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Medal of Honor
Graphics: 8.2
Gameplay: 8.4
Sound: 9.1
Control: 8.5
Replay Value: 8
Rating: 8.6

Maybe for the first time in first-person shooter history, many critics have misunderstood the aim of a particular production due to unfamiliarity and flat-out ignorance. This isn’t a slight against other reviewers; we all have to admit to deficiencies in knowledge that may hamper our ability to accurately judge a particular video game. In the future, I fear games will get so realistic, unless one is a true-blue expert on the subject, he or she won’t be fit to issue an accurate, reliable review. As developer Danger Close tapped the military and real Tier 1 operators for Medal of Honor, I felt I should do the same. I know a few people who have participated in the war on terror so I felt inclined to fire a few questions in their direction. As it turns out, and after playing a game I couldn’t help but enjoy, I’ve concluded that, despite the technical shortcomings (which are certainly a hindrance), this is an authentic experience that deserves its just due.

First up, we deal with an aspect of the game that doesn’t require any of the aforementioned real-world knowledge: the graphics. The visual presentation here is a bit odd, in that one minute, you’ll be impressed and even amazed at the detail, coloring, shading and special effects and the next…well, you’ll see a goat that has no face and black blotches where eyes and nose should be. The nighttime scenes aren’t anything special and the cut-scenes feature plastic-y character design, but during the day, one can’t help but become immersed in the intense, atmospheric proceedings. The designers spent a lot of time meticulously designing many elements of the environment, including seemingly trivial things like mounds of rocks and stubby trees. I still don’t think there's enough colorful “oomph” behind some of the explosive effects and one can’t deny some of the clipping, hitches and other problems, but the graphics do suffice.

The sound does more than suffice, as it’s the highlight of the game. Speaking of developer effort, Danger Close went out of their way to grab a ton of diverse and realistic radio chatter; you don’t often hear the same thing too many times, and both orders and sarcastic comments (which aren’t overdone) greatly enhance the game’s appeal. The soundtrack is great, too, as it kicks up during important parts when you’re advancing towards another battle, and tails off just a bit to let the focus sit squarely on the confrontation at hand. The effects are also top-notch; each weapon has a very distinct sound and everything from the yells of the Taliban – and your allies – to the whistle of bullets and ammo impact, is pretty awesome. The technical deficiency of the game rears its ugly head and can cause the sound to cut out completely at times, and there are a few balance issues. But still, this is about as good as you could hope for.

Based on what I’ve been told, modern warfare and especially the war on terror can be described as follows: 99% waiting around, 1% sheer terror. Of course, that doesn’t work for a video game. Therefore, Danger Close needed to reverse that ratio and create an experience that features the most intense, out-of-control, nightmarish scenarios the Army Rangers, Marines and Tier 1 Operators might encounter. This addresses the first flaw I’ve seen mentioned in different reviews: that Medal of Honor’s ceaseless action isn’t realistic and starts to feel too much like a “shooting gallery” of sorts. Firstly, you’re not following the actions of one particular individual and one particular group of soldiers. In fact, you will step into quite a few pairs of boots, and that includes being a helicopter gunner, sniper, and infantry invader. Sometimes it’s just you and a buddy; other times, there are multiple allies. Furthermore, as I understand it, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan is much like this-

There’s little rhyme or reason to such a war. This isn’t the Revolutionary War or even World War II, where one encounters giant battlegrounds often planned down to the smallest detail. No, it’s about chasing random fighters through the rocks; it’s about constantly dealing with surprises; it’s about pitched battles centered in very small hot zones. This is what we have in Medal of Honor. Here, we have a series of situations and events that let you see what the bravest of the brave must contend with, and the variety, pacing and balance keeps you interested throughout. The point I’m trying to make is this- according to information I’ve been given, which is admittedly second-hand but better than third or fourth-hand via media, MoH will ring true to those who have really experienced the war on terror. I think too many people are missing this, and expected something different.

The controls are mostly tight and reliable and I’m actually very, very impressed with the hit detection. This is a facet of some shooters that simply falls flat or isn’t quite so reliable but in this game, just about every bullet that was supposed to hit something does, and weapons are realistically accurate (or inaccurate, as the case may be). Zooming in with the L1 button increases accuracy and yet, the shotgun can only be relied upon in close quarters, where it really can be relied upon. Your enemies won’t only aim at you and they won’t always hit their target. A few too many bullets will put you down, which is appropriate, and cover will protect you, but will often start to crumble if you stick around too long. Even vehicle control is pretty good, although it’s hardly refined and can be touchy.

As for AI, your allies are better than your foes. Your targets will sometimes do cool things like slide into cover but after that, they just sort of wait to get nailed. This is one of the bigger downfalls of the game and, along with the technical problems, keeps it from being an elite title. But your friends will take down plenty of targets and even though you’re often jammed into tight spaces, they don’t seem to hinder you too often. I never once died because I tried to strafe or hide and got stuck next to an ally. But really, the enemy should’ve flanked or acted a bit more human-like, and it can sometimes be difficult to know where to go next. This is another problem that’s well-documented but honesty, I think this complaint is due to two things: 1. someone who tries to move too quickly and doesn’t listen to the issued commands and 2. going off on your own and confusing the game.

Granted, that last one shouldn’t happen at all. The game should be able to adapt to your movements, no matter how ill-advised they may be. But if you stick to your allies, do what you’re told, go where you’re supposed to go, and execute as you’re asked to execute, everything will usually progress quickly and smoothly. And you know what else? All of that stuff – i.e., following orders – is kinda important. In other words, if you approach each mission as a soldier would approach it, you likely won’t encounter many of the snafus that do indeed infect the basic structure. We have to remember this. I’m not giving those snafus a free pass but I’m trying to keep the spirit of the experience at the forefront because I believe it’s crucial and may even be unique to this particular FPS. Thing is, the atmosphere never fails us. The sound, action, well-designed landscapes and continually fresh feel keep us on the edge of our seats. I’m sorry, but are we supposed to ignore all that?

It’s true that we have an incomplete graphical presentation (with great highs but disappointing lows). It’s true that the game almost froze on me once, and can hitch and glitch during transitional periods (although I never saw it during firefights). It’s true that the campaign is short (perhaps only 5 hours or so). It’s true that the story is disjointed and the characters are too faceless. But let’s look at this another way; in my eyes, the right way. In war, you simply trust the person by your side; you don’t really care about his past. I don’t care what Dusty’s favorite color is. I don’t care if he has a deep, dark secret. I only care that he tells me what to do and when, and that I execute correctly. When I jump from one view of the war on terror to the next, I’m immediately plunged into something intense and new; it ranges widely from all-out insanity, like desperately trying to stay alive until air support arrives, to quiet, stealthy missions, to marking targets from afar with some serious firepower.

Oh, and let’s not forget the fantastic multiplayer, which strikes a nice chord; it’s like a blend of Call of Duty and Battlefield: Bad Company; it forces you to think a bit more and react quickly, and although the maps are too similar to one another, the experience is ultimately quite rewarding. You definitely need to take time to master each individual weapon and the combination of strategy and fast-paced, white-knuckle action is excellent. This alone ramped up my final score of 8.3 to 8.6, if you’re wondering. The bottom line is that I believe this is a shockingly reliable virtual incarnation of what actually happened over there, although I’m sure there’s a wee bit of exaggeration involved for the sake of drama. It has its shortcomings, which are obvious. But what is also obvious – to me, anyway – is that a Tier 1 Operator will probably look at this and go, “yeah, that’s about right.” And that’s fine by me.

The Good: Atmosphere always rocks. Sound is utterly fantastic. Balance, pacing and variety is top-notch. Multiplayer awesomeoness. Attention to detail in terms of realism, presentation, audio, and war-like situations, is much appreciated.

The Bad: Short campaign. Technical problems, including clipping, screen tearing and outright glitching. Questionable enemy AI.

The Ugly: That freakin’ mutated alien goat. What the hell was that, anyway?

10/13/2010   Ben Dutka