Battle fatigue is no laughing matter. A few years ago, it was impossible to avoid the moans and complaints directed toward the seemingly unending war between the Allies and Axis. To speak plainly, we were sick of Stalingrad, Market Garden, and the whole damn war. Gamers wanted something new and the industry responded.
While they certainly didn't introduce the concept, DICE popularized modern conflict in 2005 with their smash hit Battlefield 2. Five years after leaving their mark on the genre, Digital Illusions CE returns with another dose of Arab-American intrigue. But are they too late? Have Iraq and Afghanistan gone the way of Normandy?
Personally, I feel like Medal of Honor may prove to be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back. Let's find out if my theory holds water.
Into the pigeonhole
At first glance, Medal of Honor seems to offer a relatively unique experience. For a time, I bought the promises of Electronic Arts. Throughout E3, the publisher swore to deliver the most realistic modern combat game to date. "Alright," I thought, "I could get into that."
Yet, as I launched Medal of Honor for the first time, a strange sensation bothered me. I tried ignoring it, but it wouldn't leave me alone. Just then, I realized that the French had invented a word for this very feeling: déjà vu.
The promnesia I felt was no coincidence.
After wrapping up development on their own modern conflict game, DICE accepted an offer made by EA to create the multiplayer component for Medal of Honor. Sadly, the Swedish designers cut some corners during development and "borrowed" in-game assets from their recently released first-person shooter, Bad Company 2. While I can forgive the developers for recycling some of the weapon and movement animations, the fact that they blatantly lifted vehicles from BC2 is indefensible.
But wait! We shouldn't compare Medal of Honor to Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Why not, you ask? Because it takes place in smaller maps and offers fast-paced action!
This is where comparisons to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 emerge. Killstreaks, customizable classes, and smaller, urban-flavored maps all serve to dimish the gap between the two first-person shooters.
Is pigeonholing Medal of Honor as a knock-off ultimately unfair? Probably not. Is that label entirely negative? Again, no. If EA's reincarnation of its classic franchise manages to separate itself from the herd, the developers may be able to convince war-weary gamers to pick it up.
Don't bother denying it. Medal of Honor puts DICE's Frostbite engine to excellent use. This game is gorgeous.
So we've established that Medal of Honor takes inspiration from other modern war titles. But what does this reboot introduce to the oversaturated genre?
EA alleges that Medal of Honor is the first plausible modern combat video game. In part, I can verify that claim. The objective-based multiplayer scenarios seem persuasive and realistic. In Helmand Valley, for example, American Rangers are tasked with the destruction of an artillery battery, while the opposing Afghani forces attempt to defend their precious cannonry. The map is structured in several partitions, each with a respective objective — similar to Bad Company 2's squad rush maps. The momentum of each encounter seems organic, as players are forced to employ fire-and-manouever tactics. While DICE chose to exclude their helpful squad management system, teammates seem to naturally cooperate.
Unfortunately, MoH's purported realism is squandered by the laughable inclusion of powerless explosives, stereotypical enemies, and overpowered killstreak abilities.
The improvised explosive devices available to the Anti-Coalition Militia (read: Taliban) is a creative inclusion to multiplayer matches. Unfortunately, your enemies have to squat above the IED to feel the effects of the explosion. Similarly, RPGs are largely harmless — unless you manage a headshot.
You thought killstreaks were unbalanced in Modern Warfare 2? Well, you're in for a surprise. If you manage to string several kills together, you'll be rewarded with some of the most destructive elements of the American arsenal. Once you're saddled into the Killstreak Express, there's no coming off.
Allow me to get this out of the way: all of the Afghani soldiers, without exception, look like Osama bin Laden. Take a look:
Interested in joining the Anti-Coalition Militia? Well, forget variety! Choose from one of three derivative characters, armed with one of three derivative Soviet-era weapons, wearing one of three derivative outfits!
A worthy cause?
The first few moments with Medal of Honor will undoubtedly impress you. But the gorgeous valleys, resplendent mountains, and theatrical battle scenes belie stale, generic contents.
When compared to its peers, Medal of Honor's multiplayer component is an indistinguishable product. Humdrum terrorists are pitted against equally uninspired American troops. The locales and weapons, while realistic, aren't new to gamers.
It's almost too bad. Had Medal of Honor been revealed three years ago, few would raise an eyebrow. But considering the state of the industry, it's difficult to swallow the idea of another modern combat game without hesitation.
DICE's attempt at competitive combat isn't poor by any stretch of the imagination. It simply isn't new. If you've played Modern Warfare 2 or Bad Company 2, I can't in good conscience recommend this beta to you. Here's hoping Medal of Honor's single player element is enough to keep the once-successful franchise afloat.