into the lives of Preacher and Stump, the two main playable characters, when they’re away from the fighting. The exquisitely animated cut scenes tell the back story of how the two friends end up in their current mess, but they never quite establish the emotional connection the developers were aiming for.
That’s because it’s hard if not impossible to squeeze pathos into a game that has otherwise been done a million times before. It’s also tough to get attached to characters who spend most of the game speaking in robotic military talk, as in “We’re about five mikes away, over.” What exactly does that mean, anyway?
The meat of the action is serviceable, although it’s hard not to compare to the reigning first-person shooter king, Call of Duty. At the heart of the fight between Activision and EA is the issue of frame rate, the technical measure of how fast the animation moves along.
Activision has for years been touting 60 frames per second as the ideal, while EA has been espousing a slower rate of 30 or 40 frames. By sacrificing faster animation, EA says developers can assign the console’s computing resources to other aspects, such as environmental destruction and more characters on screen at the same time.
The environmental touches in Warfighter are in fact nice. Watching the concrete pillar you’re hiding behind evaporate in a hail of bullets is frightening, and very cool. The wisps of dust kicked up by bullet impacts also adds to the realism considerably.
Overall, though, I have to give the edge to Activision’s argument. After playing Call of Duty, with its ultra-smooth animation, Medal of Honor: Warfighter feels positively sluggish. I found myself constantly sprinting just to get that feeling of motion I’m used to in Modern Warfare and Black Ops.
The slower movement is especially apparent in online multiplayer, which at this point is why most people buy these shooters. Call of Duty games are frantic in the speed at which they play, while Warfighter feels like it’s moving in relative slow motion.
That’s not to say the multiplayer mode isn’t without its merits. It’s slightly different from its main rival in that players choose from different player classes, such as heavy gunner or special operatives, each of whom have their own special abilities. Spec ops troops, for example, can emit a signal every minute or so that alerts them to enemy presence in their immediate vicinity.
Otherwise, everything from the camouflage colour on the guns to the accessories that attach to them is customizable, just like in most other shooters. Levelling up and unlocking new weapons and items is as addictive as it is in any other game. If only things moved a little faster.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel, which is perhaps why it ultimately falls flat. EA and Danger Close need to try more bold things if they are to compete with Call of Duty because at this point, their game is several “mikes” behind the “six” of its more exciting chief rival.