Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Medal of Honor

Post-Launch Review
Medal of Honor (PC)
Developer: Danger Close Games (single player)
Released: October 2010
Played: Single player only, story complete in 4.2 hours

Note: this review and my recommendation are for Medal of Honor's single-player campaign only; I didn't touch the multiplayer.


Medal of Honor follows a group of US soldiers - a Navy SEAL squad, a Delta Force sniper, a Ranger, and an Apache gunner - during the initial invasion of Afghanistan in 2002 (I didn't actually pick up on the specific date/setting until after I looked up some info to finish this review, so keep that in mind as you read this)

At Launch

Medal of Honor was well received, earning average review scores of 74% (a couple of points lower on PC). Critics were impressed with the audio and voice acting, but docked points for level design, graphics, some minor technical issues, and similarity to the Battlefield series.

Post Launch

There were some patches and DLC packs, but it's all for multiplayer so I don't care because this review is about single player.

As soon as I gained camera control I immediately noticed that it felt weird. Turns out the game has mouse acceleration AND auto-aim, with no option to disable. AAAAAUUUUUGGGGHHHH. You can get rid of the acceleration by editing a config file as shown here. That made it tolerable enough to play, but forcing mouse acceleration and aim assist on me is a big hit on my opinion of a game.

Now that that's sorted out, on to the actual game!
Okay, we start out with a nice rendered cutscene of some soldiers in a helicopter about to make a drop. Suddenly the helicopter is hit by an RPG! Bail out!

Cut to six months earlier. Uhhh, what? It's only been like twenty seconds, what was the point of showing me such a tiny little snippet with absolutely no context or character or information of any kind at all? Anyway, moving on... There's a cutscene of a bunch of satellites and snippets of information. It sounds like there was some kind of accident, and maybe it was actually a bombing, and maybe Al Qaeda is involved? I think?
So now I'm in the Middle East somewhere. I'm a guy called Rabbit sent with my squad to meet with an informant, Tariq. Of course it's some kind of trap and there are guys there to kill us. We shoot our way through town and find Tariq, who tells us there's over 500 Taliban soldiers in the next valley over and we should go kill them. Why? Well, they're Bad Guys, what more justification do you need?

All this setup has been absolutely awful. I've been given no information on why I'm in the Middle East, and my squad consists of three codenamed guys with zero personality who only ever say things like "move out" or "get to cover" or "Rabbit go over there and do ___". Through all of this my squad is pretty competent at taking out the Bad Guys on their own, and there's at least one guy leading me around and telling me precisely what to do every second of the game, so I often don't even feel like I'm actually playing a game, as opposed to just watching stuff happen and following button prompts.

And as a side note, when I refer to capitalized Bad Guys, I'm not joking around - the game regularly tells you "it's OK to kill them, they're Bad Guys".
But all that said, it's a pretty good shooter. Things move fast, there's excitement and spectacle, I'm always on my toes. The campaign is cleverly set up to constantly switch between weapons and vehicles and environments so that there's something new every mission. You've always got some new toys to play with, keeping things feeling fresh.

Outdoor environments are pretty nice with a good amount of detail. The first level in a small city felt pretty constricted and didn't do a good job showing off the game's potential - though it did take place at night in a slightly snowy area, which was kind of nice. Once things open up the environments feel much bigger and the illusion of freedom is sold pretty well (by illusion I mean there's a set path but moving along that path feels natural). It doesn't look as great as, say, Metro 2033 (which came out a few months earlier) but it's good enough. The dusty brownness is broken up by snow, blue sky, and night missions.

Sound is quite good, too. I've noticed a lot of attention to detail things like the sound of firing a gun changing depending on where you are (like indoors vs outdoors, or in a metal tube), and characters sounding a little out of breath over the radio. And that's in addition to the high quality and layering of sounds in chaotic battles, and the somewhat subtle late-game music that adds a lot of atmosphere and tension.

One of the most compelling elements of Medal of Honor is the constant radio chatter. There's never a moment of silence, and you're always hearing radio interactions full of military jargon between two or more people. That, plus the constantly changing viewpoints, do an excellent job of conveying the feel of being one party of a very large operation. Halfway through the game I even found myself slipping into a more focused story - a squad gets overwhelmed and a rescue operation is launched.

Recommendation: maybe.

This is the first time I've actually managed to play all the way through one of these big-budget modern warfare shooters, and now I understand what people mean when they call them big dumb spectacles. This is a game that never let me make my own decisions, held my hand the entire way through, and never gave me any context or reason for killing hundreds of men with overwhelming force - but it was still fun, with plenty of intense action and good variety in gameplay, and obviously well put together. Consider grabbing it if it's on sale, but there's no way I'd pay full price for a game like this.

Medal of Honor actually really creeped me out in a bad way, with the complete lack of justification for anything that happens, and a few other elements. I'll talk about that more tomorrow because I've already mentioned it a bit and don't think that the whole rant should be part of this review.

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