It’s absolutely no surprise that Electronic Arts went all out on their newly released (as of today) Medal of Honor title. Executive Producer Greg Goodrich promised us that the campaign mode for Medal of Honor would focus on a group of soldiers, who we would eventually care for emotionally by the end of the game. No far-fetched storylines involving the destruction of the world; yet just pure focus on Americans versus the Taliban in an Afghan backdrop.
On the other end of the stick Patrick Liu from DICE promised us a richer, larger multiplayer experience; something we could play over and over again. With many maps ready to go at launch paired with different types of games, there was a promise of something we haven’t seen before.
Promises are certainly one thing, as many gamers have known through out the years. Delivery is a wholly other.
Single player mode hasn’t changed much since my September 23rd impressions piece. It’s intense once you hit the ground and it doesn’t let up for a moment. What it does do is put you inside the heads of a man named ‘Rabbit’, “Deuce”, “Hawk” and Dante Adams. Each is on the Special Forces squad taking out the Taliban in Afghanistan and each plays a pivotal role in the squad-based story.
Like any good story, the roles you play are woven into an overall tightly knit group. This group continues to appear over and over again, which causes you to get to know your squad. That’s important when you’re trying to accomplish what Greg Goodrich promised, which was a story that is driven by a group of dedicated soldiers. Much like a good play or a good movie, the story is completely contained within this group of men and, unlike what we’ve seen in the past with first-person shooters, the story isn’t really a story; it’s a series of missions. If you have ever had the pleasure of knowing soldiers, my best friend is one, then you will understand that a soldier really doesn’t ask ‘why’ when their commander gives them an order; they simply do it. This is the same concept that drives the entire game. The group is told to go do something and they do it to the best of their abilities. You never see the beginning of the war, nor do you see the end. You’re simply put in the situation where you’re sent in to do a job and to help out your squad.
I wasn’t sure how well this would work considering how great the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare storylines had been, but ultimately it worked well out by the end of the game. When I finished the game on Saturday (October 9th) I sat there feeling really worn down. Not so much that the game made me tired (finished it around 2am), rather it wore me down emotionally. The ending was powerful, one that certainly satisfied my need for a proper conclusion. I won’t say more than that.
I will tell you that the campaign mode took about 6-10 hours of time. That 6-10 hours did not include one wasted moment. The game pretty much threw everything you could think of in the Special Forces group at you. You get to be the invading foot soldier taking down Taliban attack after attack. You also get to be the soldiers pinned down in a village fighting for your survival while your rescuers are racing to get to you. You get to have some relaxing fun in an Apache, regretfully you don’t get to fly it (comparable to the AC-130 in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare), but you do get to blow the hell out of everything. You also get to take some ATVs across Afghanistan racing to destinations to take out Taliban before they become a problem. You also get to dabble in sniping from a mountaintop. One of the coolest moments in the game is when you become stranded and pretty much have to find some fellow soldiers and get the hell out of Dodge.
Again, the story is powerful and it’s certainly helped by these moments. It might be short in hours, but it’s damn engaging. Anyone who says otherwise is not really seeing the big picture.
So what about the gameplay? Well, let’s start with controls.
The controls in Medal of Honor are pretty similar to what you’re use to in Call of Duty, and pretty much every other FPS. The two biggest differences are the ability to slide and the ability to peer around corners (ala Metal Gear Solid 4). The slide is a blast and it’s so appropriate for heavy gunfire. For example, when you play the mission where the Rangers land for an invasion, you immediately have to find cover (surprise attack from the Taliban right from the get-go). You press down L3 to run and you press circle to slide into cover. When I first tried this at the press review event in San Francisco in September the process felt just a tad awkward. I never really understood in that short amount of time playing it at the event how and why one needs to use this technique. It wasn’t until I had to play the entire game and found hiding behind something quickly was more than useful.
Another useful addition to the controls is the ability to peer around corners. While it doesn’t stop bullets from hitting you square in the face it does allow you a better chance of not getting killed immediately. The odds of the computer taking off your face with a single bullet is a bit high, but when you use this on multiplayer it’s really quite good. Still, it’s a nice addition to the control scheme and one that I have found many uses for during the single player campaign.
Strolling away from control schemes, let’s talk about the AI. One of the brightest spots with the single player campaign is the help you get from your fellow soldiers. Unlike anything that I’ve seen in previous FPS games, your friends actually will take out the bad guys if you’re pinned down in a firefight. For example, towards the end of the game I was pinned down in the snowy hills of Afghanistan under heavy fire. I sat there and my guys pretty much took out enough Taliban to give me the opportunity to move forward towards my final goal (don’t ask about the goal, too important to the game). This type of ‘help’ occurred quite frequently throughout the game and it was something I grew to depend on and it pretty much delivered every time out.
On the flipside to that coin, the Taliban wasn’t going to just pop up on rocks and wait for me to shoot them in the head. Those bastards don’t like getting shot at (or shot for that matter) and when you shoot and miss you better find some cover quickly. One example of this type of intelligent AI for the enemies was when I was covering fire on a 50-caliber in a bunker on a hill. My orders from my teammates were to fire at the 50-caliber, while they proceeded up the hill to take care of the Taliban soldiers in the village. Every time some Taliban soldier reached for the 50-caliber I had to knock their heads off from a far. Well, there were a couple of times where my bullets didn’t quite hit the intended target and the Taliban soldier opened up the 50-caliber on my ass immediately.
Opposite of that is when the enemies are playing the ‘defense’. If I have the advantage the Taliban will either hide behind the closest cover and attack periodically, or they will simply run towards help. Their patterns of opening up a firefight on my squad were random, so there wasn’t always a guarantee that one of their guys would pop up his head in the exact same place. It keeps firefights interesting, to say the least.
Moving on, let’s now talk about how good this sucker looked. When the beta came out over the summer, though only multiplayer, it was very underwhelming. What I saw in September was quite the opposite. Eye candy is the best way to describe the looks of Medal of Honor. The backdrops were detailed, alive with large amounts of depth to them. The environments you visit, from snowy to skyward, were breathtaking. Visually it’s twice the game that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 wants to be. It has shadows, wind, and dust kicking up from gunfire and facial detail that is only rivaled by the young Jeff Bridges in Tron Legacy (okay, okay... that might be a bit too far). You can actually identify your men by their looks and you will forget that they’re animated characters shortly after going through your first mission. Folks, this is the best looking FPS I’ve seen in a long time on a console; it makes me anxious to see if/how Call of Duty: Black Ops can top it.
Danger Close did a fantastic job on bringing the harshness of the war to the screen, but it wasn’t completely perfect. Now, a little disclaimer here, I don’t like seeing bodies. I worked in news for around two years and I’ve seen mangled, broken, butchered bodies in my time. It’s disgusting and I hate to relive that stuff. With that said, if you’re going to have a war game you’re going to have to bring the type of deathly animation to the table. While I’m not a sick bastard, I do think that if you’re going to blow someone up with a grenade that they become dismembered properly. Danger Close got the ‘popping’ of the head right with a sniper rifle, but they didn’t quite capture the grotesque nature of war. If you’re going to make a game that brings the harshness of the situation to the viewer/gamer then don’t hold back. Right now as it stands when you blow one of the Taliban fighters up you simply see them lift off the ground and become limp; kind of like in Commando (the movie). Again, it’s sick complaint, but one I think is valid.
So is the campaign mode satisfying? Well, I certainly think it is. Call me old fashion, but I always enjoy a great story over online play any day of the week. I want to be entertained from beginning to end and feel connected with the story; Medal of Honor does this brilliantly. That was one of the more disappointing factors with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the campaign didn’t last as long as it should of and the story jumped all over the place, which caused some disconnect. I guess it might be the changing of the times and something I have to get use to, but I need a good campaign to get into a game. Medal of Honor does this for me. It may be short with only 6-10 hours of gameplay (probably a little less if you’ve got nothing to do for a weekend), but it still packs a punch and stands strong enough for you to feel connected with the squad.
People might try to say that this isn’t enough or that it doesn’t feel like Call of Duty enough, but move beyond that view. It’s a different take on a military campaign and it’s a different experience. Sometimes change is a good thing and I firmly believe what Danger Close did is a good thing.
Anyway, another element you will find in the campaign mode that might make this even more interesting is the Tier 1 Mode.
The Tier 1 Mode simply allows you to run through complete missions with one single life (meaning you can’t die) to see if you can finish it the fastest, and all the while gathering precious seconds through specific methods of death dealing. For example, if you shot someone perfectly in the head you get a two second freeze on your time. If you should do three melee kills within a 10 second time frame (good luck on that by the way) you’ll have six seconds frozen on the timer. You’re given a time limit for each level and one that you must meet to really find yourself on top of the leaderboards. By the way, you are going to be going head-to-head with other players to try to top their best times. Addictive? Yes. Better than the single player campaign mode? No. Still, it’s another way to find fun with the game.
So with all this in mind, and no I’m not going to mention trophies – you’ll want to discover those yourself, you can see how much thought Danger Close put into the campaign mode of Medal of Honor. Again, despite what you might hear it’s very much worth your time and not just an afterthought.
So here is where DICE comes into play. They have concentrated solely on the multiplayer portion of the game, and it really needed more attention after the summer beta.
First, each team is broken up into three separate classes:
- Special Ops
When multiplayer started last night the majority of people going into the game chose to be snipers. The sniper I saw in June at E3 was atrocious. I couldn’t hit squat from long range and it seemed like it was very unfinished, and apparently it was quite unfinished. The sniper that they have included in the final product is spot on. I found myself sniping people from across the large board (probably a quarter to a half size of the boards you’ll find in MAG). Each map is incredibly sniper friendly, so beware. Most people online yesterday and this morning were complaining about the amount of snipers on each map. Truly it’s the best option if you’re looking for the least amount of deaths (your own), but you’ll suffer in the point column.
Speaking of points, you can gain points for each class doing different things. Starting out early in the game you simply kill to gain experience points. These points will level you up so that you’ll unlock other abilities, like calling in an air strike or calling in a mortar strike. It’s kind of like the concept you’ve seen in MAG, but less time consuming to accomplish the feats and gain access to the special strikes. The neat part about the scoring/leveling is that you can level each class at your own pace. You might find that annoying, but stick with me here. When you achieve level 6 for your riflemen you won’t have the level 6 for your sniper. This offers you a reason to explore different characters and motivates you to go a different route in regards to classes. For me, I like challenges. For some gamers this might seem like an annoyance. It all depends on what you want. For me, I like it.
Leveling and scoring aside, you’ve got a wonderful variety of maps to go hog wild on. There are eight maps in total and each one has its own attributes to make the multiplayer mode challenging. These challenges are broken up into different ways to play multiplayer. They are as follows:
- Team Assault: It’s a 12-on-12 fast paced action packed scenario. Here your team will fight for kills and points. It’s sort of like team death match; very fast and furious. You’ll find some maps really work well for this particular game and some maps just fall under the good category. I know the Garmzir Town map bodes well for this type of play. It’s a multi-layered map that offers plenty of running and hiding room for players. One of the best, depending on your movements, places on the map to set up shop as a sniper is under the bridge on this map. So much fun and pretty much easy kills… unless you suck.
- Objective Raid: You’re given the task, if you’re the OPFOR forces, to sabotage two objectives using IEDs. The other side must stop you from doing so. The great thing about this mission is that you can end it pretty quickly. Depending on your team’s knowledge of the map and the strategy going into it, the game can end really damn quick. Should the coalition force stop you well… you’re in for a battle. Out of all the online games this one requires a bit more cohesiveness and communication than the rest.
- Combat Mission: This is an interesting mission. You play as the coalition force and your task is to complete five objectives. Every time you complete an objective a new portion of the map is unlocked. The OPFOR forces must prevent you from completing the missions. There is a team health meter in this mission that represents the reinforcements that the coalition team has. Once that meter is completely depleted then the match is over. It’s a cool idea that is fun, but I really didn’t get enough time to play much of this (too busy with the Team Assault and not enough takers).
- Sector Control: This is sort of like capture the flag, except there are three flags instead of two. You basically hold the objectives (flags) and receive points for doing so. You can go ahead and throw a little bit of king of the hill in there as well. It’s an intense online game and one that you may or may not love. For me, I thought this is probably the second best of the bunch. It’s quick, fun and intense.
For me, the multiplayer portion of most FPS games has been pretty much an afterthought. Nothing really groundbreaking has occurred in this genre since MAG’s attempt to bring an insanely large battlefield to gamers. With that said, I was surprised on how well I was taken to DICE’s creation. It was fun and addictive and it had a little of everything that I wanted in an online shooter. I found the points system incredibly well balanced and easy to understand. I found the controls and the lack of lag time very welcoming (if you played the beta this summer you’ll adore the improvements). Hell, I even found myself wanting to kick the crap out of the other team so badly that I’ve stayed up until 3am this morning trying to pry myself away from it so I can write a proper review.
In other words, this is damn good.
Now, with that said it’s not perfect. One of the biggest complaints I heard all night and morning about the online mode is the lack of the ‘prone’ position. If you’re not familiar with that term it means you’re lying down on your stomach. I have to admit that I missed this terribly as such a thing is simply a ‘must-have’ for sniper lovers out there. I’m sure that this is destined to be an update sometime in the near future, but until then it is a tiny hole on a beautiful painting.
Imperfection aside, players looking for a good multiplayer experience that want a break from the norm then DICE cooked something up especially for you. You should be able to find all the fun you’ve been looking for in the Medal of Honor multiplayer mode. I’m not sure what Call of Duty: Black Ops has in store in the multiplayer department, but for now this might be the dominant experience.