To preface, this review will reference Modern Warfare 2 and Bad Company 2 quite a bit. I know it seems a tad unfair given that: Hey! It's Medal of Honor! Review Medal of Honor, not MW2 or BC2!!!!
However, given the current release environment, this game will be, and is already being stacked up against MW2 and Battlefield Bad Company 2 as they are the current military FPS's dejour at the moment so I won't be able to avoid it.
For reference since I was asked about it. Here is the rig I was playing on when I installed the game:
AMD Athlon X2 6000+
Windows XP Pro
GeForce GTX 260 MaxCore Edition
4GB DDR2 Ram
Sound Blaster Fatality Edition
WD Velociraptor 300gb 10krpm HD
Anyway, on to the game.
PATCH UPDATE!!! (11/5/2010) - EA has released a gameplay patch along with some new maps and a gametype. Please make sure to read the summary at the bottom as it does affect some things I mentioned in the original review. In the interest of preserving the flow of the review, I will append the updated gameplay review at the end of this one.
Also this will be a fairly long, detailed review, if you don't want to read the whole thing, I have a summary below.
Medal of Honor covers an area of military shooters that Modern Warfare (1 and 2) sort of touched upon before it got all Michael Bay'd up and involved more heavy explosives than a nuclear powered demolitions crew...
This area of course refers to the clandestine special forces currently operating all over the world today, or as they refer to it, the "Tier 1 Operator". Essentially the elite of the elite, and possibly a bit more elite than that, these special forces guys are the tip of the proverbial military spear, sent in small groups operating (you're going to hear a lot of that in-game)well behind enemy lines with minimal support other than their own teammates and skills.
Single Player Campaign
The game takes place in modern day afghanistan and chronicles some of the early days of the Afghanistan invasion (Enduring Freedom) and focuses mainly on a small group of these Tier 1 Operators as well as an Army Ranger inserted in mid-way through the campaign. The missions take the span of about 2 days of the invasion and you'll frequently be switching points of view from the Spec Ops guys, the Army Ranger, and several elements of close air support (personally this was my favorite part of the whole game)
Without spoiling it, the campaign feels pretty solid overall, but also a tad disjointed. Don't get me wrong, the atmosphere the game generates is really well done! It definitely is much more believeable than Modern Warfare 2's campaign which had the giddy explosion fanboy in me go "Oh seriously what the hell??" a couple of times.
The issue is throughout the campaign, you'll be switching your POV from multiple characters. Since the firefights can get so hectic, I found myself sort of having to double check who I was playing as and how they fit into the overall campaign narrative.
The criminally short length of the campaign (dedicated FPS vets should be able complete it in about 4-6 hours) makes you feel like they just arbitrarily cherry-picked two days worth of gunbattles and somehow strung them together to make a campaign. The in-between mission cutscenes (They honestly should just be renamed "The Incompetence of Higher Command lol") do add some tension and atmosphere, but they honestly feel tacked on, as if the developers suddenly realized that gamers needed some CGI to liven the place up.
MOH definitely goes in a different direction with combat interaction than Modern Warfare 2. Where MW2 has its arcade-like quick-switch, weapon juggling, double-shotgun, care-packaging, and zipping-around-at-near-light-speed style of combat, MOH is markedly more deliberate. The game favors a much more careful, controlled pace than the balls to wall action that was MW2s hallmark. You can get killed almost instantly by lucky sniper headshots, and in the sniping sections of the campaign and in multiplayer you have to take the time to pick your targets, because trying to identify them in the gritty, dust-cloud filled terrain is a difficult proposition to be sure.
Guns also handle differently as well. They emphasize small controlled bursts and your accuracy degrades severly if you try to spray-and-pray. This is particularly apparent with the rather frequent usage of Light Machine Guns in several of the missions.
On a more positive note, I'm particularly impressed how well they represent Shotguns in this game! Shotguns actually have a ranger longer than 5 feet! Hallelujah! This always bugged me in Modern Warfare 2 how you could shoot someone from 5-10 feet away with a shotgun, but it would barely nick them...
Still, vets of Modern Warfare will have a bit of a time adjusting to MOH's gameplay. Given how smoothly movement and firing handled in MW2, you will really feel..."clunky" by comparison in this game.
Graphics and Sound
As far as how the Game looks and sounds, well that is a bit of tricky one to handle. The Single and Multiplayer versions of the game were done by different dev studios and use different graphics engines. The Single Player uses the Unreal 3 engine and was made by the "Danger Close" studio whereas the Multi uses DICE's own proprietary Frostbite 2.0 engine in the online matches.
For single player performance, the game performed smoothly, but the Unreal 3 engine is either not aging well or it wasn't well implemented. There's noticeable texture and model pop in, aliasing issues, and everything has a sort of grainy "washed out" feel to it. The default FOV is kind of odd as well, the guns are placed almost in your eyeball and take up the entire bottom right 1/4 of your screen. I also disliked the real lack of graphics options. As far as I can tell in single player, you can only adjust your resolution and brightness/contrast settings, but I'll take a second look to be sure. It's kind of frustrating given today's advanced hardware available to many folks.
Multiplayer performed slightly better in my opinion, probably due to the smaller types of maps that were used, I didn't seem to have nearly as many graphics issues as I had with single player.
The sounds on the other hand are definitely the title's strongest point.Everything from the lowly MP7 sub-machine gun to the beefy PKM heavy machine gun really explode with each shot, driving home the point that you are wielding some serious hardware.
Folks with surround sound setups will be particularly pleased. Everything from the sound of incoming artillery fire, the chatter of small arms fire echoing in the hills, to the fusillade of 30mm chain guns from gunships shredding structures all combine to make a delightfully enjoyable aural experience.
So far I've only put in a couple of evenings with the multiplayer and my initial overall experience is actually quite good (assuming you get into a properly balanced match)! I suppose it mainly has to do with my utter disgust at how the PC version of Modern Warfare 2 has decayed to a wasteland of boosters, aimbotters, quickscopers and glitchers and no one seems to care or do anything about them. I also won't get into the debacle that is IWnet and their selection of hosts.
One of my friends commented that the overall experience kind of straddles a middle ground between the arcadey twitch style gameplay of MW2 and the large-scale, more realistic combat of Bad Company 2, and I'm inclined to agree.
Map size in general follows the smaller more hectic maps of MW2, but the combat mechanics and vehicle interactions (limited for the most part) borrow piecemeal from BC2. With this blessing though comes the same curse. The game can't really decide what it wants to be. Just when you think you can sprint through an apartment block blasting your shotgun everywhere, a well covered rifleman's shot will quickly and brutally remind you can't.
Still, multiplayer tips slightly toward the more arcadey style of gameplay at least currently. Everything other than Sniper Rifles seem to take quite a few shots to put targets down (unless you're rocking the headshots). I don't know if this is because of bad netcode or actual gameplay design choices, but it makes playing as the Assault/Special Ops classes more frustrating than they should be. It also completely marginalizes the machine guns you can unlock as the Assault class. The rifles and SMGs as a general rule in-game fire more quickly and accurately than the machine guns, which leave you at a major disadvantage in a standup firefight unless you can get the drop on someone. ( I guess the larger mag size is their selling point?...)
This in turn leads to a prevalance of snipers pretty much across all gametypes. It can be supremely frustrating, paticularly on Capture and Destroy gametypes (Chinook and Airfield in particular), where you have to coordinate an advance on an objective. You can't advance because you'll be sniped, and you can't advance because the Snipers on your team don't lend themselves well to leading from the front line.
There is some silver lining however. Folks worried about Noob-tubers destroying the game will not have to worry too much here. The underslung grenade launchers do make an appearance on the assault class, but you pretty much have to nail someone within 2 feet of them in order to actually kill them. Otherwise, a tube launcher will only damage and disorient the target and force them to take cover.
In fact, if you really want to piss people off, try Shotgun Sniping! Yes as ridiculous as it sounds, if you equip the lone pump-shotgun in the game, slap a laser sight, red dot sight, and shotgun slugs, you will have a pump-action sniper rifle that can kill out at 60+yards. Try it and watch merriment ensue!
"Killstreaks" (Team Support Actions in the Game) are handled very nicely in this game. Once you figure out that they exist (see below), you can choose between "defensive" or "offensive" killstreaks. Defensive ones are really nice: upgraded ammo, flak jackets, score-multipliers etc, and they give you a score bonus as well, which can allow you to chain more killstreaks together if you time it right. Offensive ones bring out the big guns, allowing you to call in massive air/mortar/missile strikes that can wipe out large groups of enemy forces if you can target them well.
Multiplayer Maps and Environments
The prevalance of "dusty" explosions and debris laden environments makes picking out targets infuriatingly difficult, particularly on capture and control maps. Frequently I'd be finding myself covering a long narrow hallway, and I'd be shot from halfway across the map by a chap with a sub-machine gun because I couldn't pick him out from a dustcloud on top of the crates. Honestly 90% of your deaths will be like this by targets you can't even see.
This I suppose is one area where MW2's multi player was better. Even in hectic firefights, they modeled the models to have a distinct sillouhete so it was more a matter of you not reacting fast enough rather than trying to squint your way through a map's dust clouds to pick out your targets. It's extremely important to make use of cover, trying to run around in the open will get you killed over and over again.
You get a fairly good mix of gametypes right out of the box. You've got your standard Team Deathmatch and Domination/Control Node and you've also got a capture and destroy gametype that reprises its role in BC2. This perhaps is where the multiplayer shines best. You get to use coordinated attacks from a Bradley APC to break chokepoints on your way to the objective, which you must bomb in order to proceed to the next one.
Unlocks and Leveling
Unlocks and killstreaks are handled a bit more..."understatedly" than MW2. Where MW2 announced your unlocks/killstreaks with a rockin' guitar riff and a big announcement on your screen, MOH just sort of plops it there with very little fanfare. Heck for the first two hours I was playing I didn't even realize I COULD call in killstreaks or that I had even unlocked anything for my soldier! This can be sort of frustrating for newbies to the game. The game is very loud and hectic and the menus have multiple layers to them. This basically ensures it'll take a few tries for newcomers to realize and figure out what's available to use and how to use them.
There also...isn't really all that much to unlock in the multiplayer mode. Where MW2 and even BC2 had a virtual smorgasbord of items/upgrades/perks to equip and customize your soldier, MOH goes for the "less is more" approach in spades. You only can unlock 1 or 2 weapons, a couple of scopes/suppressors/muzzle brakes, an "upgraded" version of your starting weapon, an extra grenade, and the ability to use the opposing side's weapons. What's even more annoying is that for the most part, several of the weapons and upgrades you do unlock don't really add a noticeable benefit or upgrade, or are too situational to be used regularly. This leaves one to wonder why they were even put in to begin with.
Perhaps the most glaring flaw of Multiplayer right now would be its spawn system. MOH has some quite frankly abysmal spawning systems particularly on a lot of the smaller maps, but on all the maps in general. The issue is that for the most part, the spawning areas are fairly static. If an opposing team can hem you in hard enough (and believe me it can happen more often than you think) you literally can be spawn camped to death. It doesn't help once folks start building up killstreaks. It's not uncommon to spawn, get sniped immediately, spawn, get shot again, spawn aaaand eat a mortar strike in the face. It even happens on the massive capture and destroy control node maps. The gametype lets you spawn on the front line near another soldier, unfortunately this will often place you right smack dab in the middle of incoming enemy fire, and it will happen repeatedly during a match.
Latency and hit registering issues are also cropping up a bit as well. There is a noticeable lag time from when "you're getting damaged"/"you're damaging a target" indicators pop up on your screen, to when something actually happens. The most glaring example of this would be if you're sprinting for cover while getting damaged, it'll look like you made it to cover and pause to turn around, only to die crouched behind it. (Why even put them up there??) Once again, I can't tell if this is because of recent release technical glitches (like the server browser being borked) or genuine netcode issues. This type of thing happened quite a bit in BF2142 and it's happening quite a bit here, so I'm hoping that the devs are keeping an eye out on it and hopefully fix it.
Overall, multiplayer is a bit of a mixed bag right now. My current issues with Multiplayer stem from its server jitters, hit detection, spawning issues and the lack of meaningful progression in the career unlocks. It does offer a refreshing change of pace for those coming from MW2 however, and this I believe is its biggest selling point. You have to think more tactically and carefully when you advance up a map, and this definitely hightens the tension each match has rather than running around like a headless chicken.
So! Here's my breakdown of my overall impressions of this game:
-Great atmosphere in Single Player
-Fantastic Sound/Environment/Music Effects
-Amazing Vehicle Combat Levels
-Great Small Scale Stealth Combat Elements
-Well represented Military Hardware
-Multiplayer is well paced and is a nice change from MW2
-Graphics leave something to be desired, particularly in Single Player. There are numerous aliasing and texture issues that detract from the quality of the game.
-Game sort of has a washed out, grainy look to it.
-Inability to adjust graphics settings beyond resolution and brightness/contrast (at least from what I could see in single player, multi you can adjust it).
-Single player is pretty ridiculously short, even in comparison to Modern Warfare 2. Most folks will finish it in 4-6 hours.
-Issues with hitboxes both in single and multiplayer can get a bit frustrating. Half the time it seems the bullets don't even register or there is a severe lag time when they do, even when you've got the crosshair spot on target.
-Multiplayer right now is in a bit of an uncertain state, for a release week launch, there's not a whole heck of a lot of people playing.
-Latency, hitbox issues, spawning issues are plaguing a lot of matches.
-Movement and combat interaction feels a bit "clunky" at times, particularly during breaching manuevers.
Overall, in spite of some of the glitches and wonky multiplayer, this is a very good game. I do think DICE tried to steal some of MW2's thunder by making military combat more realistic but still more accessible than the grand scale of Bad Company 2's multiplayer battles. I just don't think they went far enough in either direction. Folks sick of MW2's exploits and twitchy gameplay will find a nice refreshing counterpoint here, but it certainly won't go as far as I'd imagine they'd like it to go. And folks who cut their teeth on BC2's gameplay will most likely be put off by the "dumbed down" gameplay and much smaller maps.
In the end, the game's main failing I suppose is that it just can't decide what it wants to do. It doesn't want to be an arcade-style shooter like MW2, but it also doesn't want to be the realistic epic scale shooter like BC2 or Battlefield. Given this indecisiveness, I wonder whether it will last long enough in the minds of gamers, especially with Call of Duty: Black Ops and Battlefield 3 (blatantly being advertised in the same box with Beta Access) right around the corner.
POST PATCH UPDATE!! (11/5/2010)
Recently EA released a gameplay patch along with some new maps and a new gametype: Cleansweep. I'll address each one accordingly.
Gameplay Mechanics -
Sniper - Post patch has really changed the landscape of the game. Where once snipers could easily make up 3/4 of an opposing team (and your team as well), the patch's severe nerf to sniper rifles has more or less removed them from the battlefield. Every single sniper rifle now takes multiple shots (2 for the bolt action, 3-4 for the semi-autos, and 5-6 for the G3) to bring someone down unless you land a headshot. This essentially makes snipers the weakest class in the game by far, easily out-shot by assault classes with regular rifles now. In a sense, this patch also improved the viability of the semi-auto sniper rifles in one fell swoop. Previously the bolt actions ruled, because no matter where you shot a guy, it would always one-hit kill. Now since you have to land multiple shots (unless you get a headshot) to bring down a target, the semi-autos are much more forgiving and better at putting multiple, quick shots on target.
Rifles/Carbines/Machineguns - These guys saw a bit of a nerf as well. They've become just a tad weaker and also have increased bullet spread/sway. They particularly increased the accuracy penalty if you full-auto or don't aim down the sights. Between the combination of latency/netcode/patch changes, it on average takes about 8-12 shots to take someone down unless you (once again) land consistent upper chest/head shots.
Pistols - No changes that I could note.
Shotguns - The red dot sight+laser sight+slugs combo no longer gives the 1-hit kill at extreme range anymore so "shotgun-sniping" is indeed out. They also made it so you also have to consistently land upper chest/head shots to kill now, it's possible even with slugs to not 1-hit kill someone at close range if you tag them say, in the foot.
Rounds in general last longer, particularly for the Sector Control and Team Death Match maps. Score limits have been increased. A welcome change methinks, really gives more opportunity for capture points to change hands and get some good gunfights going.
They claim to have also changed spawn locations on many of the maps to prevent spawn camping, but I still saw this occur with regular frequency. You can still (quite easily I might add) spawn camp/get spawn camped on maps, particuarly the smaller ones. The larger ones I noted seem to shift spawn locations a bit more frequently than before, but it still is a problem.
This was a new mode added with two new maps with the patch. Essentially, it's Counterstrike for Medal of Honor. 2 Rounds with no respawns and everyone has radar showing where enemy forces are, which ostensibly is supposed to cut down on camping and hiding. Unfortunately that's pretty much what folks end up doing regardless. The maps that were introduced are wonderfully atmospheric, but the mode feels clunky and often knocks down your skill ranking since you usually only manage to kill 1-2 guys before you die and have to wait for the round to restart.
Overall it's a pretty lame addition, the match typically only lasts 2-3 minutes before it ends and feels completely out of place when put against say a large epic Combat Mission which can easily last 10-20 minutes a match.
So! The patch! Overall, the changes made to the game do make it a bit of a better experience, but I honestly think it won't do much to keep people playing it once BLOPS comes out, granted if BLOPS is a shining turd, I imagine a core group of dedicated gamers will continue to support this title once the furor of the BLOPS title dies down.