Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor on the Xbox 360 offers realistic weapons and scenarios
- A relatively frank depiction of a modern day conflict that offers the sort of thrills gamers expect from this genre, online multiplayer options should provide a legitimate alternative to Call of Duty
- It's not as polished as Modern Warfare, story doesn't impart a sense of resolution or closure, small technical issues pop up from time to time
EA's reboot of its popular war franchise brings the action to a familiar battleground, one where technology and specialisation are the order of the day. While Medal of Honor treads the same path forged by Modern Warfare, it offers enough to be a potential challenger to Call of Duty's dominance down the line. It doesn't win the war but it definitely has enough to carry its own in what should be a protracted battle.
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It's difficult—maybe the better word here is impossible—to talk about the new Medal of Honor without mentioning the Modern Warfare series. Producer Greg Goodrich did an admirable job of it at a recent press event, referring to the game's depiction of "today's war" and "today's soldiers," but that bit of coy synonymical manipulation doesn't hide the fact that Medal of Honor is trying to conquer territory Activision has already planted its flag in.
The good news is this marks the return of an old superpower for what I hope is a long and protracted battle between the two publishers, if only because competition breeds innovation, and I don't want the modern war setting to become as stale as the battlefields of World War II. The bad news is that MoH won't steal the spotlight from the upcoming Black Ops because Call of Duty is just too deeply entrenched and fortified and developer Danger Close has some work to do if they're going to catch up.
For its shortcomings, the one thing MoH does better than Call of Duty is the tone of its depiction of a modern day conflict; I replayed through the original Modern Warfare shortly after beating MoH and it came across like an episode of '24' compared to the much more subtle tact that Danger Close took—no doubt, this was a result of the role actual troops had in cultivating the development philosophy. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a realistic depiction—this is a video game, after all—but there's a sense that they intentionally avoided sensationalizing or glorifying combat.
There are still plenty of awe-inspiring moments in the game, like laser targeting ground targets for close air support to obliterate and taking control of an attack helicopter to rain down some serious firepower, but there isn't a "Hollywood" vibe here, reinforcing the sense that the events depicted in the game has actually happened and is happening right now.
Unfortunately, the real world setting proves to be just a bit too hot for Danger Close to fully embrace, and as a result, the narrative suffers—there just isn't enough emphasis placed on why you're doing the things you do. While the developers made a big deal about the real world setting, they chose to carefully hold it at arm's length. For instance, there is no true villain in MoH, just an endless wave of generated enemies who are apparently a part of the Taliban; its action movie pretensions aside, Modern Warfare at least recognized the need for a villain and set up an unholy triumvirate of foes—Zakhaev, Makarov, and General Shepard—to contend with.
Tellingly, the only character actually worth detesting is an American general who, from the comfy confines of his office hundreds of thousands of miles away, hands down orders that put political considerations ahead of the welfare of the men on the ground. It's an interesting bit of characterization, and you have to think it's indicative of the attitude some soldiers have towards the brass who shuffle them around like pieces on a chessboard, but there's no payoff and no resolution because there's no actual goal or end game to build towards.
It's a bit of a letdown from a gameplay perspective, and I don't mean that as a slight to the men and women currently serving in Afghanistan—if anything, the game, which ends with a moving tribute to soldiers, does a terrific job of reminding you that the war you just recreated isn't some made up fiction—but MoH isn't a documentary, it's a video game, and there are certain needs that must be met.
From a purely visceral standpoint, MoH hits all the expected notes, giving you access to a variety of realistic weapons and scenarios to experience—the game's overall look, feel and game mechanics will immediately be familiar to anyone who's beaten both Modern Warfare titles—but the entire game comes across like a series of loosely connected levels, rather than an overarching story. You can pin that mostly on the fact that it's based on a conflict that is still ongoing, but the lack of resolution is definitely noticeable.
There also a handful of rough spots which take some off the shine off the game. I experienced random audio skipping and texture popping during my playthrough, and I noticed a strange echo whenever I got too close to an NPC—every soldier is armed with a comm system, so if someone near you speaks, you hear their actual voice and their comm voice. The head's up display also needs work: it cleverly hides itself out of view—you can bring it up with a press of the Up button—but go anywhere near an ally and a giant prompt reading "Press X to request ammo" pops up on the screen. Walk over any dropped weapon and yet another giant prompt reading "Hold X to exchange weapon X for weapon Y" appears as well. It's a distracting eyesore that could have been toned down.
Ultimately, I think MoH is an interesting attempt to address war in a respectful way, and it should find its niche as a legitimate alternative for gamers who don't want to jump on the Call of Duty bandwagon. It hits most of the same gameplay notes as Modern Warfare does, even if it doesn't do it with nearly as much panache, and while it won't singlehandedly topple the empire Activision has built up, it could make up some ground with future titles if EA and Danger Close commit to improving the franchise. I personally am rooting for the franchise because having two legitimate companies competing in the same field will lead to innovation and evolution, which will hopefully ensure "today's war" doesn't become as tired as yesterday's news.
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