Medal of Honor: Warfighter Review
What you see here is the epitome of entertainment oversaturation. It’s a hodgepodge of safe familiarity, unrealistic Hollywood style, and overt pandering. I gave 2010’s Medal of Honor a pass in the innovation and freshness category because it reached a new level of intensity in my eyes, and was nicely balanced and paced. But I’m just shocked at Warfighter, which is not only perfectly content with the same ol’, same ol’, it’s technically compromised. It wasn’t ready to be released but that’s hardly the most grievous error committed.
The graphics are impressive and I do believe expectations were a touch too high. The Frostbite 2.0 engine is extremely capable and routinely delivers a high level of detail, good animation, and fantastic special effects. The cut-scenes reflect some top-notch character design as well. However, it’s also true that I, like many others, were a little disappointed. Not necessarily at the overall quality of the production, but at the fact that we’ve seen it all before. Such a trend permeates this entire game and is twice as big of a letdown on the gameplay side. I’ll get to that in a minute.
The audio stands out as the best technical aspect of the new Medal of Honor, as the voice performances are decent and the sound effects really hit hard, giving one a distinct sense of fear and the incredible power of advanced weaponry. But even here, examples of a rushed blockbuster rear their ugly heads. The balancing is sometimes way off, as the voices are suddenly increased in volume for short bursts, and other times, the music will cut out completely. However, when locked in a huge firefight, the sound does its job admirably. You’re always tense and appropriately wary.
The first scene of the campaign is a tease. It promises something the adventure absolutely will not deliver. There’s a minor yet still depressingly tense argument between a man and his wife; the man has clearly not been home much, and he hasn’t paid quite enough attention to his family. The wife sounds bitter and tired. Seconds later, the brief conversation is over and the guy has returned to the task at hand. At various parts of the campaign, you will revisit these two characters but by then, it almost doesn’t matter. It’s poorly written and paced, and it’s oddly difficult to follow.
In between is a shooter that aspires to little beyond eye-opening encounters with countless bullets flying and the threat of massive explosions around every corner. For some, that might be enough. For years now, gamers and critics alike have been looking the other way, often enamored with a hot new technology or the white-knuckle intensity of the moment-to-moment action. And granted, a lot of times, the productions did deserve plenty of praise for offering a rock solid style of gameplay that developers have had the luxury to hone and refine for the past couple of decades.
But as you’re likely to see with other sources, the critics have finally said, “Enough is enough.” We’ve all been here multiple times before. Danger Close could’ve pulled us in with an emotional, even gripping storyline, which almost never happens in the FPS genre. They could’ve given us all new ways of seeing the battlefield, of experiencing that which the courageous (and a little crazy) Tier 1 operators experience on a daily basis. They could’ve given us the vastly differing sides of a warzone, where I’m certain it’s about more than bullets and explosions. It appears there’s really only one central message in Warfighter:
Everybody wants a shooter they recognize. They don’t want it to take any risks or try anything new, because the fans know what they want. Taking risks is…risky.
The result? There’s no doubt that this is a shooter fans of the category will easily recognize. They’ll take to it like a fish to water; they’ll happily gun down everything that moves because in truth, that’s really all we do in most shooters. After all, the control is fine, the presentation is pretty bad-ass, the action never lets up, and there is a general mechanical diversity that even involves various vehicles. It’s not like the designers didn’t at least try to toss out a few interesting gameplay structures, and it all does work relatively well together. But at some point, you just go, “…yeah, and?”
Beyond this, there are a few flaws I really didn’t expect to see. The new cover system is far from perfect, hit detection is always questionable, and the overuse of the breach mechanic is just plain silly. I think I breached four or five doors in the first hour of play and while the slo-mo sequence is all sorts of cool, and I like the idea of unlocking new breach methods, it’s just way overdone. Then you’ve got the myriad of technical issues, which range from music drop-outs to poorly designed sections to flat-out crashes. The sniping section early on is just…terrible.
And despite the slam-bang nature of the adventure, it actually feels like it’s drawing on too long just because of the “been there, done that” mentality that shoots through your head minutes after starting to play. Toss in the fact that this game clearly wasn’t ready to launch (a host of issues and a 206MB patch on day one tells me everything I need to know), and you’ve got one of the biggest letdowns of the year. However, all this being said, I should add a few points that are essential: Firstly, if the game runs fine, there’s nothing critically wrong. It’s a decent shooter.
Secondly, the multiplayer appears to work well and is much more enjoyable than the campaign (which, by the way, doesn’t even feel much longer than the single-player mode in 2010’s Medal of Honor). It’s obvious that Danger Close put the majority of their time, effort and resources into the multiplayer aspect and thankfully, it doesn’t let us down. You’ve got the Battlelog, which is a great feature, six distinct and effective classes, and a huge amount of content. Each country even gets a unique allotment of equipment, and it all feels way more strategic than the campaign.
The best part of the multiplayer is undoubtedly Fire Team. It basically combines cooperative elements with standard competitive combat, in that players will be joined at the start of a match to form a Fire Team. When one dies, he will respawn near the other, and they can also heap bonuses upon each other. They can refill each other’s ammo and most interesting of all, you have a vested interest in the welfare of your buddy. This is because you earn what you partner earns. It’s really one of the better ways I’ve seen of encouraging teamwork in typically chaotic online multiplayer.
The servers appear to be solid and most players online seem to be having plenty of fun. Of course, there isn’t much new beside the Fire Team feature, but that’s to be expected for the online portion. When it comes to the campaign, one would like to assume that we’d get something new, something that tries to push the shrinking boundaries of the FPS medium. It’s almost like as time goes on, the limitations of the “run around and shoot everything” setup become more glaringly obvious. Or rather, the limitations developers voluntarily accept.
They accept them to give the fans what they want. I accept and understand that. But I don’t think even the most hardcore FPS fans will be all that thrilled with EA’s latest. The technical problems are evident for many and if your experience is mostly glitch-free, you won’t be able to look past the most important fact: The casual game crowd, which seems to flock to shooters, has created the most mainstream style of gaming in the world. And we all know that “mainstream” often – if not always – translates to repetition of a winning formula. It’s the easiest way to make a buck.
But that formula is being reassessed and scrutinized by critics and many gamers, and this may coerce designers into trying new things. It has always worked in the past. However, the past wasn’t as filled with a new group of mainstream gamers who are content with the repetition and the mediocrity. It’s why action blockbuster movies will always make money, no matter how dumb they get. But this is a very different medium and low review scores almost always have adverse effects on sales. If that happens, I’ll be very interested to see how EA and Danger Close respond.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter isn’t a bad game. It really isn’t. It just redefines the phrase, “beating a dead horse.” It also wasn’t ready to release, and the campaign is just a depressing mix of missed opportunities and one firefight that feels exactly like the one before it. The AI is erratic, the story isn’t well presented, and the even the overall design doesn’t feel inspired. The general control is reliable and responsive, some parts are quite satisfying, and the multiplayer really is entertaining for long periods of time. So give credit where credit is due.
Outside of that, however, color me disappointed.
The Good: Plenty of great special effects. Decent voiceover work and powerful audio. Some engaging, fittingly intense combat. Tight control. Multiplayer is solid and entertaining.
The Bad: Lots of technical mishaps. Story falls apart and becomes insignificant. Cover system isn’t very good. Erratic AI. Repetitive, unfulfilling campaign. Been there, done that.
The Ugly: “There must be more to it than this…oh, but there isn’t.”
10/24/2012 Ben Dutka