It’s curious to reflect on the fact that the Medal of Honor series took years to shift its focus away from World War II simulations after its main competitors, the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises, both rebooted themselves as fully modern military shooters. Its eventual attempt to follow in their footsteps, 2010’s Medal of Honor, was a disjointed affair, with single-player and multiplayer components developed by two different teams using two different gameplay engines. The new Medal of Honor: Warfighter addresses many of the problems of that game, and feels like a more unified and consistent product. Whether that’s enough to draw your attention from the genre’s heavy hitters might be another matter, though.
Using some of the same characters from its predecessor, Warfighter spins another tale of hard men doing hard tasks while speaking tersely and sporting only the grizzliest of beards. The story takes a while to cohere, and features a number of early-game missions that appear to have only tenuous connections to Warfighter’s main plotline. You’ll wind up effecting hostage rescues and sniping Somali pirates without any clue as to how those objectives have anything to do with the global terror plot you’re supposedly focused on.
The game seems to realize that you’ve seen all this before, and thus introduces a subplot involving the failing marriage of Preacher, one of its lead characters. Unfortunately, the script is on the level of a Lifetime Original Movie, and the characters barely register as human beings, let alone people with complex emotional lives. Further, the poorly-rendered CGI cutscenes somehow manage to wind up looking far worse than the in-game visuals. The military-focused side of the story fares little better, as the bulk of those cutscenes involve watching the back of a man’s head as he uses his computer and exchanges copious amounts of unexplained military jargon to unseen characters over the phone.
The gameplay is better than the story, but again, it rarely elevates itself above the standards of the genre. Danger Close opted use elements of Battlefield 3’s Frostbite 2 engine for both portions of Warfighter, and as such, the gameplay feels very similar to that title. It does, however, retain the ammo system of its predecessor: Your sidearm has infinite ammo, and you can ask any of your computer-driven allies for more grenades and ammunition for your primary weapon at any time. In effect, it’s impossible to ever run out of bullets, which eliminates the ammo-management tension that’s usually inherent in a shooter. You’ll quickly learn to simply empty a clip onto everything that moves without having to worry about running dry, reducing the challenge of the campaign significantly.
The on-foot missions here are linear to a fault, with the occasional de rigueur diversion into sniping or turret gunning or helicopter rides. The most audacious decision has to be the one to include an entire level that has you driving a car through Dubai, without any shooting taking place at all; surprisingly, it winds up being one of the game’s most memorable moments. But it’s still a woefully brief, below-average campaign, and while it takes some stabs at thrilling you with setpieces, they never seem to approach the gleeful craziness of the best moments of its competitors.
The multiplayer, thankfully, is quite a bit more fleshed out and enjoyable. While none of the game modes will wow anyone looking for innovation, Danger Close did double Warfighter’s class system, giving each a special ability to draw from in combat. The Assaulter can whip out the ever-popular underslung grenade launcher, for instance, while the Point Man actually utilizes a surprisingly well-balanced wall hack that will let you see enemies through obstacles. Each class gets its own unique set of tiered killstreak support actions, and there’s also the requisite hundreds of unlockables, mostly consisting of various gun parts, as well as a bevy of different nationalities for each class.
The neatest inclusion, though, is the simple-but-fun fireteam mechanic. Both sides in a multiplayer round are automatically split up into two-man fireteams, and sticking with your partner nets both of you a number of co-op-oriented bonuses. While it might not make up for the lack of any kind of co-op campaign play, it does manage to engender a small sense of camaraderie even in pickup games, and makes it easier to stick close to your friends in chaotic matches. EA’s Battlelog system also makes it easy to keep track of your platoon’s progress and check out how your playing history compares to that of your friends.
Although the multiplayer is competent, it’s still not going to bowl over anyone who’s sunk hundreds of hours into the latest Call of Duty or Battlefield. And that’s really the story of Medal of Honor: Warfighter: It's a title that’s merely decent while it attempts to compete with two of the most popular and well-executed shooter franchises in modern gaming. It can hang with the big boys graphically, but it still represents a series that is obviously playing a game of catch-up. Perhaps Medal of Honor will conquer that challenge and regain its place as the third pillar of modern military first-person shooters after another iteration or two, but Warfighter shows that it still has a way to go to do so.
This game was reviewed on the PC.