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Posted on Nov 3, 2010 in Electronic Games

Medal of Honor – PC Game Review

By James Pikover

Medal of Honor. PC Game. Electronic Arts. Danger Close. $49.99

Passed Inspection: Solid, realistic combat. Good transition between gameplay styles.

Failed Basic: Heavily scripted gameplay. Often lacks instruction. Bland multiplayer. Certain missions only begin when players cross an imaginary line or stand in the correct spot.

Medal of Honor is the franchise that brought us the first great storming of Normandy beaches in a PC game. It gave us some of the best World War II games and has been referred to as historical in many ways. The battles shown to gamers around the world often came directly from the experiences of real veterans who fought in those battles, and while we can never endure what they did, Electronic Arts brought those experiences home to gamers.


But as games have evolved and the World War II genre has faded, so has the franchise, surpassed by Call of Duty and the recent and most popular CoD series, Modern Warfare. Now, EA’s reboot of its beloved franchise is set among battles from our own time. While CoD‘s latest adventure went over the top to produce a weak single-player campaign with a strong and compelling multiplayer experience, MoH is completely the opposite: stronger in the single-player mode than in multiplayer.

Titled simply Medal of Honor, this game takes place today in war-torn Afghanistan. As in previous games in the franchise, the scenes and battles are all similar to actual battles that have taken place, though liberties were, of course, taken because this war is current. It’s no simulation, and EA makes no claims for the legitimacy of the accuracy of the game’s portrayal of events surrounding the actual, real-life battles taking place today. Instead, Medal of Honor pays homage to the men and women in today’s military, who fight on the front lines and often give their lives in the process.

Sadly, however, most of the game doesn’t portray that. Like its competitor Modern Warfare, Medal of Honor puts players into the game as different types of military specialists—DEVGRU (formerly known as SEAL Team 6 or ST6 and still commonly called that), Delta Force, Army Ranger and Apache Gunner—each with intertwining stories surrounding a larger plot. That plot involves infiltration behind enemy lines, direct combat with the enemy, and political instability with a Washington-based general and an on-site commander. All non-gameplay specific aspects, mostly the plot, serve as excess to the intrinsic point of the game—which I believe shows that the man on the ground ultimately must make the decisions—and even as far-reaching a videogame as Medal of Honor may be biting off more than it can chew.

While the game switches between playable characters, they all specialize in one sort of warfare. The DEVGRU/SEAL Team Six operative is fast and uses a range of assault rifles and invasion tactics; the Delta Force guy is a sniper; the Ranger plays as a standard, all-purpose infiltration solder; and the Apache Gunner takes the helm of a AH-64 to decimate foes from the sky. The variation in gameplay is dynamic and doesn’t get tiresome. Though players can choose to pick up enemy weapons, their own firearms are not interchangeable; whatever you start with, you keep or trade down and, thanks to a never-ending supply of ammo from nearby AI teammates, only rarely does the opposition have a weapon that is worth trading up to.

Every section of single-player gameplay successfully mimics real-world actions. Players rarely are on their own, and work in tandem with at least one AI counterpart. Nearly all objectives are based around important targets, not just killing enemies or destroying targets. One has players attack a high-ground turret position so that the friendly AI can paint the target with red smoke to signal the location for an airstrike. In this instance, players only provide covering fire, and failing to do so by attacking other targets or enemies as most games allow only prolongs the engagement.

Keeping the missions properly tuned has left room for minor bugs and errors. Certain missions only begin when players cross an imaginary line or stand in the correct spot. A few are not specific enough. One sniper mission requires taking down targets over a kilometer away, where the only directions given to find enemy strongholds are “two o’ clock” or “to the left.” At least three missions require finding the given mission target through the game’s location help bar, which places navigation points on the screen.

Besides the heavily scripted gameplay, which often takes players out of the game because of an invisible wall or some other poorly developed mechanic intended solely to keep gamers going forward within the script, Medal of Honor provides a tight shooter experience. The guns feel real enough, damage taken is severe, and dying occurs frequently if you’re prone to stupid mistakes. Sometimes Taliban soldiers—renamed the "Opposing Force" after EA got complaints about gamers being able to play the people who are currently killing the soldiers of America and its allies —will fail to notice you in dark corridors, or worse, in broad daylight, but these instances are rare. Running to cover and sliding into it, only to have the enemy fire rockets, mortars and bullets, causing debris and shrapnel and dust to fly is intoxicating—the best I’ve ever seen in a game. At least a few sequences are both memorable and immensely enjoyable.

Alongside the single player campaign is Tier 1 mode, which is essentially the campaign timed and scored for points. Players can go through individual levels or the entire game in this mode. Once the campaign is completed, Tier 1 brings more life to that campaign without making it feel cheap.

Multiplayer leaves a lot to be desired. Developed by DICE, who also developed Battlefield 2, much of multiplayer feels old and outdated. It doesn’t bring much new to what Modern Warfare 2 or for that matter the original Modern Warfare game have offered over the past few years. It’s certainly still fun, with well-made and thoughtful maps, and I do recommend it for groups of friends, but if you’re looking for something fresh, you won’t find it here.

Of course, Medal of Honor was brought back to compete directly with Call of Duty, but the premise EA held with the original series rings true: realistic, historically accurate combat, with the true grit of war. But upon the game’s completion, it becomes abundantly clear why the game was made, and what feelings influenced the developers who created it.

SPOILER ALERT: The next paragraph includes information on the final mission in Medal of Honor.

What really brings the feeling of patriotism for America comes at the end. Modern Warfare 2 did it with one excellent song by Hans Zimmer, while showing the White House in flames. Medal of Honor delivers one final mission to save two captured soldiers, then places players in the shoes of one of them, injured and near death. After the first eight hours of gameplay, I had an emotional attachment, however slight, toward these characters, and seeing one of their own dying, from the point of view of that dying solider, was tremendously moving. Soon after, the credits rolled with a final, long note from the developers, who praise America’s military and all soldiers therein.

Medal of Honor may be banned for purchase at US military bases worldwide because players can take the role of "the bad guys" and kill American troops in the game, but it is the biggest tribute to today’s soldiers in a videogame format. It has plenty of loose strings, and it’s far from perfect, which perhaps reflects too much of society today. Still, Medal of Honor is the best videogame tribute to our military today, and it brings us a decisive yet artistic and tasteful game to express it.

Armchair General Score: 75%

About the author:
James Pikover is a veteran videogame and technology critic, covering high-profile games and hardware from coast to coast. He’s managed to continue being a PC gamer—against all odds—in the face of a monstrous console generation. He lives and works in Los Angeles.