Medal of Honor, like Halo: Reach, really requires two reviews: one for the campaign, and one for the multiplayer. MoH's campaign and multiplayer weren’t even created by the same developers, and don’t run on the same engines. It's two games in one box, so even more so than Reach, its two sides need separate treatment. Of course, it's still one box for one price, so I'll give each half of the game separate attention, and then rate the whole as an amalgamation of both.
It’s funny that there was ever any controversy over Medal of Honor’s treatment of American soldiers, because one mission into Danger Close's campaign and it’s clear that this is the game version of God Bless the USA (“Where at least I know I’m freeeee!”).
The campaign is loosely based on real battles, but takes place in a fictional Afghanistan where the Coalition consists only of America (excepting a brief cut scene cameo by the Afghan National Army), and the mission is clear: kill as many Taliban soldiers as possible.
The game opens with a battle through a Taliban-infested town in search of an informant. Once rescued, the informant reveals that the Taliban is gathering in a nearby valley, and assures the elite Tier 1 operators of his sincerity with a should-be-satirical, “Puh-lease! I want my daughter to go to school, have a life! You must keel them all!” Bring in the red, white, and blue, bitch!
Short and bittersweet
But despite its over-simplification, the most exceptional aspects of the campaign are the writing and voice acting. The Tier 1 special-ops teams, Neptune and Wolfpack, contain surprisingly likable, sympathetic bearded warriors (Captain Price’s moustache has nothing on these guys). The story is kept simple, as it should be: there are a bunch of Taliban in a valley, the Tier 1 operators enter to weaken defenses and provide intel, a jerk-ass general insists that the rangers be sent in prematurely, and everything goes tits up.
Above: Tits up
But despite some tense moments and big explosions, the campaign is underwhelming. The Tier 1 missions will get your heart rate up a few times, but they're nevertheless linear, "go here do this" affairs, and lack much creativity or mental stimulation. Shoot guys, move to a new position, shoot more guys. If you're any good at shooters at all, play on "hard" for any kind of challenge.
Arguably the game’s best mission takes place around the middle of the campaign, and doesn’t involve either Tier 1 team - it’s as an Army Ranger that you charge up the side of dusty mountain and desperately hold off a Taliban ambush in the most Spielberg-esque moment of the game. More of that, and less driving ATVs around at night, and the game might have soared higher. It's just not dirty or terrifying enough to be the modern shooter to beat.
My biggest complaint is that the campaign ends somewhere in the second act, just as you've become invested in the characters, and the final line, “This isn’t over,” will leave you wondering, “So why are the credits playing?”
Aside from that, the hit detection isn’t fantastic, the enemy AI is occasionally glitchy, and while parts of it look and feel great, there’s a general lack of polish. A teammate opens a door by sticking his claw-hand ten inches away from it. Enemies standing right next to you, separated by only a half-wall, duck and shoot as if you’re half-a-mile away. When most of the game is so well-made, these things stick out.
You'll probably play through MoH's campaign in one or two sittings, and you'll have fun doing it. It's compelling enough, but it doesn’t bring a lot of new ideas (and borrows a few elements from Modern Warfare), and while it almost makes up for that with strong characters, it shoots itself in the foot when it gives up before the third act.
Tier 1 mode, which allows you to replay each level in arcade-style, with increased difficulty and a timer, should add some replay-value, but... meh. If it at least included co-op, like Modern Warfare 2's Special Ops mode, it may be a bonus, but it doesn't, and it's the same missions you already played, not new skirmishes.
Next Page: Our review of Medal of Honor's multiplayer