Trying to compete with two of the biggest FPS franchises on the market requires more than gameplay, more than story - it demands brilliance in every area. Medal of Honor has attempted to offer something on a par with Modern Warfare 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2, each distinctive and each terrific in its own area of expertise. Before development started, Electronic Arts must have known that the odds were against them. Medal of Honor is recognised as a classic war game with great set pieces, but this latest addition to the series brings it into a present day setting. There's been plenty of hype and excitement for what promised to be the most refreshing Medal of Honor game ever made. In hindsight, taking a leap into the 21st Century was a tragic mistake.
It doesn't take long to spot the problems. One of the most important elements needed to make an engaging military shooter is an engaging story. Medal of Honor doesn't have one, as the narrative is non-existent. You'll be able to take control of three different characters, each of whom places you into a separate part of the U.S. Army. We're supposed to be dealing with the most elite and ruthless people in the military, Tier 1 operatives. As you're about to find out, this game doesn't do the brave men and women any justice whatsoever. They've all got typically silly code-names, they're all completely lifeless and any sort of character development is sorely absent. The biggest issue with the story is that the objectives are too general; there isn't an overarching goal or a main terrorist leader to track down. You're basically just shooting waves of Taliban in Afghanistan, and not much else. If the intention was to portray a realistic military experience that shows respect to the American troops in Afghanistan, then Medal of Honor is a disappointment on almost every level.
As soon as you pick up the controller, you'll notice that Medal of Honor rips off Modern Warfare 2 button for button. With the exception of being able to lean (a useless and awkward addition), the game handles in exactly the same way. The only other new feature is a sliding cover system which rarely works so it's impossible to rely on it. Kicking up dust and clinging to a rock looks good, but it's not very practical when you're left out in the open. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if the actual content was entertaining, but it's an incredibly linear experience. Each mission is well paced and there's plenty of variety on offer, from driving an ATV across a snowy mountain to destroying an Afghan village with a Harrier, but the gunplay itself is banal to say the least. Medal of Honor lacks the creative spark needed to make it stand out from the crowd. Had the story not been so convoluted and disinteresting, then maybe it would have compensated for some of the most monotonous gameplay of 2010. The developers really haven't done themselves any favours here. Any potential sense of urgency is removed by telling the story through predictable CGI and non-interactive cut-scenes. Even though there are a couple of atmospheric moments (the opening in particular), the lack of any control means that you're never going to be on the edge of your seat.
Medal of Honor's weakest trait, without question, is the AI. It's astonishing to see just how pathetically incompetent your team mates are when faced with a group of soldiers. Don't expect them to kill any more than a handful of enemies throughout the course of any given mission, it's your job to eliminate about ninety percent of targets thrown at you. There was plenty of pre-release talk about how your team moves using real life commands, but this sort of attention to detail is irrelevant when they can't aim straight. Enemy AI is just as brainless if not more so, they'll get stuck in rocks and leave themselves completely open to fire in many situations. FPS veterans won't find a challenging solo campaign here, Medal of Honor won't push you back, even on the hardest difficulty. Compared to getting through Call of Duty 4 on Veteran, this is a casual afternoon stroll in a world full of clueless idiots. Is this a true representation of war? Of course not. It's borderline propaganda at times, depicting groups of American soldiers slaughtering a horde of enemies without any clear motive. Medal of Honor doesn't replicate reality, it has more in common with Team America.
One of the few positive aspects of Medal of Honor arrives in the form of some decent graphics. Although just like everything else in the game, it's inconsistent and never feels complete. Certain missions which drag you through the various villages in mountainous Afghanistan have great textures and particle effects, but that's not always the case. The graphical blemishes are most evident in the first half of the game when textures grow increasingly muddy and light casts extremely blocky shadows. Weapons are usually quite detailed, but overall the game's presentation doesn't hold up. The frame rate will drop on far too many occasions and vehicle models fail to render quickly enough at times. A game shouldn't be judged on visuals alone, but when the quality fluctuates so often, it's hard feel properly immersed with these soldiers. The soundtrack goes some way towards heightening the atmosphere with some traditional instrumental music and the voice acting is quite solid. Although this brings us back to the earlier problem of character development, these men don't have the personality of Ghost or Price, they're just bearded clones with a name hovering over them.
Medal of Honor's single player campaign is disappointing, so it should come as promising news to hear that multiplayer was developed solely by DICE. Using the same engine as Bad Company 2, it appears as though the initial goal was to blend the fast paced action of Modern Warfare with the tactical prowess of Battlefield. What people seem to forget is that these are two entirely different forms of gameplay, with two separate target audiences. Online warfare is better equipped than most other shooters out there, but DICE is capable of producing a more streamlined experience. There are four different modes, most of which are ripped from Battlefield's Rush and Conquest, with the remainder filling in the generic slots. There are only eight maps and they're all locked into individual modes. For example, if you prefer to play an objective based game mode, there will only be three maps on the rotation list. Unlike the depth of class manipulation present in its rivals, Medal of Honor only has three; Rifleman, Special Ops and Sniper. Rank progression leads to better unlocks but there simply isn't enough content here when two better alternatives are available. Invisible walls mean that it doesn't have the free roaming capabilities of Battlefield, and the limited options leave it trailing behind Modern Warfare. It's an identity crisis, Medal of Honor has no idea what it wants to achieve.
Hypothetically speaking, if you started playing Medal of Honor when you wake up, the game will be comfortably wrapped up before lunchtime. The 'story' is no longer than four hours and there's no co-operative mode. One feature called 'Tier 1 Mode' allows you to replay the campaign in a battle against the clock, skillful killing will extend the timer and there are no checkpoints. Considering how Medal of Honor reeks of mediocrity, this addition is too little too late. If you're truly desperate for a new multiplayer experience before Call of Duty: Black Ops arrives in a few weeks, then you might find some enjoyment here, but it's not going to be able to sustain a healthy community next year. This is nothing more than a mindless recreation of actual war, and when you have two superior (and cheaper) games on the market, it becomes impossible to recommend Medal of Honor as anything other than a tolerable rental.
If EA envisioned Medal of Honor as the most accurate portrayal of modern combat, then it has failed miserably. The industry has been fortunate to see the likes of Battlefield and Call of Duty maintain the high standards that we expect from them, but Medal of Honor will never be remembered as a top quality FPS. It's a shame to see a series, once hugely respected, hit rock bottom. Unfortunately, it was always going to be a losing battle and we don't need any more combatants. EA has to go back to the drawing board, otherwise we could lose this classic franchise forever. Medal of Honor isn't the worst game in the world but when everything here is sub-standard, you'll be left wondering, what's the point of it all?