I also enjoyed a gunship mission that offers players a much-needed chance to let loose after the previous mission, which concludes with a heart-pounding last-stand sort of battle. It begins with a couple of gunship pilots engaged in authentic military chatter as they attempt to verify an enemy position on long-range camera, then turns into a frenetic game of cat and mouse as your helicopter and another dodge RPGs while laying waste to whole enemy encampments.
But the most memorable aspect of the campaign may simply be its setting. Once we get out of the town in which the story begins the game takes on a distinct visual tang, presenting us with stark deserts, dark caves, and low mountain ranges along the Pakistan border that look and feel just like what we’ve all seen on the news. In no other game have I witnessed the sort of desolate yet arresting vistas on display here.
Sadly, this bleakly beautiful countryside is mostly absent from the multiplayer portion of the game, which was developed by DICE and is set primarily in small urban areas, bases, and settlements, all of which seem to have the same textures and colours and consequently end up blending together. Even now, having spent hours exploring these locations just the previous evening, I can scarcely tell them apart in my mind.
Of course, a greater concern for EA than indistinguishable maps is whether Medal of Honor can overcome the inevitable comparisons players will make between it and Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the game by which all modern military shooters are measured by mainstream gamers.
The good news is that Medal of Honor has its own online personality, even if it is more or less a mongrelised version of others.
As in the Call of Duty games, players can level up and customize their soldiers’ gear, selecting from a selection of better weapons and attachments that offer noticeable advantages over those just starting out. However, this system of rewards, which also includes some fairly meaningless medals and ribbons awarded for player performance, is rudimentary when compared to recent entries in Activision’s franchise, which offer a seemingly never-ending series of challenges and objectives designed to make players experiment and try new ways of playing.
Meanwhile, fans of DICE’s Battlefield games will recognize this game’s three basic soldier classes – sniper, special ops, rifleman – and be immediately at home with modes like Sector Control, which has players fighting to capture and hold flags in a trio of semi-defendable positions. Variants of other modes, such as Combat Mission – which sees coalition forces working to secure a series of objectives held by terrorists – and the self-descriptive Team Assault , have been seen in a wide variety of other military-themed shooters and ought to be fairly familiar to almost everyone.
This is all fine and dandy, especially given that this is a reboot of the series designed to expand the brand to new players. Oddly, though, other aspects of online play almost seem geared for much more experienced shooter fans.
Smallish maps mean that open ground is almost always within line of sight of one of the 12 players you’re fighting against, and carelessly entering this space – as rookies are prone to do – is tantamount to a deathwish. Plus, support abilities such as mortars and rocket fire – which come available only to players who are already playing very well – may crush the spirits of newbies who keep getting blown up and wondering when they’ll have a chance to put their finger on the trigger of these decidedly deadly weapons.
That said, I’m not sure hardcore players are flocking to Medal of Honor. Servers are already filled with plenty of higher level players, but I’ve seen little of the sort of teamwork or cooperation that is the hallmark of veteran shooters. My headset remained completely silent most matches, and most of my allies either rushed enemy areas in uncoordinated groups or took up camping in random hidey-holes, waiting to take pot shots at passers-by rather than try to stealthily stalk their enemies.
Still, it’s very early. It could simply be that the online community has yet to find its collective groove.
In the end, the greatest obstacle to players enjoying online play – and indeed the whole of the Medal of Honor experience – is their own preconceived notions. It isn’t a bad game, as many seem to have been anticipating, but rather just derivative and noticeably rushed. It’s a reasonably entertaining mid-tier military shooter that happens to have the marketing hype – and, unfortunately for all concerned, the expectations – of a triple-A blockbuster.