Review: Medal of Honor
It may be hard to recall now but before the military shooter world was divvied up between Call of Duty and Battlefield, EA had another entry in the realistic dude-shooting genre. That was Medal of Honor, a series which followed a similar arc to CoD and ended with this un-subtitled visit to the hellish quagmire that was early-aughts Afghanistan. I think most Americans would rather forget about that particular chapter in our checkered history so it’s no surprise this title has been mostly left behind. For those that do remember it, it hearkens back not just to a war better left untouched, but also antiquated designs better left in the past.
Medal of Honor details a particularly shitty day in the war against terror, told from multiple perspectives. You’ll spend the bulk of your time as a Tier 1 Operator, perhaps the douchiest possible designation for someone really good at killing people. Apparently these are the guys that do all the action-hero stuff like contacting informants and taking out convoys on their own, because that’s what you’ll be doing here. In other missions you’ll step into the boots of a rank-and-file Airborne Ranger for some more chaotic firefights, and an Apache pilot to do some gratifying turret-shooting of mountain-based terrorists. No matter the mission you’ll always have your squadmates and central command in your ear, chattering in military lingo as the bullets whiz past.
I might as well hit one of MoH’s big weaknesses now, the lack of a compelling central story. Modern Warfare chronicled a possible World War III and Black Ops delved into reality-bending conspiracies, but Medal of Honor is really just about another day in Afghanistan. The game opens with you tracking down an informant, then develops a subplot about sending unnecessary ground forces into the region, and then wraps up with a pitched battle against some of Al Qaeda’s foreign allies. I’ll give the ending some props for striking a solid emotional tone, but nowhere else in here is a strong narrative or character moments it needs. To some, this more grounded, realistic take on contemporary warfare might be welcome in light of how absurd its peers have become. That’s no excuse for a paper-thin story, though.
Despite the airs of realism, this is still very much the traditional CoD-style shooting gallery. Your foes will burst out of cover at scripted moments to take positions and pepper you with gunfire until you pick them off from your own cover. There are no open maps or choices to be made of any kind here, just following the path carved out for you and shooting all the dudes dropped in the way. Actually you’re not even following the path, you’re following the scripted NPC squadmates you are never without. Every single mission gives you one or more partners who constantly orders you around, opens doors from you, and stops you from killing particular dudes so they can get their own brief glory moments. This even happens in the Apache sequence, as you follow around another helicopter that calls out your targets for you. You’ll get a few buddy moments like giving each other a boost up a wall, and you can request ammo from partners if you don’t want to swap an empty weapon for a scavenged one, but other than that they’re your static chaperones for the duration.
The shooting itself is fine, of course, offering a variety of beefy weapons to kill with. You’ll have standard-issue rifles, silenced submachine guns, a couple LMGs to blaze away with, and one neat sequence with a .50 cal sniper rifle picking dudes off of a distant mountain. But this is where the realism peels away, sending whole squads of insurgents for you to gun down on your own. There’s one part as the Army Ranger where your team of four is pinned down in a hut by dozens of enemies. They just keep coming, standing out on the open slopes for you to pick off one after another, and clearly scripted when they need to do something like fire a geometry-destroying RPG. You kill upwards of a hundred of these guys on your own, despite this being painted as some sort of desperate, emotional last stand, and it just doesn’t gel. And it’s worth mentioning that your foes are always generic Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters, with zero characterization or humanizing elements. It can feel pretty gross if you start digging into the real-world implications of mowing down Muslims by the bushel, especially with them being as faceless as they are here.
On top of all this are technical issues like scripting breaks and poor AI. None of them were gamebreaking, but the game is so heavily scripted that it will straight-up stop you from shooting certain enemies before voice lines about them play. During a mid-game mission I was also instructed to lay down covering fire that would not register no matter how many times I reloaded the checkpoint. Reloading the entire mission did the trick, but there’s really no excuse for that. And the AI may as well be non-existent, because your enemies are so scripted even on Hard that they’ll never press up to you or flush you out of cover. In almost every fight you’re safe to chill behind walls and click on heads at your leisure.
I fully admit to being hard on military shooters, what with most of my experience coming from the Modern Warfare peak era. With that in mind, if you’re looking for a more realistic, less bombastic shooter, take this as a recommendation instead. I wouldn’t really call Medal of Honor a bad game, just one that I and the rest of the world have very conspicuously moved on from. While the core action is competent for the four or five hours it lasts, the story, characters, and details leave so much to be desired, and the lasting glitches can easily be the last nail in that coffin. It’s a decent romp if that’s what you’re looking for, and supposedly the multiplayer is still active but the game decided not to register my account so I’ll never know for sure. It’s not what I’m looking for though, and it’s not good enough to convince me otherwise, so for my part Medal of Honor is better off retired with last generation’s more generic shooters.