Tim and I alternated between shooter and spotter, ripping through the incoming Nazi opposition with ease as we held our bombed out position almost indefinitely.  This was 1999 and the last time I’ve played a Medal of Honor title.  I never got around to any of the console titles for some reason, but I’ve always had fond memories of the series.  Since that time I’ve played more World War II titles than I’d care to remember so it was great to hear that the folks at DICE would be taking Medal of Honor into the modern era.

 

I spent nearly 6 years in the Air Force (AFSOC CC assigned to 819th and 823rd RHS), so I’ve had a great amount of trigger time with the Tier 1 Operators of various Armed Forces.  My time ended a decade ago though, and the torch has been passed to a new breed of modern fighters.  The Tier 1s operating in Afghanistan and Iraq (as well as other theaters where we supposedly aren’t being deployed) have better gear, better operational support, and far more lead headed their way than I ever did.  This story – this Medal of Honor – is theirs.

The game kicks off with you in the boots of Spc. Dante Adams – an Army Ranger stationed in war-torn Afghanistan, but you’ll also play a significant portion of the game either as or with “Rabbit”, “Deuce” and “Dusty” – the Tier 1 Operators assigned to AFO Wolfpack.  For those unfamiliar with the term a Tier 1 Operator is a Special Ops soldier, not necessarily assigned to a specific military branch, that are uniquely skilled to handle high-risk hostage rescue and counterterrorism operations.  Tier 1s are often SEALs, Rangers, Pararescue (PJ) or Combat Controllers, or various other Special Forces soldiers that have passed the rigorous application process to be elevated to an entirely different level of soldier.  These elite soldiers are meant to blend in with the locals, so they frequently wear a blend of tactical and civilian clothing, often with grooming standards (beards, hair, etc.) that fall far outside of military regulation.

 

As is typically the case, the regular military is grossly inefficient and bound by strict orders that are checked in triplicate.  The Tier 1 Operators are more free to get the job done by any means necessary.  On the missions where you play as Spc. Adams the missions are often second-guessed by General Officer Bright Idea and turned into a complete goat rope.  The game leans more heavily towards the Tier 1 folks than the regulars, but the line between the two is sharply contrasted and deep.  DICE did a fantastic job with the dichotomy between the two and it was nice to see it represented properly in a game.

2,657 yd / 1.509 miles
With my previous line of work, you can imagine that I spend a great deal of time scrutinizing the sniping portions of any game. Medal of Honor spends more time behind the long barrel than any game this side of the recently-released Sniper-named titles.  Both the silent and loud-talker varieties of rifles are used in the game, and there is no doubt that the team spent some real time behind the scope of these weapon systems.  If you are a fan of a quick whisper in the ear of a distant opponent, you won’t be disappointed in Medal of Honor’s longer range opportunities.  The other weapon systems in the game are equally well done and balanced.  Each weapon has a unique feel to it, each suited to a particular combat situation.  Nowhere is this more true than in multiplayer.

 

Multiplayer is always a balancing act.  Too many weapons and players will simply skip out on the bulk of them.  Too few and players will hone in on the lack of variety.  Well, there is plenty of variety to go around in multiplayer this time.  After dropping into multiplayer you can either play with friends or via quickplay.  You can select from several different modes other than the “Any Game” mode which drops into any active game near you. Combat Mission allows players to fight through a campaign of five objectives against insurgent fighters, Team Assault which is essentially team Deathmatch, Sector Control is a domination mode asking players to capture and hold flags for score, Objective Raid asks players to defend two objectives against insurgent saboteurs, and finally Hardcore mode which is the aforementioned Team Assault, Sector Control, and Objective Raid but with Hardcore settings enabled.  This means you’ll heal less, take more damage, and it’ll take a far more precise shot to take down your foes.

It isn’t all just running around and shooting your friends in multiplayer.  True to form, DICE has enabled a full unlock system in the game.  You’ll unlock new weapons, accessories for your rail, barrel, clip types, as well new weapons as you progress through the ranks for a total of 15 unlocks each for the Rifleman, Special Ops, and Sniper classes.  You can play as “Insurgents” or Coalition fighters, changing the skins and clan tags of your soldiers as well.  As you work through the ranks you’ll also get the chance to work through 30 medals and 30 ribbons.  The objectives on those range from getting 15 headshots to finishing in the top 3 fifteen times.  These are far more lax than the ridiculous medal requirements in Battlefield 2142 or Battlefield 2, but there is more than enough here to keep you coming back.  Speaking of the Battlefield series, Medal of Honor on the console side of life is a 12 on 12 battle, so the maps should not be as deserted as you might expect.

 

The issues I ran into during my admittedly limited time with the multiplayer were worrisome.  The game had some netcode issues that the developers are promising should be ironed out before the game ships, and there is still the occasional graphical glitch.  I’m certain there is a bit of pressure to get this title out before any, shall we say, “competing products” hit the shelves this quarter, and the overall quality may have suffered a little as a result.  The good news is that it’s all fixable – the groundwork is here, it just needs a little more time.

Of note, there is an ‘online pass’ system attached to the multiplayer game.  If you purchase the game used, pick it up from a game rental service, or borrow it from a friend you’ll have to spend your points on an online pass to get into the multiplayer fracas.  This is becoming more of a trend in higher profile games, but it still bears mentioning.

 
The pivot presses the trigger housing pin which presses the transfer bar…
For anyone who has sent a round downrange, whether at practice or to prosecute a target, you are very familiar with the picture painted above.  For anyone who has watched movies or shows like Generation Kill or The Hurt Locker, you already have a very clear idea of the theater of operations where Medal of Honor is set.  The game is set in Afghanistan in the 2002 timeframe, taking place in some real locations mixed with some fictional ones.  Similarly, the enemy is clearly Al-Queda (regardless of the completely stupid knee-jerk reaction required by EA thanks to an overly-sensitive and vocal few) and various insurgent combatants rising to power closer to the beginning of the war in Afghanistan.  The settings vary wildly, as does the real world region.  You’ll spend time in some city areas, forest, snow, mountains, and more – the game never stands still.

 

Some of the variety and detail in Medal of Honor comes at a cost, and at times a significant one.  There is frequent enemy pop in throughout the single player game, most noticeable with a scope.  There is often mip mapping and texture tearing at the edges of the screen which can disrupt the lighting engine.  There are occasional framerate issues that drop the game down around the 25 frames per second range.  None of it is enough to get you killed, but it breaks immersion in an otherwise superb presentation.


Sight it, send it, and hope for VLD
I’ve played pretty much every shooter that’s been out in the past few years and there is always one area that needs improvement – the sound.  While more recently developers have begun sampling and cleaning up real sounds from the weapons in their game, the voice work is hit and miss and the lingo is always CATFU.  Swelling orchestral soundtracks and emotional heartstring-yanking music pulls the player into the game, but it is always when somebody opens their dicktrap that things get wrong.

 

There is a certain lingo that comes with time in the military.  It isn’t something you are taught, but more of a tradition passed down through the ages.  Those of us who earned our fruit salad and chest candy can spot the fake and bake PX Rangers from a mile away and it’s always the same way – their use of the lingo.  (Well, that and proper use of the “blade hand”)  Games are no different – many of the titles on the shelves for the last few years have plenty of swearing and the occasional military TLA, but frequently it comes across completely forced for those of us in the know.  This title is completely different.  Medal of Honor gets it right.  Not just a little, but the entire damned thing.  Memories of the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met came flooding back in an instant – something I say rarely happens with other modern titles.

 

The music in Medal of Honor, especially the track at the very end of the game, manages to pull you in when the time is right, staying subdued in the background for the rest of the time. Dynamically ebbing and flowing, composer Ramin Djawadi’s work is every bit blockbuster quality.  Like the incredible soundtrack to Saving Private Ryan, you’ll have portions of this soundtrack in your head for some time.


“Nothing is so exhilarating in life as to be shot at with no result.” – Churchill
It’s obvious that Medal of Honor has intentions to compete with a certain long-running title from Activision.  In terms of single player, Medal of Honor beats Call of Duty hands down.  The subject matter is treated with respect, and it never feels so over the top as to be ridiculous.  The game fires on all cylinders in terms of storyline and the ending was a touching tribute that sincerely brought both my wife and I to tears.  I can’t say many games have ever done that to me, but obviously this subject matter hits home.  While there are some graphical issues and multiplayer polish problems, Medal of Honor gets so much right that it’s hard to ignore.  While the battle between the two modern warfare juggernauts will be settled in multiplayer, the single player stands well enough on its own to justify your purchase.  Now we just have to hope that the last few bugs have been ironed out before the game hits shelves!

 

 

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