I Tell You This On My Honor
I should have seen the signs. The first came when I was at a preview event for the game in San Francisco at the end of September. The producers sat us down in front of a large projection screen and showed us bombastic footage of the game, told us it had received certification and was ready to ship. Then they sat us down in front of it and let us play two early missions from the single-player campaign. I booted one up, its opening cinematic started, and, about twenty seconds in, it froze completely. The game was restarted and I was up and running a few minutes later, but similar crashes and a persistent glitch during multiplayer class selection that auto-selected the sniper for everyone at the event colored my experience.
And yet, I gave Medal of Honor: Warfighter the benefit of the doubt because, when they’d put us hands on with the demo, they had told us that it was a special build of the game, constructed just for the event. Typically, these things are made by breaking things off from the main production as much as months in advance; they’re based on earlier builds of the game and aren’t generally representative of the final product (see Darksiders II, which improved by leaps and bounds from its preview build).
Then EA announced a day-one patch for the game. I downloaded it, of course. It sat at 58 megabytes and had four pages of patch notes. That was sign number two.
So, in the end, what went wrong?
It isn’t anything audiovisual. The graphics are gorgeous and the sound effects are appropriate and fulfilling. Firing a gun feels satisfying, headshots have a zip to them that even Call of Duty lacks, and everything has a certain sense of weight to it that I found enjoyable (it may be, in part, due to a framerate that appears to be locked at 30 FPS). Some objects in the environment, generally things like wooden fences and plywood barriers, can be splintered by gunfire, allowing you to pick off enemies who are taking cover behind them or forcing you to find new cover when yours is demolished. This is all the purview of the Frostbite 2 engine, which binds this game together admirably. Yes, the technology under the hood is very solid.
The controls are as well. The sense of weight carries over to them, too, which makes the action feel somewhat more deliberate than in Activision’s competing military shooter. I actually enjoy that, as I find little pleasure in pointing my reticule somewhere in the vicinity of a group of enemies and squeezing the left and right triggers in sequence until I’ve snapped to and slaughtered enough oncoming foes to progress. Warfighter actually forces you to aim.
It also provides some extra mobility in the form of a slide, if one hits the crouch button while sprinting, which results in going prone if one holds the button down. There’s also a “lean” mechanic that allows one to peek out from cover in analog form, quickly taking out enemies before going back down. It would be better, though, if the game gave a better indication of when one was in cover. All too often, more of me was peeking out than seemed to be, but I had absolutely no way to know that.
It controls well (mostly), it looks good; where’s the problem? The campaign is a good place to start.
While I’m aware that most people aren’t going to play Medal of Honor: Warfighter for its campaign, it is there, and given how much EA was promoting the emotional elements of the game’s story, I was expecting something that took an in-depth look at the effect of a soldier’s military career on his family. It’s a touchy subject, one that could strike a chord with military families throughout the world, but could be so easily mishandled that putting it in a big-budget, mainstream shooter seemed like a very gutsy move. I needn’t have worried; someone, somewhere along the line, clearly realized that they were tackling difficult material and kept as much of it as possible out of the short campaign.
It isn’t absent. In fact, Preacher’s relationship with his wife and daughter is one of the only elements that actually differentiates this game’s story from every other nearly incomprehensible counter-terrorism plot in modern shooters, but it means that, in turn, Stump’s character is woefully underdeveloped and comes across as painfully generic. Given that Stump’s levels and missions take up half of the (extremely short) game, that means that Preacher and Mother only have half a game to develop and conclude their arc, which results in something that could have been a tremendous emotional payoff instead falling flat.
The less-than-compelling story is coupled with level design that is both tremendously linear and overly cluttered, along with enemies that spawn into the same spots every time, coming in new waves at predetermined points and going to their predetermined cover, occasionally moving between a few different spots that appear to be hard-coded. This lack of A.I. acumen also carries over to one’s squadmates, who tend to take up set positions in combat, to the point where, if you get to one of their cover spots before they do, they will literally push you out into the open to get themselves into place. It shatters one’s immersion, as well as the illusion that one is doing anything more than working through a pop-up shooting gallery. What should be an intense and dynamic shoot-out instead devolves into a grind as one memorizes the enemies’ positions and simply blows through them on the second or third attempt.
At one point, in one of the game’s later missions, I hit upon a glitch that caused my squadmates’ A.I. routines to get stuck; they wouldn’t proceed on with the level, despite that we’d cleared out the enemies and their dialogue had played. One of them was supposed to kick open a door so we could move on, but they weren’t even standing on the right floor, and the one who was supposed to do the kicking would, when approached, just shift between the same two cover points. I spent a long time wondering if I’d simply missed a trigger before giving up and chalking it up to a glitch.
I tried restarting from the most recent checkpoint and turning off the console to no avail. Eventually, I had to restart the mission, which worked. At least when multiplayer broke it was more blatant about it.
In multiplayer, I had an incident in which, while spawning from a Blackhawk, I got caught in level geometry and couldn’t move for about twenty seconds. I also had at least one blatant crash to a totally black screen following a match. These would be forgivable if the multiplayer were well-balanced and compelling, but Medal of Honor: Warfighter quickly betrayed one of the sad truths about online gaming: team-focused games don’t work well if no one is talking to you.
Multiplayer in Medal of Honor is predicated around the “Fireteam” mechanic, which buddies up players in groups of two. In the single-player, this is more or less limited to one using one’s squadmates as walking ammo stations; at any time, they can completely refill your primary gun’s ammunition. In multiplayer, though, not only can you refill your teammate’s ammo, but you can heal him, spawn on him if he’s not in combat, even see where enemies are before you actually see them, if your partner has spotted them. Without communication, though, this is often fairly pointless. Your mute team will be utterly dominated by your opponents.
I think that, in Battlefield 3, the size of each map, coupled with the number of players on it, ensures a certain degree of enjoyment. There are vehicles to be piloted or driven and there’s just so much going on that it’s easy to be entertained even if one’s team isn’t doing well. Warfighter, though, is a more intimate game, and the team elements aren’t encouraged strongly enough to make the average player invoke them (I’m not even sure the game does much to make them aware of the possibilities thereof).
Medal of Honor: Warfighter feels unpolished. It’s a slew of great ideas mashed together in a way that doesn’t give any of them time to truly shine, rushed out to make a deadline that didn’t do it any favors. While there’s enjoyment to be had here, it is fleeting and often devolves rapidly into frustration and boredom. I feel bad saying that, because the folks at Danger Close seemed intensely passionate about their work and there’s simply so much potential in here, but it clearly needed more time if it was to develop into anything truly unique and compelling. Instead, it seems as though a bunch of good-to-excellent parts were put together and the result is significantly less than one would expect their sum to be.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.8 Graphics
The Frostbite 2 engine does its work here. Even on the Xbox 360, this is a gorgeous game, right up there with Battlefield 3. 4.5 Control
The game gives you a lot of options to use in combat, but they never feel confusing or unintuitive. The sliding is sometimes a bit inaccurate, and it would be nice to get a clearer sense of when one was in cover, but the controls are largely excellent. 4.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The game sounds great, other than some occasional echo on the dialogue, but I think that was more the result of being too close to characters who were also speaking through their radios. 2.0 Play Value
The multiplayer quickly turns from fun to frustrating, the unlock system is freakishly complex, and the fireteam mechanic doesn’t do enough to encourage team play in pick-up games. The single-player is a one-time experience, if that. 2.7 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|