Medal of Honor Review

By Abbie Heppe - Posted Oct 12, 2010

All-in-all, MoH might not belong in the highest echelon of military shooters, but it certainly comes close. The short, but punchy, single-player is nicely bolstered by the squad based multiplayer and, though that lacks a bit of the customization and replayability of its counterparts, it's far better than standard FPS fare. Controversial? Not so much, but MoH definitely tells a compelling story without being just another clichéd war scenario.

The Pros
  • Engaging storyline and characters
  • Lighting and environmental effects make for great settings
  • Multiplayer plays to the squad element of the game very well
The Cons
  • Single-player campaign is very short
  • Some minor technical glitches in the campaign
  • Shooter veterans may experience some deja vu

While Medal of Honor has garnered a fair amount of pre-release controversy in the mainstream press, it would be a stretch to label the game controversial (at least after they took out the ability to play as the Taliban), unless you firmly believe in the infallibility of government and intelligence agencies, or worship the very ground Dick Cheney walks on. Instead, Medal of Honor is a solid military shooter wrapped in a timely package.

“War is too important to be left to politicians”

Taking place 6 months after the events of 9/11, the plot centers around an intel mission that goes awry, which turns into a desperate rescue attempt in dangerous mountain terrain occupied by thousands of Taliban operatives. The core group of Tier 1 combatants is Voodoo, Preacher, Mother and Rabbit with sniper and infiltration support courtesy of Deuce and Dusty (the bearded "face" of MoH). Much to the game’s credit, for the small amount of character development you can do in a short and fast paced shooter, I actually remembered the names of -- and developed some attachment to -- my squad.

While the aforementioned SEAL group is busy uncovering Taliban stronghold after Taliban stronghold, back at mission control, the commanding officer is frantically trying to buy time for the team, while also attempting to placate a government official who demands that the Army rangers be sent in immediately. There's no grey area: the embedded officer and SEAL team clearly think sending in more troops is a bad idea and the pasty, balding suit -- who vaguely brings to mind Dick Cheney -- has no rationale for his demand, only the implied perception that it will look good for the war effort.  If there were a controversial aspect to this game, it would be here. The stance the game takes is decidedly to leave things in the hands of the military personnel who actually understand the situation and the characters take many outright digs at poor intelligence collection.

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“Victory at all costs”

Now, the single player campaign is short even by the ever increasingly condensed storylines of comparable games. It clocks in about 4.5-5 hours without skipping cutscenes and is easily conquered in 4 if you do skip them. Despite being short, there is no fat or filler and the experience is exciting, surprising, and engaging without derailing into Micheal Bay-ish action extremes. What works so well for Medal of Honor is the variety of gameplay and the way it swings from putting you on the offensive to the defensive and even into desperate territory: moments where you are being pursued, entrenched with rapidly depleting ammo or being forced to take a bone-breaking plunge before taking a bullet. There is one particular "wow" of a cutscene that I won't spoil, but the most impressive moments are all in-game. This is mostly thanks to the particle effects, how beautifully the game renders the aftermath of air strikes, and the day and nighttime play of light on snow and sand.

“War never changes”

It's not the most extraordinarily unique game -- sniping, calling in air support and blasting through corridors are hallmarks of any modern military shooter -- but MoH measures up to the best of it's genre for the most part.

A large angle of the MoH marketing campaign has been dedicated to promoting the game's consultation with actual Tier 1 operatives and while that is clearly represented in the story, the actual combat feels very familiar with a few small tweaks: sliding into cover feels smooth, choosing between single, and burst fire rounds for each gun, which should be mandatory in shooters. MoH taps into tactical elements like suppressive fire well, though it is ultimately a basic shoot-to-kill game when it had the potential to ask more of the player. Even the stealth scenes are so scripted as to prevent a truly stealthy attack. Also, given the gravity of the subject matter, the headshot signifier feels a bit out of place and remains on-screen too long to prove informative during larger shoot-outs though, conceptually, it’s a fun idea.

Even with polish on so much of the game, the mechanics were an infrequent, yet irritating, source of betrayal. The friendly AI is wildly varied in their ability to provide help and the enemy AI can be seen getting trapped in geometry, appearing from nowhere and skating across portions of the map. While generally great shots, my squadmates allowed enemies to get behind us at very inopportune times, resulting in my death, despite 3 Army rangers plugging away at one unscathed Taliban operative. I also ran into several glitches on two playthroughs that caused me to have to restart checkpoints. Following commands to place explosives on and detonate a mounted gun after reaching a safe distance, I found that doing the actions in step with my squadmates direction would cause them to freeze up and block the path. Even chucking a friendly fire grenade (Because, that's what you do, right?) at them wouldn't clear the roadblock and my objective (double-checked) was clearly completed. After trying various solutions to the freeze-up, I found preempting their dialogue with the detonation and then lagging momentarily behind the squad was the only way to avoid the problem. Technical issues aside, however, the single player campaign is, hands-down, great. 

“In every war they kill you in a new way”

If you’re hungry for even more tactical squad-based operations, the MoH multiplayer is certainly worth checking out. You’ll notice right away that there’s a pronounced disconnect between the feel of the single-player and the feel of the multiplayer. The multiplayer, which runs on the Frostbite engine rather than the modified Unreal Engine 3, was developed separately by DICE, the team behind Battlefield. This isn’t a bad thing, just a slightly odd thing given that the single player portion of the game feels like Modern Warfare and the multiplayer feels like Battlefield: BC2, with a bit of Modern Warfare thrown in.

You’ll notice that the weapons handle slightly differently and feedback is different as well. Additionally, you’re prevented from going prone (thankfully, as it’s one of the more abused abilities in multiplayer matches) and calling in airstrikes won’t be exactly what you’ve become accustomed to in the single-player.


“If we are to live together we have to talk”

Engine differences aside, the multiplayer completely captures the setting and team oriented aspects of MoH. While the modes include deathmatch, the majority are team objective based and actually require team cooperation for success. The objective modes will feel familiar to Battlefield players as they’re modified versions of Rush and Conquest where players will capture, defend, and attack points in several variations.

It’s the maps that really make the experience interesting and not just that they vary by location.  There are war-torn urban outposts and villages, an airfield, bunkers and snowy peaks to tread, but each map encompasses a different element of design. Some are linear and narrow in scope, some are large and open, and some are almost maze-like. There’s also a good balance of verticality and not just to benefit snipers, this may be the first time I’ve found a mounted turret particularly useful in a multiplayer shooter except for, perhaps, Battlefield.

Yes, I keep invoking the Battlefield name, but this multiplayer does several things to distinguish itself. It’s similar, yet unique. The class system remains, though engineer and medic are not present. Instead, players choose from Rifleman, Spec Ops and Sniper classes, all moderately customizable with modifiers like scopes, extra mags and different ammo. Each class is leveled separately and the best way to level each class is to acquire point-based killstreaks in matches, but in step with the cooperative gameplay aspect, players are given the choice of offensive and defensive bonuses like dropping a mortar strike on the other team or providing your own with ammo or flak jackets. It’s a fantastic way to encourage your team to play as one. There’s also limited vehicle support (tanks) on appropriate maps, so no worries about your teammates crashing a helicopter right off the bat.

What concerns me about the multiplayer is that I’ve only played it in a controlled environment, free from game-breaking 10 year olds and I was still finding choke points and opportunities to spawn kill based on how quickly my team could get the jump on the other. While the issues I saw in the beta have all been fixed, there’s a problem inherent in any team-based game, no matter how good. I can certainly see frustration setting in fast if you find yourself on a non-communicative, clueless or kill/death ratio oriented squad. It’s just the nature of the game…and the players.

“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it”

All-in-all, MoH might not belong in the highest echelon of military shooters, but it certainly comes close. The short, but punchy, single-player is nicely bolstered by the squad based multiplayer and, though that lacks a bit of the customization and replayability of its counterparts, it’s far better than standard FPS fare. Controversial? Not so much, but MoH definitely tells a compelling story without being just another clichéd war scenario.