PC/XBOX360/PS3 Game Review: ‘Meh’dal of Honor

I would assume that the expression ‘meh’ as something average or unimpressive is widely enough known to anyone with internet experience that it is fair to say that I have ‘tipped my hand’ as far as my opinion goes. So you can leave now knowing I thought Medal of Honor was a mediocre and very skippable experience, or you can read on and find out WHY I felt that way … and also discover that aside from ‘meh’ my favorite word to describe this game is ‘unfortunate’.

The Hype:
Operating directly under the National Command Authority, a relatively unknown entity of handpicked warriors are called on when the mission must not fail. They are the Tier 1 Operators.

Over 2 million Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines wear the uniform. Of those, approximately 50 thousand fall under the direct control of the Special Operations Command. The Tier 1 Operator functions on a plane of existence above and beyond even the most highly trained Special Operations Forces. Their exact numbers, while classified, hover in the low hundreds. They are living, breathing, precision instruments of war. They are experts in the application of violence. The new Medal of Honor is inspired by and has been developed with Tier 1 Operators from this elite community. Players will step into the boots of these warriors and apply their unique skill sets to a new enemy in the most unforgiving and hostile battlefield conditions of present day Afghanistan.

There is a new enemy. There is a new war. There is a new warrior. He is Tier 1.

The Reality:
I remember the release of the original PC Medal of Honor game – Allied Assault (aka MoHAA) – very well. My kids were getting a bit older to the point that I had a bit of spare time for gaming. My wife had gotten me Return to Castle Wolfenstein a couple of months prior, and I knew that Jedi Knight II was coming up … but for a month or so in between I had a blast playing MoHAA.

That was early 2002, and while Battlefield 1942 became more popular as a multiplayer game later in 2002, for more than 18 months the game ruled the PC as the best overall FPS war game … until Call of Duty came along. Since the fall of 2003 the Medal of Honor franchise has been struggling – Pacific Assault was mediocre, and Airborne was utterly forgettable. This new incarnation has been shifted into a modern military theater and was seen as a way to resurrect the franchise and reclaim the war shooter crown!

Ain’t gonna happen.

Medal of Honor is in a sense two different games, with the single player and multiplayer components developed by different groups and using different engines. This isn’t particularly uncommon, and in this case the single player game uses the very popular Unreal Engine 3 and the multiplayer uses the Frostbite engine – which is an EA engine used in the Battlefield: Bad Company games among others.

The single player game takes place in 2002 in Afghanistan the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, and you play as a variety of different special operations soldiers from a Navy SEAL to a Delta Force sniper to an Army Ranger and even an Apache copter gunner.

I had very low expectations for the game, as sadly the multiplayer focus of recent war-based shooters has led to games with fairly generic settings, very short campaigns, and an overall lackluster impression. Even the controversy of last year’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 ‘Russian Massacre’ level was belied by an implementation that was unimpressive and an overall campaign that was once again able to be completed in a single setting.

So I was surprised when not only did I need two sessions to complete the campaign for Medal of Honor, but that it was also the best part of the game!

You are dropped into tense situation after tense situation; sometimes you play the hero and other times you provide cover fire. In fact ‘dropped in’ is really the correct term since you are involved in ‘Tier 1’ ops, things outside of normal combat operations, and therefore from the very start of the game you are immersed in a pitched battle! The controls are tight and the action is intense throughout the five or so hours I spent working my way through the campaign.

Unfortunately, you get no choice of how you act in a situation – things are scripted and tightly controlled. For example, if you wanted to take out a machine gun nest but are supposed to provide support, you simply cannot do any damage to the enemy. This is plain silly – I understand the gameplay desire to make you provide a variety of roles, but it is such an awful break of immersion that it is inexcusable.

Unfortunately there are just too many times when you are yanked out of controlling the action. Sure there are plenty of other games that do this either by cutscenes or scripted events, but in a short and fast-paced game such as this it just doesn’t work well.

The single player campaign can be summarized simply as inconsistent. At times you are right there, and at other times you are ready to just rage-quit because you have faced yet another situation that makes you wonder if these guys have noticed many of the gaming developments of the last decade! You jump from stark realism to silly action-hero garbage in a heartbeat, and it is very hard to ever commit yourself to caring about anything.

The multiplayer is … well, unfortunate is the word that comes to mind once again! All I can say to those who rushed out on the day of release hoping to get the next great game is – oh well, Call of Duty: Black Ops is out next month.

On paper the multiplayer seems promising, with the usual assortment of ranks and game modes and plenty of maps. The problem? None of it is anything new or better than what we’ve seen for the past few years.

Two of the top multiplayer shooters right now are Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and Battlefield Bad Company 2. Medal of Honor is more like Bad Company 2 in terms of gameplay, with slower paced action and more hits required to kill. However, it is more like Modern Warfare 2 in terms of limited impact of classes. In that way it is like the worst of both games.

But it gets worse – when you start playing it is fun and exciting: the maps seem decent, and the game modes dump you into familiar roles and battle types. However, within a few hours it is mind-numbingly boring. Modern Warfare 2 has much bigger maps that allows for a variety of strategic approaches, and Bad Company 2 has such a variety of classes that depending on how your team is aligned compared to the opposing side you can have a very different battle each time – and the balance of power can shift over the match!

Medal of Honor maps feel small and cramped and very similar from map to map. The lack of class depth means a diminished variety in how the game feels from match to match. You will have played for a while and suddenly realize ‘that’s it … it isn’t getting any better’. Even recently released free DLC that added some options didn’t do anything to help me shake that feeling.

Technically the game is solid, as you’d expect for a game with such a huge budget. The sights and sounds are all highly detailed and realistic. The sounds, music, voice acting, and effects are top-notch and highly polished. They spent heavily and it paid off.

The graphics … well, they are a mixed bad. Everything is detailed, shadows and lighting and explosions and dust particles are amazingly well modeled – but not anything better than other recent games … or even last year’s Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. The game takes place in Afghanistan, and therefore you are mainly in the desert … which means that the variety of sights is very limited – and the developers chose to pretty much say ‘you’re in the desert, deal with it’. I understand that, but with all hte other liberties they took, perhaps something to mix it up a bit could have been nice.

Perhaps the worst thing is the contrasts – in single player you switch quickly from being in an immersive war zone against very realistic enemies to an arcade shooting range with enemies who will not advance through cover. In multiplayer, you have some solid underpinnings but a complete lack of depth.

Overall the entire game was disappointing. Unfortunate. Meh. Choose whatever word you want for a game that took me less than a dozen hours to feel completely played-out in both single player and multiplayer; a game that never fully engaged me in either mode; a game that showed its flaws more prominently than its strengths; a game that had me thinking ‘aw crap, I paid $60 for THIS’ way too often … and only stayed on my hard drive long enough to confirm that the post-release DLC didn’t magically make this a great game.

It isn’t a great game, unfortunately. It is just another mediocre entry into a played-out franchise.

Review: Medal of Honor

Where to Buy: Amazon.com

Price: $59.99

What I Like: Tense action; great graphics; solid multiplayer mechanics

What Needs Improvement: Constant scripted events yank you out of game; you never care about anything; multiplayer not up to par with last year’s best games

Categories: Gaming, Reviews

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