• Medal of Honor Review - Microsoft Xbox360

    Medal of Honor uproots the classic World War 2 FPS franchise and brings it bang up to date with a modern day setting. Taking place in Afghanistan, the player assumes the role of a number of different US specialists during their operations, spanning several days of the war on terror. While at first it seems as if EA have pulled a Modern Warfare on the series, after Activision's similar rejuvenation of their own Call of Duty line, the similarities are nothing more than superficial. Whereas Infinity Ward saw fit to use this as an excuse to fill their games with bigger guns, bigger explosions and dumber plots, EA have used the opportunities provided by modern equipment to turn in a surprisingly far more mature, engaging and down to earth experience.

    The visuals have a great art direction and engine.
    The visuals have a great art direction and engine.
    Obviously, being a video game, the level of realism is limited by the fact that you do have to rack up a rather staggering body count, but it still delivers a far more realistic approach to the conflict than we've seen from any other game to date. Objectives typically revolve around precision strikes on enemy installations and weapon batteries, identified through a combination of aerial and ground based intelligence, and conflicts are kept small and appropriately sized with the use of support artillery and aircraft handled in a way that matches their real world roles. You won't be whizzing through built up urban areas in a Humvee peppering the buildings from a mounted machine gun or dodging helicopter fire on an outboard inflatable in this game. Instead you'll be performing night time infiltrations via quad bike, providing targeting information for distant artillery to neutralise enemy anti aircraft batteries and ducking behind cover every few seconds because, yes, those enemies can aim and bullets hurt a lot. Suppressive fire actually plays a major role here, something that hasn't really been handled properly since the original Brothers in Arms titles. Stealth missions are also handled with a similar level of aplomb, at one point tasking the player with scanning a small village for cleverly hidden sentries to be neutralised before entering a compound, some of which are only visible by an occasionally exposed gun barrel.

    The levels are set up in a way that make you feel like a part of the larger whole, instead of playing the lone super soldier storming his or her way through the game single handedly, you are constantly in contact with other units, either to aid them or request support. It really succeeds in bringing home the key element of modern warfare, that of combined arms, with every unit fulfilling its own role in the overarching military machine. The campaign makes you feel like a predator without having to lower the difficulty level to achieve this end, whether playing as a bog standard marine or as a member of the special forces you are constantly given specific, defined roles beyond just kill the bad guys with bullets. The whole atmosphere is kept very low key and professional, there is a regular degree of communications chatter in the background but you thankfully won't find any melodramatic Hollywood antics on show. Instead, while the dialogue can get heated, it retains a professional level of detachment that actually resonates with the player much more than any over the top Hudson-esque moments. Without the xenophobia and overtly bombastic accompaniments that often accompany war games it also makes for a title that, despite the still touchy subject area, makes the experience enjoyable regardless of your personal politics. The enemy and setting are treated with a level of respect that washes aside all accusations of exploitation or headline grabbing and the developers have used this to wrap the gameplay in a rich and unique setting.

    During firefights suppression plays a very important element.
    During firefights suppression plays a very important element.
    The visuals are quite stunning, with a large draw distance without any frame rate issues, particularly noticeable when taking on the role of a helicopter pilot later in the game. But what really strikes home is the consummate level of time and effort that has gone into the scenery. Medal of Honor is set primarily in rural, mountainous locations with the player scrabbling amongst the glistening snow tipped rocks and moss laden scree, it doesn't just look good, it actually evokes that early morning beauty you get when spending time up in the mountains. The designers have put a lot of effort into studying how the light falls in these environments in real life and they have nailed it to such an extent that they've gone beyond just recreating an accurate depiction of the environment to capturing the emotions and ambience you would get from being there in person. This tranquillity and feeling of smallness compared to the landscape around you is something the game plays on at regular intervals with breaks in the action so that the player has the time to immerse themselves in their surroundings and build the tension before the next firefight. Rather than throwing a constant stream of gunfire at the player the pacing follows an ebb and flow, accentuating the brief periods of intense battle by juxtaposing them against the scale and ancientness of the mountains.

    Thanks to the high rate of damage there is a decent level of challenge and due to the organic layout of the cover Medal of Honor keeps you in the moment, always thinking and moving, and this keeps the high level of immersion at a constant throughout. The way that play switches between different personnel throughout the campaign also provides an effective manner to view the after effects of a previous mission's actions from elsewhere in the task force and makes for a good mixture of different tactical disciplines ranging from all out frontal assaults on enemy camps to missions where you are outnumbered and outgunned, deep in enemy controlled territory. Medal of Honor isn't a dry simulation, however - there are dramatic moments such as when you leap off the back of a transport chopper to save your teammates who have been left behind or when holding out a gradually collapsing hut as dozens of enemies swarm your location. But it's the style of delivery and measured application of such scenes that makes for a more refined and engaging experience.

    Across the campaign you get to experience a variety of fighting styles.
    Across the campaign you get to experience a variety of fighting styles.
    The multiplayer component for this release was actually ostensibly provided by DICE rather than Danger Close and, despite feeling like less work went into it than their popular Battlefield series, provides a strong and robust experience nonetheless. For the basic team deathmatch and domination modes the game ships with an array of different maps that have fairly well designed central cores but suffer somewhat from under developed end zones that at times feel sufficiently curtailed to make the maps feel undersized. This can be a particular problem when it comes to the moving of overrun spawn points as it's quite possible when on such small maps for a sixteen player team to have eyes on all the possible locations, so that wherever the spawn does move to, the losing team is going to be picked off straight off the bat, unable to spawn safely. For these sized maps it would have been better to have provided a longer invincibility timer when starting out or to have just gone for static, protected spawn locations as the levels are predominantly designed around end to end fighting anyway and work best when played that way.

    If you have two teams who are a bit more closely matched these issues fortunately don't crop up too often but it means that for the more experienced players the most efficient killzones on a map are so effective that the game starts to become repetitive, as there's rarely any benefit to utilising other parts of the layout. That said the gunplay is just as fast paced and satisfying as in the single player and the netcode is robust. Offsite support is available to those who rack up killstreaks but nicely balanced to the streak size in question so that they never feel overpowered. Getting the top level assists is a genuine achievement that will require well over half a match to accomplish and thanks to the limited supply of ammunition players will have to demonstrate genuine skill and daring to get them. In a nice touch some of the bonuses also provide buffs to you and your teammates such as improved armour and ammo resupplies which adds a level of timing and co-operation that can turn the tide of battle.

    Despite being a vehicle sequence in a first person shooter the helicopter gameplay is actually exciting for once.
    Despite being a vehicle sequence in a first person shooter the helicopter gameplay is actually exciting for once.
    An objectives based mode is also present which tasks one side with detonating a series of positions to win. This is certainly the stronger side of the multiplayer game with far more expansive environments to play in and the odd vehicle making an appearance, albeit thankfully without the ability to just crush the enemy team team single handedly. The variety of maps is reasonable, varying from flat, wide, cover free experiences to tight mountain pathways and vast foliage laden riverbanks. This mode actually requires some tactics and teamwork beyond just pulling the trigger in order to succeed but there's still too many of the same old, traditional bottleneck designs that we've seen in many games before.

    The fundamental issue with the multiplayer is that while fun and well put together, with some good map design in places, there just isn't the depth there to keep players coming back long term. As an accompaniment to the single player game it works but if it had been a standalone multiplayer offering it wouldn't be acceptable. The core gunplay is strong but the maps are heavily skewed to one or two areas and as such players learn all the tricks and techniques far too quickly leaving little room to grow or vary the experience. To lengthen the single player offering the developers have created the really rather excellent Tier 1 mode which is a time attack take on the campaign. Players are given one life with which to complete each level and can stop the clock by pulling off certain skillful kills such as headshots, multikills and so on. The levels are long enough that surviving on the one life can prove pretty challenging when combined with the speed element that sees you taking dangerous risks in order to keep your time low. There are global leaderboards for all the levels and this does a really fantastic job of extending an already entirely satisfying solo offering. Tier 1 doesn't feel tacked on in any way and is a pleasant and rewarding way to re-experience the campaign all over again.

    Picturesque scenes like this are common throughout.
    Picturesque scenes like this are common throughout.
    Medal of Honor may have ditched some of the interesting ideas we saw in the last game in the series, Airborne, but despite this the developers have created something really quite special. It demonstrates a consummate level of detail on all fronts and offers one of the longer lasting first person shooter efforts for the solo player that we've seen in some time thanks to the Tier 1 mode. Despite being a military based game it's one with characters you'll care about and some genuinely emotional scenes. It's not a game that jumps and screams at you, it just takes you on a journey, one that will leave a long lasting impression on those who experience it.
    Medal of Honor boxshot.
    First person shooter
    Danger Close / DICE
    Electronic Arts
    Xbox 360
    - Fantastic, immersive atmosphere.
    - Involving firefights.
    - Great pacing.
    - Decent multiplayer.
    - Multiplayer maps on the small side.
    - Not as innovative as the last entry, Airborne.
    - Multiplayer lacks longevity.
    Score: 8/10

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