Every once in a while a review copy finds its way to my humble abode. Most of you probably don’t know but I generally have a number of self-imposed guidelines. For one thing, whatever game I’m reviewing must be finished. Every review must be case-specific (that just means that if I do end up comparing titles and features, it has to be: apples with apples, and pears with pears). Thirdly, and most importantly, I never read other reviews, prior to – or while writing a review. It’s a simple set of rules, that I hope, manages to keep my own writing as honest as possible. Right or wrong, agree or disagree, you’re getting a review that is as honest and objective as possible – bar my usual idiosyncrasies and biases.
Sadly, one of my guidelines found itself crushed under the boot of curiosity. I just couldn’t resist the first set of reviews as they crawled out of the sewers and emerged with the ferocity of a muck-covered, plague-carrying sewer rat. It was an industry-wide revolt, as the major players slammed EA (and by association, Danger Close) for their latest creation; Medal of Honor: Warfighter. One reviewer even went so far as to call it this generation’s “worst game ever”.
With vitriol flowing freely, and the forums abuzz with condemnation. Frown lines quickly appeared on my forehead. I started to get that sinking feeling. The thought of having to endure one of this generation’s “worst games” left me in a foetal position, and this horrid feeling of impending doom. As the weekend inched on, I eventually mustered up enough courage, and slid the game disk into my console.
But, before you get to hear what I think about Medal of Honor: Warfighter; let’s head down memory lane, to the distant past. Imagine for a brief second that it is the year 2010. It’s the year of motion gaming. The kinect is promising to dazzle us with the possibility of controller-free gaming. The PS Move is promising to do to the PS3 what the Wii had been doing for the last few years. Fanbois, fangirls and bored unemployed slackers are still engaged in a bitter stalemate over which piece of plastic crap is the best. Meanwhile, a small development studio called Danger Close is about to release the Medal of Honor reboot. It was supposed to bring Activision’s combat shooter to its knees. Instead, it received mixed reviews, but more importantly, it found itself in the midst of an opportunistic and highly-tasteless attempt to manufacture controversy.
What was SO controversial, you ask? The inclusion of the Taliban , and the opportunity to play as a member of Afghanistan’s all-male football team, in multiplayer. At the time, I couldn’t understand why that was so controversial. Years prior to the reboot, I had been killing Russians, other eastern Europeans, Nazis, mercenaries, Somali pirates, Americans and even aliens. Deep down, I was kind of eager to play as a Taliban warlord.. Suffice to say, controversy notwithstanding, Medal of Honor had two things going for it; the singleplayer campaign was extremely well-done, and its multiplayer (with the ability to eventually unlock prestige classes/skins) was decent. It’s only real vice was that the singleplayer was ridiculously short, even when compared to most contemporary combat shooters (or as I like to call them, corridor shooters). Fast forward two excruciatingly long years, and the obvious question is, have they improved on their formula?
The answer: Kind of!
“This is my rifle, this is my gun. This is for fighting, the other is for fun” (Singleplayer)
The single player campaign isn’t a direct sequel to the 2010 precursor, but a number of characters (Tier 1 operatives) make a welcomed return. The familiar faces of Voodoo, Mother, Dusty and even Preacher are joined by another character, codenamed Stump (presumably Rabbit’s replacement). The team is yet again engaging in (potentially illegal) black ops operations across the world. This time round they’re tasked to unravel a dangerous terrorists plot, crafted by a man, simply known as the Cleric. Instead of merely focusing on the action, Danger Close tries to humanise the main character by introducing a heavy dose of family drama. It’s fairly effective in showing the heavy toll Preacher’s work is exerting on his own sanity and that of his family. Via cut-scenes the game follows Preacher’s attempts of reconnecting with his estranged wife.
My only real issue is that the tale isn’t bold enough. It certainly attempts to provide a more “authentic and believable” story, and one that I commend Danger Close for telling, but it could have been a lot more. There are stories that are never explored. You never learn what the Cleric’s motivations are. What scarred him so much that he would devote his whole life to destroying the US? Was it a drone strike on his village? Was it family members killed during the invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq or is he a convert of the zeitgeist? The same is true for the Banker or for that matter any of the cannon fodder in the game. It’s certainly refreshing to have villains that “aren’t over the top”, nor sitting in a leather chair plotting to overthrow the world – while stroking their long-haired calicoes, but a valuable opportunity is lost. Another character that seems to have been given the cardboard treatment is Stump. His back story is never explained, and while Preacher’s tale is fleshed out, Stump remains a cardboard cut-out, a convenient story filler. While I don’t want to spoil anything, I’m surprised Stump wasn’t killed off. It also doesn’t help that the singleplayer campaign feels rushed. The cut-scenes does a fairly decent job, but with just a bit more editing, more back-story, an exceptional story could have been pieced together.
The gameplay follows the familiar theme of a modern first-person shooter. There are times when it resembles a blockbuster movie. The set pieces are exceptionally well-done, and there are a number of inspired levels. One in particular, features Preacher trying to escape from pursuing henchmen in a car. The car handling, physics, car damage and occasional flying chicken are absolutely brilliant, and the level feels straight out of a James Bond movie. I wasn’t aware that the Frostbite engine could be used in this way, but at the end, you can’t shake off the feeling that had the game allowed you to approach objectives more organically, with less emphasis on corridor crawling, Medal of Honor would have been exceptional.
There are a number of technical issues. For one thing, the AI is atrocious. If it’s not your team mates trying to steal your cover, or getting stuck behind walls, it’s the enemy AI and their suicidal tendencies. But, one of the most surprising features is that the cover system actually works. More importantly, it works seamlessly while under fire, and at higher difficulties, the ability to take cover (using the LB button and carefully peak around a corner) becomes a required skill.
One more headshot, and I’m going to breach this door with my Movember moustache!
I’m not sure what to say, but Danger Close seems to have fallen in love with the act of breaching. You’re going to be breaching a lot of doors. What that means is that whenever your team finds a door, they’ll assume their breaching positions, and you can choose how to unleash the pain. But it gets stranger. When you breach through a door, the action goes slow-mo. During these brief moments, you have to kill those hapless souls who have just had their sense rocked by a stun grenade. The more headshots you get, the quicker you can unlock a different breaching technique. It sounds like a cool idea at first, but you quickly realise it really doesn’t matter which breaching technique you choose, from kicking down the door, planting C4 chargers or punishing the door handle with a breaching shotgun. The end result is the same.
Ek en my maatjie, Erwin speel saam (Multiplayer):
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that with a singleplayer that barely stretches past the 6 hour mark, the main focus of the game will be on the multiplayer. If you’ve managed to play an online shooter in the last 5 years, you’ll instantly recognise Warfighter’s modes. There are the obligatory Team Deathmatch matches and even the more objective-based modes, where you capture flags or try to defend specific positions from C4-carrying enemies or try to make a name for yourself by planting a charge.
While the options are familiar, they do get the job done.
There are also 6 different classes to choose from. These include Spec Ops, Assaulter, Sniper, Demolitions, Heavy Gunner and Point Man. Each class plays differently, and are complimented by their own selection of weapons and secondary abilities. For the Demolition class that might include being able to plant or defuse a bomb quicker, or the Heavy Gunner being able to support his team by calling a transport helicopter. You’ll also unlock new weapons, gear, soldiers and secondary abilities as you level up. In addition, you can even choose which country you want your Tier 1 Operative to be from. Sadly, South African recces are not included, and I’ve sent a letter to Danger Close explaining why we should feature. If Sweden can have their soldiers featured, then by the gods of war so too can South Africa.
The other feature that I initially thought was silly was the Fireteam Buddy system, but after a healthy number of hours online, I can honestly say, it’s a brilliant little addition. In a nutshell, each team is split up into fireteams of two. Your buddy is your spawning point, your healer, your re-supplier and the one covering your back. Even in the midst of chaos, you should be able find your Fireteam Buddy by the green glow that surrounds them. If they get killed, you can exact revenge on his killers, because for a brief moment in time, they’ll show up on your map as a bright red. In addition, if you stay close to your buddy, you get bonus points for their actions, so it pays to stay close to them and to support them as much as possible.
But, the online play is not without a few annoyances. For one thing, unlike the 2010 Medal of Honor, you’re essentially fighting against other players with the same character skins (except for camo colour). It’s really strange to be playing as a British SAS, while your fireteam buddy is a Swedish SOG, and the person finding themselves in your crosshairs is also British SAS. I couldn’t help but wonder why they couldn’t have settled for believable OPFOR. At the moment, it just feels like you have teams of mercenaries fighting for no apparent reason. A bit like alternate bizarro versions of the Expendables team fighting themselves in limbo.
The other annoyance comes because of map imbalances, and how easily one team can find themselves steam-rolled because of spawn-camping. It’s one thing to allow flanking, and allowing you to sneak up on unsuspecting enemies, but it’s a completely different story when it’s easily exploited and there’s no remedial course for the defending team.
Hot under the collar: a mid-review rant
If you can get past the silliness of the game’s name. You’ll be able to ignore the latent hyperbole that has erupted in the wake of Warfighter’s release. It’s not the “worst game of this generation”. Nor, does it have the most uninspired or “generic” single player campaign (of the current crop of barely distinguishable combat shooters). That honour goes to either Battlefield 3 or Homefront. Both games managed to squeeze their linear selves through some of the most superfluous storytelling to date (yet both managed to also ship with addictive multiplayer).
Let’s not even touch on the subject of the modern reviewer’s crutch, that simple term “generic”. There’s nothing more lazy in reviews, then merely sprinkling in the word “generic”. What exactly is “generic” about Warfighter? Is it the fact that you shoot guns? Is it the fact that it’s a first-person shooter? Is it the inclusion of a working cover system? Being able to strafe behind walls? Could it possibly be the addition of fire-teams in multiplayer? These are just a few examples that elevate Warfighter over other and similar titles. It might not seem like a huge departure, but once you take the time to give Warfighter a go, you quickly realise that the pacing is slower. You’re required to take note of where your fire-team partner/buddy is. The emphasis is less on run-and-gun gameplay and more on team work (especially team work involving your fire-team twin), although once you have a feel for the maps, you can probably get a way with unleashing your inner Rambo, and lay a stake on the corpses of your enemies.
You have to use cover, and make use of your specific classes secondary abilities. After well-over 30 hours on both PS3 and Xbox 360, I can confidently and honestly add, that while Warfighter is no Battlefield 3.5, or a shameless Call of Duty clone, it can be a rewarding online game. It has its own nuances It’s just a shame that for whatever reason it was crucified for the sins of all linear combat/corridor shooters that came before it.
What’s that you say? It’s just another first-person shooter, with a heavy emphasis on navigating tight corridors? But, before you throw your hands into the air and declare that the combat shooter sub-genre is quickly devolving into a stagnant swamp, devoid of creativity; Medal of Honor does come with a few tricks up its sleeve. The cover system is one of its strengths, and the ability to seamlessly slide into cover or use the LB button to control your visibility is inspired. It’s such a simple addition that it makes you wonder why other combat shooters haven’t done the same, especially those that force you to navigate through one endless linear corridor after another. On the weaker side of things, the breaching mechanic could have been expanded on. It’s a system that literally screams “use me in creative ways” or make specific breaching techniques required for different situations (like in the old SWAT games). As it stands, it just feels a little “random” and unnecessary.
Design and Presentation: 8/10
There is no question that Medal of Honor: Warfighter is definitely one of the more aesthetically-pleasing first-person shooters on the consoles at the moment. It might pale in comparison to the beauty of Killzone 3, but give credit where credit is due. What is disappointing though is that the Frostbite 2.0 engine is not being used to its fullest. If you’re a Battlefield nut, you’re well aware about the potential for environmental damage; shrapnel flying through the air, or using suppressive fire to subdue your enemies. It’s one of the many features that make Battlefield 3 stand out, whereas here… it feels subdued. Environmental damage seems less important in multiplayer, and there are times where you’re literally itching to unload a few clips from your SMG into a wall and have it topple on top of your enemies. At other times, you’re literally crying for an RPG to take out a camping clown behind a wall.
If you’re one of the vast majority of South African gamers who rarely game online, I honestly can’t recommend Medal of Honor: Warfighter. The single player campaign is ridiculously short. It measures in at just over 5- 6 hours (depending on your difficulty). If you are connected to the internet, and trying to wean yourself off Battlefield 3 (or any of the other online combat shooters), then Warfighter should provide a worthy distraction. There appears to be a genuine effort to make use of the functionality of battlelog and the weekly Nation’s log should keep you interested. On top of that, there are soldiers and weapon customisation parts to unlock and each of the 6 classes are sufficiently different. Whether you’ll be able to stick around depends on whether you can stomach the occasional bugs or even the map imbalances (that can drag a multiplayer game down into a frustrating spawn-camping mess).
Worst game of this generation? Definitely not, but Medal of Honor: Warfighter is not without its flaws. It will dazzle you with occasional glimmers of genius, and at other times it feels like the game is merely window-dressing for Battlefield 4. In other words, a sneaky way to test out new battlelog features. But, even if that’s true, it’s still a decent game in its own right. You just need to warm up to it. A bit like how grandpa or your dad needs to kick off his libido by taking a tablet.
[Reviewed Primarily on Xbox 360 (Completed on Hard) Multiplayer (level 48 Xbox)] [Also test on PS3 (Completed on Normal);Multiplayer (level 19 PS3)]