The Medal of Honor (MOH) series started off on the Playstation as an excellent outing into WWII first person shooting. Heralded as a success, EA’s efforts placed the series on a high pedestal as at the time there wasn’t much else which could rival it. However, after subsequent sequels where Jimmy Patterson’s antics were wearing thin, the series took a nosedive with the current gen release of Medal of Honor Airborne. The open ended style game failed to make any sort of impact bar a negative one on the gaming masses. Since then, Activision’s Call of Duty series has taken the limelight, shifted into new pastures, and become the benchmark military arcade shooter for this generation. With a new COD game mere weeks away there’s some added pressure placed on this latest MOH. How well does MOH stack up then, and with more familiar and trusted experiences not so far away, is it worth a look in?
The gameplay remains pretty close to the game’s past as you ease into first person action through the dimly lit settlements of the first single player campaign mission. The story is easy to digest, although only serving as a precursor to the actual gameplay where you’re in control as you work with your team mates through most missions. The story as it plays out in-game is very structured and rigid, offering little to no deviation from what’s expected. In some regards it works, providing a little more focus on what you’re accomplishing, perhaps lending itself to more tension due to the effective use of audio. On the other hand, it’s very constrictive considering the often expanse areas you travel through and feels like you’re being hand led most of the way.
That said, the missions are pretty solid, and will have you assuming all sorts of stances through various skirmishes and stealth based ops during the day and night. There’s some decent variety thrown in as you assume sniper, ride ATVs and even rain tactical hell on insurgents via gunships. The pacing is fast yet steady, and the visual reward pleasant, considering the game opts for a more organic look.
Controls are reasonably fluid, and you’ll instantly notice a lack of recoil when firing most weapons. This means the pace is kept speedy, as there’s a certain frantic element to a number of encounters where you’ll be faced with many enemies at once. The AI does a decent job of ducking in and out of cover and so a speedy aim means you can avoid the hide and seek nature of dug in opponents. The series’ trademark peek system is well in place, although admittedly using the default controller configuration makes it practically useless to use unless you’ve got six fingers to hand.
The team AI is typical, dumb, with signs of intelligence on occasion, although they do a decent job of clearing some enemies and offering covering fire. You can garner slightly different play experiences if you choose to sit back or once familiar with levels, take the lead. However the AI has a habit of standing right in front of your line of fire with no regard, which just seems sloppy. Some command controls might have worked to prevent this, but obviously having indestructible team mates was the better option.
Which leads us to the game’s difficulty, which from the off is rather easy on the default setting. The game only adds a further ‘Hard’ difficulty, which for anyone familiar with any modern day shooter will have no problems completing without breaking a sweat. The single player experience is extended with competitive leaderboard based mode ‘Tier 1’ where the stakes are upped considerably. Sadly those not connected to Xbox Live won’t be able to take part, which is a shame, as an offline version would have been easily applicable. Tier 1 missions are the same as the campaign, but with an added timer (and par time to beat), alongside attack bonuses which freeze the clock momentarily. To add further challenge, the levels have to be completed without being killed or failing objectives. This adds additional tension, and when you’re working to perhaps best your friends scores, then it becomes a test of nerves and skill.
The game looks very good throughout, providing environments indicative of the Afghan region. There’s an organic look throughout and with a number of night missions, and views through camera feeds, there are times when the game feels more gritty. However, the moments when the beaming sun is in full force and you’ll almost squint at the screen due to the stark contrast to the darkness. Some of the texture work is of a high standard, whereas at times when you look closely there are some imperfections. The game also has some poor rendering, where sometimes you can see objects being placed in the level as you look at them. The bugs are very obvious, but can be overlooked as can getting stuck, or seeing the AI get stuck and halting the story progression as a result. Aside from these discrepancies, the games characters, and environments all look good enough, although a few more enemy models would have been nice as it feels like you’re killing the mass clone army a lot of the time – perhaps the Afghan tailoring business isn’t what it used to be?
The audio is top quality, and you’ll either warm to or tire of the radio chatter and banter throughout the game. In fact, it seemingly never stops, keeping you well in tune with your objectives. It’s well voiced, and immerses you further into the actions, but can be a little full-on, especially if you like less intrusive audio. There’s a very serious tone to the script, and this is conveyed in the topical nature of the game’s story.
Weapons sound effects are worthy of a mention as these offer some real clarity to the audio. Admittedly a number of guns do sound like anti-aircraft fire, but this just adds to the feeling of shooting enemies with something powerful for a change, or so it would seem. Sadly, some enemies just refuse to give out their dying squawk so readily, as you fill them with round after round which somewhat reminds you of the pea shooter gameplay present in most shooters and certainly featured here.
A fairly short, but action packed story which can be tackled on three difficulty settings. An extended leader board mode for lone players, and a multiplayer mode for competitive versus and objective based online play. Sounds good, but there’s limits. As mentioned, the story is short and easy to beat, leaving the Tier 1 mode as the mainstay of the solo experience beyond the campaign. No co-op mode or missions feels like a step backwards and would have increased replay value considerably had they been included. The fact that Tier 1 is an online only mode is also a shame and means lone players are going to be short changed.
With the versus mode developed by DICE of Battlefield fame, there’s enough solid gameplay to be had with the various TDM and objective based modes. The style and approach is familiar with classes able to level up skills, and stat tracking for all of your endeavours. It’s well put together and is probably going to eat up more time than the solo experience. The online games can be played without having to purchase the EA Online Pass, which only serves to add more extras for those who buy the game new which is good news.
MOH offers a welcome return of form, although totally lacking in features for the solo gamer. The story mode presents gritty and life-like action moments, which somewhat sets it apart from the more Hollywood inspired offerings of other similar games. You’ll garner lots of enjoyment whilst it all lasts, and may feel an affinity with the soldiers in the field at present as a result. MOH’s Tier 1 mode is a welcome addition, but could have been fleshed out a little more to add legs to the single player game. Overall, with a cool demeanour and precise attention to detail, MOH is to be recommended. It’s a step in the right direction for the aged series, but not quite ahead of the competition, for now.