Wot I Think: Medal Of Honour

By John Walker on October 12th, 2010 at 11:12 am.

Thanks to Matt for this awesome 'shop.

I’ve finished the single player campaign of the reboot of Medal of Honour, and I’m fully prepared to tell you Wot I Think. The multiplayer is such a separate game that it was developed by a separate studio, and we’ll be reviewing it after the game’s been out a while. (We’re going with “HonoUr” just because it saves wiggly red lines when typing.) So below is a WIT of the single player campaign.

Unashamedly following in the massively successful footsteps of Activision’s reinvention of Call Of Duty as a modern-day shooter, EA decided to shake up their WW2 franchise in the same manner. So Medal Of Honour is no longer letters from the good old boys of the 30s and 40s, but now a bunch of American soldiers fighting in present-day Afghanistan. However, for as dramatic a change as this might be to the setting, it’s still familiar MOH territory. A selection of soldiers, whose stories interweave as you jump from character to character. There’s four in total, each accompanied by a different group of buddies, all meandering their way through the mountains, taking out the Taleban, Al Qaeda, and anyone else who fancies shooting at them.

Refreshing is the lack of science fiction. This isn’t about deploying the latest, or near-future tech, but rather about squiggling about on your belly, hitting the baddies in their heads with bullets. While you’re frequently whisked off to shoot from a helicopter, or target things from your digital binocular targeting systemmagig, for most the time you’re a man on the ground, in missions based on real events in the country over the last ten years. And it’s fairly apolitical, for such a contentious setting. In fact, absolutely nothing feels contentious at all. But, well, there’s little else you could describe as refreshing.

Medal Of Honour is going to take you on a journey. It’s going to be a very pretty trip, and it’s going to be packed with action and combat. It’s going to have lots of variety, and plenty of explosions. But this isn’t an expedition, it’s a guided tour.

Only occasionally did I feel like I was playing the game. Medal Of Honour is about chasing after one to three other soldiers who all seem to have a lot more fun than you. The game takes every opportunity to make sure you’re aware that you’re barely relevant to proceedings. The game tells you when you can run. The game tells you when you can fire. The game tells you when you can climb. The game tells you when you can jump over a log. (Literally.) And you’d best do it the way it’s expecting, or everything’s going to grind to a halt.

Take one mountain assault of a shack containing a mounted weapon. We’re sneaking our way up the hillside, running from rock to boulder, being assaulted from three sides. The other three take up all the best cover positions, as usual. (The game doesn’t have any cover system – you just hide behind things, if the others will let you.) We’re getting closer to the target, and I’ve a planned route. But the others won’t come with me. I keep getting slaughtered (something that otherwise happens very rarely throughout the seven-or-so hours – on Normal it’s a very easy game). I decide to check the HUD, because the game thinks it’s a brilliant idea to hide it from you after a bit – in case you were fed up of knowing how much ammo you had, or where you were supposed to be going. I hit H, and there’s a target point just behind the respawn location. I step back into it, and suddenly I’m equipped with the device to call in an airstrike on the hut, the rest of the men fight with me, and we easily trudge on. Make sure to walk over the poorly marked patches of snow please. Keep a hand on the rail at all times.

And that’s when it’s even possible to go ahead. So often if you try to think for yourself you’ll encounter invisible barriers that magically disappear once your team has finished jabbering at each other. Find a door that you can kick down, and you’ll have to wait until the game decides it’s time to allow the kick button to do anything.

Shooters have done this before. The Call Of Duties and the Medals Of Honour, and those copying them, have often had you on rails. But they’ve done enough to disguise it, or make it so utterly thrilling that you don’t care. Here, the disguise doesn’t work nearly well enough. This is at the very worst for the first hour or so, where if you’re able to shoot an enemy before the squadmates get it first you’ll be tremendously lucky. Keep your arms and legs in the car at all times.

For most of the game I felt like a little kid dumped with a bunch of bigger boys who really wished I wasn’t there.

“Can I shoot now pl-” “Um, would it be alright if I hid behind the rock too? No? Oh, okay, no.” “Maybe we could go this way, because we could sneak around the back and-? No – not this way? Okay guys! Wait up guys!”

You’re so ridiculously helpless that you can’t jump up ridges the rest of your team bounce up easily. When they’re at the top one of them has to reach down to pull you up. You’re literally dragged along behind them.

Which made me want to rebel. When you’re playing as Deuce, teamed up with the beardyface from the box, Dusty, you’re going stealthy. These are by far the best sections of the game, and yet still you’re only ever Dusty’s errand boy. “Go over there and do this.” “Now come back.” But here you can do exactly what you’re told not to and start wildly shooting at everyone you’re supposed to be sneaking past. It’s ridiculous that this stands out as special. And of course makes it less fun.

Helllllllllooooooooooooooo.

Weapons pack a nice punch, and the game’s fondness for headshots (madly, a symbol appears on screen each time, accompanied by the most daft squelching sound) makes for lots of precision shooting. There’s also a good mix of weaponry, new guns handed to you as you go through. Ammo is never a concern, your teammates offering up full clips whenever you get low. If you were ever left to your own devices, or even just supported by your squad rather than subservient to it, it could have been a fun corridor shooter. As it is, it’s an average stood-at-the-back-of-a-queue-in-a-corridor shooter (SATBOAQINACS).

It seems that the game is desperate to be “cinematic”. And this is at the expense of absolutely anything else. There’s a story – albeit one of no discernable content – and it’s going to tell it to you, no matter what you want. Everything else seems such a low priority, and so it is that the game feels a decade behind the crowd.

Enemy AI is sometimes poor. I shot someone in the back, which still wasn’t incentive enough for him to turn around or run away. Most bob up and down behind rocks like targets in a shooting gallery. Your squad’s AI is better – too good, with them playing the game for you half the time – but I still watched them running on the spot into rocks. At one point Dusty drove his quad-bike into a tree, and seemingly offended that it didn’t move out of his way, sat there wobbly-ramming at it until I drove far enough away that he respawned with me. But most maddeningly, they appear to have no ability to understand that your bullets hurt them too. They will run through your fire all the time, even squatting directly in front of the muzzle of your gun. They’re the ones playing the game – you just stop trying to interfere.

Then little details I’ve grown to expect were missing. Cars often don’t explode when shot at, unless it’s scripted into the level. Fuel canisters are bulletproof in some areas. You don’t leave footprints in the snow. (Because then you’d have a discernable impact on the game.) Explosions look awful, strangely 2D. You can’t open doors, unless the game tells you to kick them. You have to wait for one of the bigger boys to do it. And you can’t even look around in the lengthy cutscenes, so determined is the game that you’ll bloody well watch its cinema how it wants you to.

The overwhelming sensation throughout is of being uninvolved. So much so that at one point, unable to remember that I was supposed to hold down the right mouse button and then the left in order to target a building for an airstrike (the game flashes up instructions the first time, but miss them and they’re a secret – I had to restart one section to know that I was supposed to be holding down the number 4 key to attack, which was a rather odd choice), I took so long about it the game just called the airstrike in anyway, and the level was won. Me – I’ll just sit here.

It often looks stunning. The snowy mountains can be breathtaking, and it’s plenty detailed enough to allow you to snipe off tiny men at enormous distances. And the acting is absolutely superb. While no one says anything of any substance, they say it with a lot of style. Lots of shouting, military lingo, and orders for you to “take point”, while they then tell you which way to go.

Some of the set-pieces feel like they’d be exciting if they’d only happen while you were in control. Anything thrilling – like a moment when two of you, in desperation, jump off a cliff into the fog below – is robbed from you, the controls taken away and the game enjoying it instead of you. It’s extraordinary the difference it makes to not be able to even turn your head during the cutscenes. Call Of Duty’s beach landing worked because you looked around you as it all occurred, terrified, and then helplessly staggering up the sand. Here the big dramatic moments are television, and half the time you can’t work out if you’re a character in the place, or a floating camera just observing.

You watch the others doing lots of cool stuff, including performing melee stealth kills, while your feet are frozen to the ground. But later, when briefly equipped with a knife, the only time you use it is when the game explicitly tells you to.

As it happens, that sequence was my favourite. You have to find weapons from enemies, fight through a tough corridor with only a pistol, and for a brief moment if feels like you’re actually playing. Then you regroup with your squad and it’s back to normal. There are other moments like it, a few assaults of villages, or an airfield, where you get to play shooting galleries, ducking behind rocks, either advancing or retreating (on the instruction of your team, naturally). They’re fine. They’re nothing special in any way, but they’re entertaining shootery moments.

In many ways you have to argue that Medal Of Honour is competent. If you want to feel what it’s like to be a grunt in a conflict, unable to make decisions or use your imagination, it’s mostly very solid. There’s constant variety in how you’re playing, all flying past you at quite some speed.

It’s an extremely easy game on Normal, and as I may have mentioned once or twice a rather detached experience, and as such a few attempts to have some emotional impact miss quite widely. It’s never disrespectful of the current-day conflict (apart from the strangely distasteful lust for headshots), and it’s surprisingly inoffensive toward Afghanis (although you never encounter a single non-combatant – the game makes a special point of the soldiers checking extremely carefully that they’re only targeting combatants). But when it tries to tug on the heartstrings it ends up seeming a tad silly.

If you want to give yourself an artificial tougher challenge there’s the Tier 1 mode. Here you can take on various levels attempting to score on online leaderboards. Playing the game before it comes out affords you some advantages:

You can attempt to outdo others for headshots, best time, accuracy, etc. It does rather make a mockery of the game, in most respects. And it reveals quite what a lot of baloney much of the missions are. Replaying one area, but not playing properly to see if I could beat the par time, pulled back the curtain rather. I won’t say how, because as Kieron sensibly pointed out just before he upped and left, mechanical spoilers are spoilers, and will change how you approach the game. But it only further underlines how much your actions aren’t meant to determine the game you play.

It frustrates me that something potentially exciting is so restricted by artificial blockages, and a deeply peculiar decision to let your fellow soldiers have more fun playing than you. Those moments between the barriers, between the hopping from idea to idea, where you get to shoot your way through a mountain side – they’re decent. Nothing original, but they do the job.

But for so much of the game it feels like one of those theme park rides where you gently trundle past various dioramas. “Ooh, look kids, here’s one of the helicopters they use for fighting wars. No! Don’t touch it!”

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144 Comments »

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  1. Premium User Badge

    stahlwerk says:

    John, now that you have seen the game, what is Linkin Park’s involvement in all this? Did they do just the menu/credits music, or do they get to wail and gnash* during the game as well? Do they at least try to fit the lyrics?

    *) yes I’m that old.

  2. Berzee says:

    I am a real live ‘MURICAN and I doun’t mind if you courrect it, regardless ouf whether our nout it’s a gouvernmental award. It gives me an ouppourtunity tou make oubvious joukes, and that’s soumething a simple revoulutioun can’t buy.

  3. Baines says:

    Am I the only one who wants to know what was behind the curtain, mentioned and self-censored in the third-to-the-last paragraph?

    I’ll probably never play the game, and certainly not solo. But I’d really like to know just how much “not playing properly” broke the game, to the point that the reviewer felt the need to hide the results lest he risk spoiling the game for others. (I also didn’t agree with parts of Kieron’s opinion in his “mechanical spoilers” post. Details like this are things that I look for in reviews, and if you want developers to start dealing with these issues then maybe they should be made public before everyone buys the games. Maybe put some warnings, but don’t hide it from players.)

  4. apa says:

    Interesting how different views there can be to the same thing. Here’s what Gamespot writes in their single-player preview (ok, it’s not yet a review):

    “The weapons feel and sound impressively authentic, and the prominent icon that pops up with every headshot is a gratifying touch. The rest of your squadmates are invulnerable, and, thankfully, they don’t make you push forward alone too often and will shout for you to fall back or get into cover if you go it alone or get out in the open. You can request ammo from your squadmates, too, though you can’t trade weapons with them.”

    I guess it depends on the viewpoint … or the ad money.

  5. Tei says:

    Pfff….

  6. Frankie The Patrician[PF] says:

    Man, there is nothing manlier than a good ol’ fashioned buddy boost! This game sure has a lot of ‘em! :)
    The beginning of the SP campaign was probably one of the worse I’ve seen, but it fast picks up and I’ve grown to like it actually…I’ve been playing the game (SP and MP) since I got back from school at 17:00…At one point I was worried I wasted money, but it got better soon. I’m only lil’ bored I have to level the classes up to the point I did in the last beta…but whatevah :)

    • Jason Moyer says:

      The SEAL missions are probably the weakest part of the game, especially the very first one. Unfortunately they also comprise most of it. The Tier 1 and Rangers missions are good fun, although they were really underused. I’m not sure if you’ve finished the game yet, but like BC2 (whose campaign I also enjoyed) it has a really sudden and unnecessary cliffhanger at the end. I also felt the game ended abruptly overall – each mission tends to be better than the previous one, which is what kept me playing, and then it just sort of stops about 2/3 into where I thought it was going.

  7. Matt says:

    “it’s still familiar MOH territory. A selection of soldiers, whose stories interweave as you jump from character to character.”

    I’m pretty sure this is the first MOH game to feature more than one playable character.

    • Anthony says:

      Yeah, the ‘jumping between characters’ mechanic was always a CoD trope.

  8. rocketman71 says:

    Sad. I had some expectations that the SP would be better to balance the crippled MP. See the game is not worth it.

    Good luck selling 3 mill, EA.

  9. Tetragrammaton says:

    Farticus blight.

  10. Soobe says:

    This is rare for me, but it’s the price that’s put me off.

    I simply won’t touch the multi-player (I’m an adult with two jobs), and so 60 bucks for a 7 hour single player campaign just doesn’t ring true to me.

    • Thiefsie says:

      hehe you probably don’t buy too many games do you… well console games…

      FWIW I agree.

    • Rawrrr says:

      Hah. $60 dollars. Id be stoked to get even this crappy game for that much. Its $130 here. (MW2 standard is STILL $153..) >_<

  11. Premium User Badge

    Sagan says:

    So this game apparently got average reviews across the board. It will be interesting to see how many copies it will sell based on it’s marketing budget alone.

    My personal prediction: It will sell a lot of copies, but not enough for them to make a sequel.

  12. Anthony says:

    So EA basically failed at doing what Modern Warfare did right. And it took them too long.

    Mind you, Infinity Ward did no better with MW2, so perhaps we can call the first one a moment of genius in a sea of mediocrity.

    I still love MW1, even though it was largely corridors and scripting. It felt right, which is all that counts in the end.

  13. Premium User Badge

    neofit says:

    “It seems that the game is desperate to be “cinematic”. And this is at the expense of absolutely anything else. There’s a story – albeit one of no discernable content – and it’s going to tell it to you, no matter what you want. Everything else seems such a low priority, and so it is that the game feels a decade behind the crowd.”

    ‘Behind the crowd’? I disagree. It is at the very forefront of “new games designism”. You know, the slightly interactive movies, when some designer comes up with retarded and cliched story #12345 about me saving the world, that he himself finds oooh-some, and will shove it down my throat no matter what. We had ME1 and ME2, the Witcher, then Alpha Protocol, where gameplay and freedom were sacrificed to story. Then on the shooter front we had BFBC2 (walk 10 paces, shoot 2 guys, cutscene), and Sniper Ghost Warrior (“now go ahead cross the road, quick, now shoot the bad guy!”). From this WIT it seems that this MOH 2010 is the very best in the interactive movie series.

    I enjoyed playing as a private in a team commanded by AI in OFP, Arma1 and Arma2. It was VERY far from the wizard-based gameplay of BFBC2 and Sniper, which are basically click ‘Next’ to continue.

  14. Hélder Pinto says:

    This game is an insult

  15. XM says:

    Why is there such a shock that this is an on-rails shooter?

    Now I guess the scores will be low because of the type of game. Time to re-think the 95% MW2 review scores then?

    • Ted says:

      but activision payed for those 95’s, and here EA doesn’t bother to, and as such gets reviewed accordingly.

  16. The Juice says:

    Personally I couldn’t disagree more with this review. It’s nice to play a game where you don’t have to pull 100% of the weight and your teammates aren’t simply window dressing with a grizzled face. You actually feel like part of a team and not just some unoriginal Rambo leading a bunch of morons through various firefights.
    His other points are pretty trivial. Cars don’t explode when shot!? What!? You choose not to stab people much of the time except when you only have a knife!? What!? I know if I had an M4 I would always run around knifing.
    It sounds like the reviewer is perfectly content to be awed like a simpleton by gimmicky, moronic elements of video games that are otherwise preposterous except to people with a room temperature IQ. Personally, I got tired of that ridiculous nonsense with the culmination of MW2 and its MP. If that’s your thing than great, but that shit has gotten old for me and I think Devs can do better than just making an interactive Michael Bay film.
    I’m also not sure which emotional points the reviewer found silly, it would be nice if he cited specific examples. But, I did not get that impression; I found them tastefully done and not overly dramatic and moronic.
    The game attempts to let you see what soldiers do in those sorts of circumstances. What it tries hard to prevent is to simply put you in that setting and let you act like a moron. If thats not your thing then you wont like certain elements of this game, but if you play it like you would imagine a soldier would act, then you don’t run into the “artificial blockages” the reviewer seems to be so annoyed with.
    That’s my opinion, take it for what you will.

  17. aron says:

    One shinny and cinematographic USarmy propaganda, nothing else…

    and I’m sorry to say this because I was really expecting something more deep.

  18. Enshu says:

    The only good thing there was sound.

    I’ve not seen a tiny bit of suffering there. I mean, it’s war, right? Then where is the bloody mess you’re made into the moment you fail to duck, dodge or shoot? Where are the guts of your enemies?

    But then I thought: well, if there’s blood, dirt and screaming, there won’t be much cannon fodder.

    Join the army! Shoot people, take points, and respawn.

  19. John Smith says:

    Twitter Employees Get Google’s 20% Time… For The Entire Next Week

  20. DarkerDark says:

    Cars don’t explode when shot at, usually, unless you’ve got some sort of nuclear reactor powering it or a trunk full of explosives. And LOL at the picture of Deuce wearing his sun-glasses AT NIGHT!

  21. Dalton Ovitt says:

    Terrific document, well crafted I have to admit.

  22. Tristan Wolhok says:

    This is really on the list of far better posts with the ones that We’ve keep reading this subject as of late. Great perform.