Medal Of Honor: Warfighter came out around the world last week. Review code wasn't offered to us, hence no review for release. We bought a copy, and I've spent the weekend trudging through it. Despite discovering I didn't even want to start playing, I'm now ready to tell you wot I think.
Traditionally, when reviewing a game, it's important to have played it before starting. That's not how I'm going to begin, because I've literally not done a single thing in this game and I already have something to say.
An opening sequence shows your player character rising silently from some water, gun in hand, as he slowly makes his way to the shore. Stood on the riverbank is a man, his back to you, warming his hands over a barrel. We don't see his face, we don't know who he is, he's just a guy, wearing a headscarf, standing by a fire.
It then goes to a first person view, your gun held out, a targeting reticule placed over the back of his head, and you're told to click to fire. You're technically in control, but while you can move the mouse a fraction, it's not possible to move the target away from his head. You cannot move from the spot you're stood on. You can do literally nothing other than shoot this stranger, about whom you know nothing, in the back of his head. That's your only possible interaction, in the opening second of the game. And I don't want to click.
Because I'm reviewing this game, I'm obliged to click. Because I've spent Rock, Paper, Shotgun's money buying this game, I'm obliged to click. But I have absolutely no desire to proceed any further, and I've yet to do anything. Welcome to Medal Of Honor: Warfighter.
So I played for a bit. Charged with the crime of having a towel on his head, that first guy had to die. And then everyone else who was facing toward me for the next few levels. Not a single original idea was on display, and indeed many standard ideas were absent. But at least I can say that lessons have been learned since the first game, and this time are you are occasionally allowed to go in front.
It's like playing an FPS with stabilisers on. You pedal, you go forward, but there's absolutely no danger of your tipping to the left or the right. You do what it says, when it says it, and absolutely nothing else. If the game decides you aren't to climb over the rubble, a lot like the rubble you were just told to climb over, then it'll take away your ability to jump. If you're meant to run forward, no matter how stupid that seems with the volume of enemies ahead, it'll keep spawning them until you do. When you do, they'll have all mysteriously rushed off on holiday. Paths are militantly regimented (Don't start a pun thread, John - Pun Fearing Ed), deviation is not an option. As I just found out to extraordinary cost at the next moment where I've stopped playing to write some more.
With a large clear road ahead of me, having shot a million men who apparently did something wrong (but the game has made no attempt to say what) I figured I'd - you know - keep running forward.
"OUT OF GAME ZONE!" is shouted at me, in a message that took so long to finish animating itself on screen that by the time it was legible its countdown was almost done. I turned around and ran back, but not quickly enough, and dropped down dead.
Not shot by a pretend enemy, or blown up by an airstrike, or even eaten by a rogue shark. I just died of not doing what I was told, despite not realising I'd been told not to do it. I just keeled over in the middle of the road, and received the "You died" message. Because... because I explored an open area of the level in a single player game? What? And with the game's use of sparing checkpoints, and its agonising load times (it takes 30 seconds just to quit to the main menu), well, I thought I'd come write to you about it before going back. Wish me luck!
I haven't been gone long! An extraordinary sequence in which you're sniping rooftop enemies from a distant building (I know - the originality, eh?), demonstrates once again what a mad, paranoid game this is. There are lots of enemies, but only a few with RPGs. They're your targets. Three highlighted at first, and you snipe them each in any order. It doesn't really matter if you aim for their heads, or the sky near their heads - they still go down. Oh, but only their heads. Bullets from your massively powerful sniper rifle don't even impact an enemy if they hit them anywhere else on their body. Then two new enemies run in on a roof further to the right - swing over there to take these two out, both highlighted as targets. Except, you can only hit one of them.
Despite their being stood next to each other, it doesn't matter how many times you shoot the guy on the right, he's invincible, because the game's script says the guy on the left dies first. Sure, it says you can hit either, but you can't, because that's not was etched in stone tablets at Mount Danger Close. So you can amuse yourself by shooting him again and again directly in the middle of his face, as your companion gibbers nonsense like "A little higher, that would be a headshot." No, a little higher and that would be a centre parting. "Just right," he criticises as you fire exactly on target. And you can do that for as long as you like, because all of time and space will stop at this point while you fill Captain Invincible with bullets. Finally relent to the game's mad needs and shoot the guy on the left, and Cpt Invincy runs to a new position, fires an RPG you can't stop him from firing despite being told to, and then gracefully lets you kill him.
This then causes two new targets to appear on a hotel rooftop on the far right. These two you have to take out in a couple of shots, because failure to do so means a helicopter gets shot down. One of them I can take down fine. The other - he doesn't show his head until the second he fires at the chopper, and shooting him in his back, bum and legs does nothing whatsoever. I've yet to work out which part of the script I'm not following, so I've sure shot those first few guys a lot! Back to it!
Ahhhh - I was meant to shot the sky above and to the right of his head, because this game that has infinite ammo for both this sniper rifle and my handgun had suddenly decided it was incredibly realistic. Now a completely incongruous, heavily rubber-banded car chase!
It's around this time that the game has started resizing itself at random, entirely ignoring its settings, and running itself in a tiny window instead of my desktop resolution. It's something to do with the rendered cutscenes, but on exiting them the game stays teeny tiny, while the options pretend they're at the correct resolution. Amazingly the solution is going into a windowed mode, and stretching the window back to fullscreen.
So I've been playing for two or three hours. Here's what the game gets right: sometimes it's a shooting gallery. Still one of those ones where if you don't advance at the arbitrarily designated moments it will last for infinity, but you've got guns, baddies pop up, and when you shoot them - most of the time - they fall down. That's about it, really. And that's when your fellow soldiers don't push you out of cover, or make it physically impossible to run away from a grenade, hail of bullets, etc. And their habit of standing next to enemies without noticing them makes me pretty certain they're not really on my side.
There's clearly been an attempt to improve on the previous game's complete lack of autonomy. Stockholm Syndrome eventually kicks in and you stop even trying to deviate from the path the other soldiers take, but at least here it lets you take most of the kills. There are moments where it can't help itself, and it starts playing the game for you, while you dawdle along behind, a broom in your hand, whistling. But then it'll give you a car or a boat chase to help you forget, which are surprisingly well realised if far, far too long.
The Frostbite 2 engine looks lovely, and the locations can be absolutely enormous. Clearly huge effort has gone into crafting the play areas (just so long as you don't explore, of course!), but unfortunately the aesthetic improvements on the genre aren't matched by a single other thing.
There's not a glimmer of originality in any of the combat. Enemies still pop in and out of cover, making sure to put their heads back where they were for ease of being shot. They still glitch and blip, occasionally even teleporting right in front of you, and have two modes: uselessly standing still while you riddle them with bullets, or aiming with unerring precision from fifty billion miles away while completely obscured by the game's clutter. There's nothing modern about this warfare, with no options for special magic glasses that highlight enemy locations. Instead it's a game of: where's the brown faced man behind the seventeen walls in front of you.
Here's my attempt at telling you the game's story. There's familiar names from the first game - Dusty, Mother, Tea Towel, Hopscotch and Clingfilm - and you switch back and forth between them in no discernible pattern, while the cutscenes tell you about some guy in a hospital whose wife is upset with him but he just has to go back to the thing about the thing that possibly hasn't been revealed yet, but there's a thing about pirates, and something called PETN, and it's all inspired by real events! Meanwhile, no matter who you play you get no sense of anything unique, instead just running along and shooting like you always do.
Those real life events have caused lots of controversy for the obviously distasteful nature of wanting to include them, but in the end the game's such a homogenous puddle that even this doesn't have any impact on the experience. It's all running forward and shooting the foreigners, while other soldiers shout inane nonsense until it stops again.
The most peculiar thing about its zig-zagging attempt at telling a story is this bizarre repeated theme in cutscenes of not showing you the face of the guy coordinating all the troops from his bunker. It's beardy guy from the first game. You know it is because you can hear his voice, and he's the only guy who hasn't appeared. But it persists and persists with this bizarre conceit, each time revealing a tiny bit more of the guy you already know it is, until finally, no way! It's beardy guy from the first game! As if there's a human being on Earth who could give a sub atomic particle of a shit about him.
And I've finished. The further the game goes on, the more it becomes a morbid study of brutal violence. Rather than shooting strangers in the back of the head, now you're smashing their faces against car bonnets and breaking their necks. And then, as it to try to apologise for itself, it all finishes with a sickly treacle funeral, and a display of messages that inform us of the bravery of these men. Men, note. While it's no surprise that yet another military game lives in denial that there are female soldiers, the closing message is a real kick in the face for anyone who's lost a wife, mother or daughter.
"Real life super heroes exist; they walk among us every day, ready to defend our great nation and its citizens in a moment's notice. They are husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons capable of staring death in the face..."
Overall it's yet another average corridor shooter, plagued with stupid glitches, terrible AI, murderous teammates, and a desperate, paranoid need to stop you from deviating from its cast-iron script. But its single player is not any worse than that in the rest of its ilk - the low marks this one's getting are appropriate, but feel like an industry catching up to the tedium it's been giving 9s for so long. There's nothing more offensive here because it claims it's based on real-life events - so were the first three Call Of Duty games, and that was often met with respect. It's just dull. Noisy, constantly trying to disguise itself with exploding buildings and shouted intensity. But an obnoxiously noisy pub is no less a boring place to spend time in bad company than a quiet one.
In a year that includes a Dishonored, the ludicrous nature of its enforced paths and complete lack of genuine interaction is further highlighted for what it is: a ghost train without any surprises. It often looks good, and when it's not screwing up you can engage in extended moments of popping heads in that satisfying target practice way. But then it interrupts itself with its uber-clumsy story, unearned preaching, and glitch-infested AI. It's not hateful - it's just boring.