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Review: Medal of Honor (2010)

Title: Medal of Honor

EU Box Art

System: PC, Xbox 360, PS3

Release Date: 10/15/10 across all systems

Format: Digital Download, DVD, Blu-ray

Admittedly, I was always a fan of Medal of Honor not for the gameplay which it offered, but the stirring soundtrack to which I would be blowing digital Nazis away to. Arguably, this series is where Michael Giacchino built his career to the heights it is now, as the composer to movies like The Incredibles, Cloverfield, and the 2009 Star Trek reboot; at the same time, it could also be argued that it was a symbiotic relationship that benefited the MoH series as much as it did Giacchino. Moreso, perhaps, if you found the gameplay of the entries to the series pretty lackluster. Even then, there was still the prospect of revisiting the “good war,” a conflict that generations then and generations now view as a titanic struggle of good versus evil and that subsequent investigations into the European theater of operations would reveal such a notion to be not a long stretch from the truth.

Unfortunately, for the Medal of Honor of today’s generation, it lacks for a lot of these potential benefits, even foregoing some of the dynamic gameplay of MoH: Airborne which garnered the most positive reviews of the Medal of Honor games since 2003. This Medal of Honor game is short and doesn’t get up to speed until a lot later in the game. There are its bright spots– the game doesn’t lack for pretty light and sound and plays well– but that might just be all there is to offer from this title.

Graphics

This new Medal of Honor title runs on Unreal Engine 3, and it certainly works well– this is by far the best looking and smoothest-running Medal of Honor ever. The terrain itself has a great look, coming away from the bombed-out urban battlegrounds of Europe to the rustic, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan and it manages to capture the same vistas one might see in video footage of the country. Somehow it’s been made to look good from every angle in every lighting condition, from on-foot to on high from a helicopter’s vantage point. Character models come off really well animated and believable, so it’s to the animator’s credit here for the great looking movement. Even the weapons are detailed and well-animated. Explosions are a treat– seeing US air power come down on a mountaintop is really something to behold.

Sound

Hearing everything go off is pretty good too. Weapon reports thump and crack with believability from most distances. Human voices come off well too– it’s all very well believable and from there, one might derive some compelling feeling from it. However, when it comes to the soundtrack, it’s pretty subdued, which is something surprising given the pedigree the series came from and from which the current composer, Ramin Djawadi, comes. Djawadi’s most notable project to date is the hit Iron Man series in theaters, so it would follow that he would deliver something awesome for Medal of Honor, right? Oddly, not so much in this case. His soundtrack in this case is rather subtle, which I suppose would fit with the Tier 1 Operators’ missions where stealth is key and bombast will simply get you killed. That said, taking in the soundtrack divorced from the gameplay, there’s nothing memorable to speak of.

Gameplay

Gameplay is where the meat of the title is, and in terms of this, you will not be disappointed. Medal of Honor plays as well, if not better than, the Call of Duty titles. You will be dodging in and out of crossfire, knifing enemies in the back and popping off shots from windows as you support AI controlled comrades who move up the front. Iron sights are available as well (an appreciable holdover from Airborne), allowing you to pick off enemies with well-placed shots. Ammunition in this game comes from looting the bodies of your fallen enemies, should you choose to equip yourself with a weapon from an enemy and can in fact add some element of challenge. Otherwise, as your character carries his standard-issue weapon, all a player has to do is press the action button on a comrade to ask for extra ammunition. Note that this will only work as the player winds down his ammunition to a certain level– spamming your allies for ammunition to stay topped off will not work for the more trigger-happy. Situations range from storming a valley with the US Army Rangers to the deadly stealth missions of the Tier 1 Operators, whose role in this whole conflict appears to be behind-the-lines sabotage, assassination, and reconnaissance for US interests. Ostensibly, the Tier 1 missions are those missions where AI programming resources are devoted to more realistic portrayal of insurgent movements and tactics as opposed to simulating both US factions and insurgents as in the Army missions, so expect some more challenge as you are both lacking allies and facing enemies who have more computing resources to think with.

For the people wondering what this title’s answer is to the AC-130 level in Modern Warfare, it definitely is a treat. Taking the controls of an AH-64 Apache helicopter, one of the deadliest mounted weapons platforms in the arsenal of the US military, the action here is a lot more fast-paced and personal than the AC-130. There’s something very visceral and compelling about being in the danger zone itself, taking small arms fire and blowing insurgents out of nests before they can launch RPGs at your very low and very vulnerable helicopter gunships. The level that the helicopter action takes place in is also very well paced and represents a rather bright spot in the narrative of the conflict. It definitely is a worthy competitor to such an awesome level, lacking only for originality in what Modern Warfare set out to do in the first place.

Now, while the gameplay is awesome and can be quite compelling, there is unfortunately one glaring flaw in it: length. This game is short. On hard difficulty, there’s little more than maybe 6 hours to be had, less on normal difficulty. The worst part is that the end comes suddenly with the death of a character, namely, your character,  and ignores a lot of the other characters to be had in the course of the campaign. In Modern Warfare, there was the opportunity to get even against your script-assisted murderers by taking over a different character to finish out the narrative, but not so in this case. Given the shortness of this game, it worries me that this will be yet another DLC platform, where more parts of the campaign will be doled out for extra money, like seen with BioWare titles. Also, if there was ever a way to show sensitivity and understanding of a war as EA representatives claimed to do, to do so at the expense of your narrative is generally a very poor way to go. Considering the earlier brou-ha-ha over the naming of the insurgent faction in multiplayer as plainly, the Taliban (a slap to the face of many military families and current service members), it’s less clear that such thought was in fact put into the consideration of the conflict and sentiments of the current participants.

The game relies more on the traditional cutscene to convey the narrative– there is a subplot regarding an on-the-ground commander defying a general back in Washington because his plan will save the lives of the men– whatever that means. It’s a piece of narrative that doesn’t really evoke much, although the fates of the in-game characters follow the ramifications of this plotline. All you really get from this narrative is that generals in Washington are talking out of their asses and the only people to trust for the skinny are those people who have been there, which is really a very political point and can distract from enjoyment of the game. Even with the amount of the narrative that isn’t delivered by cutscene, it’s a little dry, although the gameplay tends to make up for that fact.

Overall, Medal of Honor is a decent title, but the campaign is over far, far too quickly with a narrative that sort of shuffles along with some bright spots. You’ll have some fun with the multiplayer, but what’s there isn’t substantively different than that of the Call of Duty series, so missing this title and sticking with CoD  probably won’t hurt in the long run.

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