Record of Dis-Service
Oh, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, you’ve had a hard run in your brief existence: the follow-up to a 2010 game that me and seven other people played, you were tasked with trying to renew interest in a franchise that arguably more people cared about when it was still a last-gen WWII shooter than after the reboot. It didn’t help that the market is even more over-saturated with modern shooters, or that DICE didn’t contribute to the multiplayer; certainly your marketing execs could have done better than Linkin Park tie-ins and a “free guns” campaign that was in poor taste even before the Sandy Hook shootings; and let’s not forget that the idea of having your first map pack be based on an actual military op lead to the discharge of several SEALs who helped contribute; but to top it all off, your subtitle is the “Die Harder” of current gen titles. Yes, MoH: W(t)F(?), you were bred for failure.
And even before any reviews went up – because Danger Close hadn’t provided any review copies, a sure sign of suck – out rolled the laundry list of bugs addressed in your Day 1 Patch. As several friends and I sat playing Borderlands 2 that night, we scrolled through the fixes picking out our favorites, and wondered aloud how something like “Players without an invite can no longer join invite-only games” could possibly make it through into the launch version. The reviews only confirmed what we already knew, to the point where each successive drop in the cumulative score became less funny as things just got sad. “How?” the gaming media at large asked, “How could something so wretched have ever been considered ready for release?”
After that, I had all but written off Warfighter, the MoH franchise, and Danger Close studios when my brother said that he’d like it if we got each other the game for Christmas, as part of a series of collaborative gaming gifts we’ve done for the past several years. Apparently some of his online buddies had gotten the game, and were reporting in that it was, unbelievably, “fun.” I was skeptical, certain that we’d be better off just burning $120 and calling it even, but I held my tongue. Thankfully, EA decided to go all-out on Black Friday last year, and every retailer ever had the game for between $25-30. At least now when the disc proved to be nothing more than a coaster with a dumb name, it would be easier to convince him that we should each get another game.
Which we did: We each chipped in to order my girlfriend and our best friend a copy before we went to bed that first night we played. What follows is my honest opinion of the great enjoyment I got out of a game that I mocked, maligned, and dismissed based on what gaming media unanimously told me. Now it’s my turn to testify in MoH’s defense, though it may be too little, too late.
[amazon_link id=”B0050SY5BM” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Medal of Honor: Warfighter on 360 / PS3[/amazon_link]
Advanced Battlefield of Spec Ops Duty (With Driving!)
The single-player campaign once again follows the exploits of “Tier 1” operatives Dusty, Voodoo, Preacher and Mother alongside a few new faces. Let me say right now that if you never gave the previous MoH a chance, it’s only $10 most places, and the single player campaign is easily worth that investment, either on its own or as a lead-in to Warfighter. The game advances via the tried-and-true method of dropping you into the boots of several different soldiers whose exploits all eventually tie together. To its credit, though, Warfighter does this a little more neatly than its counterparts, as it rarely sends you across half the planet (or randomly into space) for five minutes that don’t seem to have any real impact. There are also several missions where the game moves you between characters during a larger assault, such as a particuarly satisfying mission where you call in air support and then get dropped into a helipcopter seat, after which the chopper lands so you can link back up with your original squad.
The game actually features several vehicular sections, including one where you are driving / gunning from a boat in the middle of a hurricane, and two driving sequences that are on par with anything I’ve played in an FPS, not to mention a few racers. Through a combination of first-person driving, forgiving handling, and a few sections where you can knock enemy cars out in Burnout-style takedowns, these two missions feel so organic that even if I were told most of the cooler parts are semi-scripted, I wouldn’t care. In fact, that’s probably where the game excels the most: it made me feel like what I was doing was important.
This is especially true of infantry combat, where I can honestly say that I did not encounter a single instance of infinitely-respawning enemies, or enemies just popping up out of nowehere because I had pushed too far ahead of my squad or gone outside the LZ in a hold-the-line mission. Instead, each enemy came out of a door, or up from a tunnel, or some other believable entry point; if I decided to stay in cover while clearing a room, we would eventually kill all of the enemies in that area without having to “move up.” The number of enemies in each area was also reasonably believable for most of the game, something which I appreciate in games where I’m supposedly taking on terror organizations and grass-roots resistances, not the entire population of Iran.
It’s not all Silver Stars, though. While I liked these characters a fair amount in the first game, and genuinely care about some of the events that happen during missions, the main thrust of the story is told via the worst-looking cutscenes I have seen in a long time. I have no idea why they opted for this terrible CGI over using the in-game engine, since characters rendered in the latter look way better than they do in the former.
The main focus here is Preacher, a returnee from the last game whose involvement in Task Force Mako is destroying his marriage and estranging him from his yound daughter. His wife wants him to stop fighting, but events keep conspring to pull him and the others back into the line of fire. There’s a lot of talk about some new ultra-explosive, an unmemorable middle-man villian, and a vast conspiracy involving the… Cleric? Some terrorist leader with a religious codename who’s barely in the game. It’s cliched and poorly executed, and only takes time away from the bits of dialogue between the squad that I enjoyed; although it should be noted that there is far less emphasis on Tier 1 operatives getting to have beards this time around, which is disappointing. The game is also a bit on the short side, the missions get a bit repetitive, and the ending falls flat, but overall I found it to be a good time.
Does the Carpet-Bomb Match the Drapes?
The multiplayer is also standard fair: different classes, level progression, weapon unlockables, pointstreak rewards. But what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in execution by keeping a tighter lid on things than some of the over-wrought mechanics that have become so common. For the most part, we exclusively play Sector Control, which is just Domination from CoD, which is just multi-hill King of the Hill; based on server useage, this seems to be the mode that most everyone who owns the game finds most enjoyable. Modes like this usually require good map balancing and design, and for the most part all the maps work. Any size differentials are intentional and change the pacing of the match in good ways, spawn camping is difficult to execute and even more difficult to maintain, and the maps offer various routes without becoming too labrynthian.
The combat is also satisfying, with each weapon group feeling unique, and each weapon within that group adding to that feeling. I was surprised to find that using each class effectivley genuinely requires you to understand that classes straengths and utilize them, instead of each one simply being the same thing with a different coat of paint. Each class has a special ability and gadget – grenade launchers and frags for Assault, hollowpoints and flashbangs for Pointman, etc – as well as three tiers of unique pointstreak abilities, and each teir has an offensive and defensive. I prefer Assaulter, so my offensive abilities are mortar strike, guided missile, and carpet bomb respectively. The best moment I’ve had so far was when I launched my first carpet bomb, asking as I did so “What does this do?”; two seconds later the entire map shook, and when the match ticker lit up with seven kills to my name, my brother simply responded “It does that.”
I would love to talk about how many points it takes to get to each streak, or what the defensive streaks for the class I play almost every match are, but that information falls prey to the multiplayer’s biggest downfall: It has got to have the most poorly designed and executed menu system I have seen in a decade. Overlooking the fact that the game has no manual (!) would be easier if any information, at all, even a little, was provided somewhere within the cumbersome, busy, unintuitive mess of tabs and sub-menus that make up the interface.
From picking which class you are, to customizing weapons, to forming a platoon, to actually getting everyone in the same lobby and joing a server and beyond takes patience and a fai amount of luck. Even then, it doesn’t always work out. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve browsed the servers for non-hardcore Sector Control games with four open slots, only to get landed in a hardcore Combat Mission that only had room for two of us. Still, once we found a mtch we usually didn’t experience lots of lag or long loading times, and in the event people dropped out the server usually compensated and re-populated pretty quickly.
In the end, I’ve had a blast with the game since late Novemeber. I can’t honestly tell you why the reviews are so low, especially when I know firsthand that Black Ops II has several of the same flaws – and a few that are all its own – and yet still received the adoration of every major gaming media outlet. You know, the same ones that love to bash CoD and Activision before and after the fact to show how cool they are. I’m not here to talks about that *cough*stagnant*cough* franchise, though. I’m here to tell you that if you and some friends have $30 to spare and are looking for some good multiplayer action supported by an enjoyable campaign during the early-year lull in shooters, this might do the trick, beards or no.
NERD RATING – 7.5/10
UPDATE: Shortly after this writing, I was informed by a friend that EA has pulled MoH titles from future developmental rotation:
“The game was solid, but the focus on combat authenticity did not resonate with consumers. Critics were polarized and gave the game scores which were, frankly, lower than it deserved. This one is behind us now. We are taking Medal of Honor out of the rotation and have a plan to bring year-over-year continuity to our shooter offerings.” -EA COO Peter Moore
“We’re in a hit-driven business where it’s about what you can build in a certain period of time and really deliver for the marketplace, and frankly we missed on Medal of Honor. And we take responsibility for that. If you look at Medal of Honor as a specific case, it was really about a hit missing.” -EA Labels President Frank Gibeau