The critics have spoken: Medal of Honor is a mediocre video game. With a Metacritic score of 75, copies of EA's newest shooter won't be flying off the shelves. Critics most commonly mentioned the directionless campaign mode, muddy visuals, and amateur dialogue. Though I noted Medal of Honor's shortcomings as well, I'm far more interested in what co-developer Digital Illusions CE did well.
I don't really want to spend time discussing the single player, but I'll say this: Danger Close's attempt at realism felt more like a military recruitment ad and less like the touching, authentic experience they envisioned. Having said that, the multiplayer component that DICE developed has to be one of the most comprehensive and intriguing online experiences available today.
Let me be the first to admit that Medal of Honor is a buggy game. I've witnessed players fall through maps, tanks fly through the air, and textures pop inverted colors — trust me, I'm aware of the flaws. Yet, despite the glitches, Medal of Honor's multiplayer offers moments of complete and utter captivation — the likes of which are rarely, if ever, seen.
Medal of Honor struck me immediately with its sound design. Expect to hear bloodcurdling screams, frantic orders, and haunting death rattles. Whether you're idling at the server menu or whether you're planting explosives in the midst of a firefight, prepare yourself for the sounds of anger and desperation. While no video game can make you truly feel like an exhausted, battered veteran, Medal of Honor comes close. Subtle, in-game sounds help create a convincing facsimile of real war in Afghanistan.
Believe it or not, but the sound of an explosion is sometimes enough to cause slight anxiety. Combine that sound with an orchestra of whizzing bullets and yells, and the uneasiness Medal of Honor causes becomes clear.
You thought Bad Company 2 looked good? Medal of Honor employs the Frost Bite 2.0 engine and makes arid Afghani valleys look more like lush, vibrant panoramas in the process. What stands out the most, however, are the lighting effects. Seamless sky boxes and glaring God rays combine to leave almost every rock, tree, and cadaver look more tangible and real. While it's a shame that the vehicle models look embarassingly similar to those in BC2, Medal of Honor's weapons look so convincing that they project a sense of heaviness and weight onto the player's psyche — trippy, but fun.
So Medal of Honor looks and sounds great — whatever, you might think. But the genius of this game lies in the way it works. Most of the game's multiplayer maps strike an even balance between Bad Company 2 and Modern Warfare 2 — they accommodate vehicles while maintaining the intimacy and chaos of smaller maps. Despite having jettisoned their famous squad mechanic, DICE still somehow managed to encourage cooperation between players. The alleys and stairways seem to organically force gamers to coordinate their actions — after all, it's not easy breaching a door alone. What follows are hectic, yet naturally choreographed skirmishes between the U.S. Marines and the "insurgents" (read: Taliban).
After witnessing the disappointing reality of Medal of Honor's campaign mode, critics were quick to judge. It's a shame because Medal of Honor's online portion genuinely excuses the failures of its single-player counterpart. Prior to the game's release, I reviewed DICE's online beta, and I was brutal. From the weapon design to character animation, I relentlessly bashed the game. But, in an almost unbelievable twist, Digital Illusions cleaned up their act. They remedied almost every problem I had.
The result: Medal of Honor features a polished, convincing simulation of combat, with the tacet reminder that the War in Afghanistan is neither far away nor finished.