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
If you don't care for multiplayer, think twice before buying Medal of Honor. But if multiplayer is your primary focus, then while you may finish the campaign in just five hours or so, you'll likely spend much more time combating human opponents.
Keep it simple, stupid
DICE has done a superb job combining the frantic, tight-spaces of Call of Duty and previous Medal of Honor games with Battlefield's open, objective-based matches. My favorite mode, Combat Mission, sees one side defend a linear series of strongholds as the other attempts to capture them one by one. It takes the experience of Battlefield and compresses it into a straight line, which I prefer, as it focuses the action to a single front. Yes, it involves less strategy on the part of each team, but I'd call it "simplification" as opposed to a "dumbing down."
The other modes, Team Assault, Objective Raid, and Sector Control, are standard multiplayer modes, which are common amongst other games of the sort. Respectively, they equate to team deathmatch, "sabatoge," in which the OPFOR must plant explosives while Coalition forces disarm them, and "domination," in which both sides attempt to capture and hold objectives.
There are three classes, Rifleman, Special Ops, and Sniper, and to be effective, you'll probably have to switch between at least two of them. Like Battlefield, the more experience you gain with a class, the more you'll unlock for that class. There are far fewer unlocks than in Modern Warfare 2, but that's not a bad thing. Keeping the number of weapons and upgrades (scopes, extra magazines, etc.) down prevents the game from becoming an arms race - all of the weapons have advantages and disadvantages, and all are worth trying.
Support actions, which are acquired by earning score streaks, are available to everyone regardless of level, and none of them are so powerful that they crush the opposing team's will to fight. Still, there are times when you'll be spawn killed repeatedly as mortar fire and rockets rain down, or when the enemy spawns within firing range. Some of the maps are just too small. It's frustrating, but as part of a frantic defense it makes sense (sometimes). All multiplayer games are frustrating here and there.
But not too simple...
Combat Mission is by far my favorite mode, but there are only three scenarios: Helmand Valley, Mazar-I-Sharif Airfield, and Shahikhot Mountains. For the other three modes, there are five maps... five small maps. They're too small and too cramped for my liking. It's not quite enough, but of course, DICE will be releasing new content in the same way it has for Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
But does Medal of Honor's multiplayer bring anything new? Not really. If you're growing weary of military shooters, don't expect MoH to reinvigorate you. While I appreciate DICE's style of multiplayer, it could have taken more from the zeitgeist. I like Modern Warfare 2's customizable tags, which identify players with logos and background. I'm not a fan of Halo, but I'm fascinated by its Theater and Forge modes, and why they haven't been more copied baffles me.
MoH's multiplayer could be more exciting, flashier even. But DICE choose to keep it reserved, and that's okay, because it does what it does so well. It's an experience you can't get elsewhere, but it's safer than it is innovative, and it isn't the Next Big Thing.
Next page: Is Medal of Honor better than Modern Warfare 2?
If the campaign is your primary interest, consider looking elsewhere, but if you don't mind powering through a fun, if not groundbreaking, campaign before hunkering down for a long, cold multiplayer campaign this winter, MoH should be on your radar. That's especially true if the nature of recent CoD games has you desiring something with fewer detonating remote control cars.
Our final score reflects an overall impression of the game, and assumes you are the type who is willing to invest some time in the multiplayer.
Modern Warfare 2? For me it is. MW2's campagin was superior - it took more risks, and just did more. But I quickly tired of MW2's multiplayer gimmicks. I much prefer DICE's straight-laced, more focused approach. Heartbeat sensors? None of that here - just me, my rifle, and my targets.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2? Again, it depends. MoH's campaign will offer more thrills-per-second, and more character, but... who bought Bad Company 2 for the singleplayer? In the multiplayer department, well, it's DICE vs. DICE, so take your pick. If you prefer Battlefield's style, then so be it, but for a change of pace, MoH tightens things up and stands strong on its own. Even if you're a diehard Battlefield fan, MoH is at least a worthy segue between BC2 and Battelfield 3. For me, MoH is the better experience.
Medal of Honor: Allied Assault? No. Sure, you'd probably have more fun playing the modern reboot than going back to MoHAA, but that's because MoHAA is almost ten years old. But I just can't call it "better" when Allied Assault was such a revelation. In both the campaign and the multiplayer, it was big, bold, and new. It was to war games what Saving Private Ryan was to film, and this reboot just doesn't stun in the same way.
Medal of Honor's campaign is well-scripted and well-acted, and parts of it are superbly nerve-racking, but its uninventive missions and premature ending left us wanting. The multiplayer, however, is a different game. No, it's actually a different game, and it's what DICE does best. If you've tired of CoD, Medal of Honor might be just the medicine you need.
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