Review: Medal of Honor

Oh, what dark days we PC enthusiasts game in today when it seems that games are dumbed down for the console market or, even worse, ported the wrong way. And by the wrong way, I, of course, am referring to when games are built for consoles first and PC as an afterthought. The result is rarely pretty and Medal of Honor is no exception to this rule. Or, at the very least, it looks as though it has been ported the wrong way. [Note: Nachos reviewed the PC version of Medal of Honor. A shorter console friendly second opinion follows this exceptional review- ko-zee-ii]

Having suffered through the initial disappointment of the uber-lacklustre Medal of Honor closed beta, being impressed by the resurgence of a better-polished open beta experience, my expectations for the single-player portion of the game were still rather high. Couple this with the fact that Dave absolutely loved his experience with the game and also that I’d played a fairly impressive first level of the game on Xbox 360, and I was really looking forward to being awed by this reboot to the Medal of Honor franchise.

Alas, expectation, it seems, truly is the mother of all disappointment. (For the record, this review only covers the single-player portion of the game.)

Straight off the bat, the very same level that I enjoyed on the Xbox 360 version was a buggy affair on the PC. Dodgy animations, ridiculously stupid AI on both sides and questionable hit registry were only the beginnings of my hate/love (yes, in that order) experience with Medal of Honor. But the least palatable part of this particular shit-list is one of the biggest no-nos in the first-person genre: randomly appearing enemies.

And Medal of Honor did this throughout the duration of the entire campaign. Whether up close in huts, cheatingly teleporting in behind you or very noticeably magically appearing at the top of hills, this was the biggest immersion-destroying facet of the game. Note to developers: when trying to create a gritty and real-world setting, teleporting Taliban is not conducive to this end.

But it doesn’t get better from here, either. There are some serious game-destroying bugs that needed to be addressed prior to release. Remember the shonky friendly AI I mentioned earlier? I had to backtrack in a particular level to find a teammate who was stuck jogging up against a wall trying to get to an objective that wasn’t even on the other side of said wall. Thankfully, a knife to the back of the head motivated him to stop trying to climb the wall and get on with it. Pity I couldn’t advance without him first leading the way.

And yes, you are perpetually playing the role of the bitch in Medal of Honor, as you wait to be told to kick down doors, have them opened for you by teammates (there is no other way) or need a leg/hand up to climb over obstacles that your seemingly nimbler AI friends can get over with relative ease. Any momentum created throughout the game is consistently destroyed by the fact that you will reach points where you frustratingly have to wait for your teammates to catch up.

If the aforementioned teammate but wasn’t big enough for you, try this one on for size. There’s a particular mission that requires you to suppress a heavy machine-gun emplacement that’s mowing down friendlies. DO NOT FAIL THIS MISSION ON THE FIRST ATTEMPT. It’s about halfway through the level and, if you die as I did the first time, you HAVE to restart the entire level to progress. The gunner refused to be suppressed on the second, third, fourth, fifth (you get the idea) manual checkpoint reload and was impervious to grenades or good ol’ fashioned lead to the head. Worst of all, a quick Google search of this bug revealed that others were having the same problem on other platforms… hmmm.

I could rattle on and on about the pointless driving sections, the ‘fauxpen world’ that entices you with multiple entry points but ultimately funnels you in one direction, the abundance of invisible walls, or the limitations of the highly scripted nature of the game… but I feel that you’re starting to understand that my experience wasn’t overly positive.

But first, a love/hate feature. While sprinting you can hit crouch to slide into cover, which works really well in the fast-paced sections and makes you feel totally freakin’ ninja. The only problem is for PC players such as myself who use Left Control as crouch (it’s also the primary default crouch button), sprinting with Left Shift and then having to simultaneously press Left Control gets a little awkward. The result was that I rarely used the slide.

Enough of the hate though, let’s move on to what did work.

The sound design. Oh. My. Freakin’. Shit. If you have a decent surround-sound setup or are gifted with some nifty headphones, your ears are going to thank you. This has to be some of the best in-game sound I’ve heard in years. Bullets snap and whizz past your head, the guns have a believable weighty sound to them and the mostly appropriate score (the only time the score didn’t work for me in this ‘respectful’ game was in the hard-rock track that plays while you’re levelling a Taliban-infested village… it was cool as hell, but felt more Call of Duty in tone than what this new Medal of Honor is aiming for) kicks in at the right time for beautiful moments of immersion. Small touches such as the slightly different firing sound to let you know your mag is running dry further highlight the impressiveness of the soundscape.

Once you get past the boring samey humdrum of the initial levels and out into the bigger battlefield, the pacing is fantastic. You’ll seamlessly jump from a super-cool defence mission against insurmountable odds as your cover is slowly shot to pieces, to an Apache gunner section where you have to level a village, to a sniper portion that cleverly transitions from the Apache cockpit. Unfortunately, these sections weren’t without the previously listed bugs as well as some downright dirty cheating player deaths if you didn’t obey what the game was telling you to do… but wait, I was talking about good stuff.

Ultimately, I was disappointed by my time with Medal of Honor. The campaign wasn’t overly long, the story wasn’t as epic or gritty as I had imagined it to be, there were more bugs than Starship Troopers and I had to reload checkpoints far too regularly when things glitched out. To make matters worse, when the game really worked and I was immersed, it was all too easy for Medal of Honor to repulse me again with any number of the aforementioned concerns.

Perhaps it works better on the other platforms, but as a PC FPS enthusiast this game didn’t offer a whole lot and fought against me every step of the way to suck consistent enjoyment from its bones. It’s a shame as to what could have been, but I’ll be hanging out for Call of Duty: Black Ops in the hopes that my faith in military shooters can be reignited. After all, it’s only fair that I keep my expectations high for Medal of Honor’s biggest competitor to see if it can live up to my apparently lofty belief that games should be trying to push boundaries instead of boasting that they will and then feeding us much of the same soup.

5/10

SECOND OPINION – ko-zee-ii

While I can’t comment on the unpleasantness Nachos experienced from the PC version, I can say that I didn’t have many of the problems he encountered. I find myself in a strange position of wanting to defend Medal of Honor, much like fans of Red Dead Redemption did when I wrote my piece criticising its flaws (found here). While I wont oppose Nachos’ impression vehemently, I did have an entirely different experience on Xbox360.

I found myself completely sucked in to the plight of the Tier 1 operators, enjoyed the intuitive and conventional combat, particularly as Nachos pointed out, the new slide into cover. The transitions between missions were brilliant and I barely lost immersion. After walking in with predominately negative feelings associated with the multiplayer beta, I ate my words and had one of the my best campaign playthroughs to date. I dug the characters (especially Dusty, it’s like playing with a virtual Adam Mathew), thoroughly enjoyed the tense feel and would have played a second time if time permitted. I have no hesitation is saying it was the best finished First Person Shooter I’ve played this year and happily give it top marks.

10/10

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