Ever since Infinity Ward unleashed Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare onto the world with its massive success, game developers and publishers other than Activision have been trying to concoct the same secret sauce to produce the same result. In 2010, EA released a reboot of the Medal of Honor series. Set in Afghanistan, the game for the first time took place in a war that was actually in progress. This left a lot of people with mixed feelings. Whilst playing a game set in wars which have been and gone is one thing, to actually simulate a war that was in progress where soldiers were sadly losing their lives on an almost daily basis was something else.
I chose to play that game, but had very mixed feelings doing so, and still think EA made a mistake. However, alongside with this the critical reception was poor, and whilst the game went on to sell well, it never was in danger of upstaging the premier FPS game from that year, Call of Duty: Black Ops. So, EA has gone back to the drawing board and their latest game in the MOH series, Warfighter, takes place in various hotspots around the globe. It's just a shame that EA didn't learn from its mistakes in 2010 and Warfighter is in fact in many ways a poorer game than its 2010 cousin.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter (MOH:WF) is set in the present day. The main storyline again revolves around a Tier 1 group of soldiers, the best of the best who are called in when lives are in danger. The main character has recently walked away from the Tier 1 group to try and save the relationship with his daughter's mother before being dragged back into the fight to save the world yet again. If 2010's game was set during a current war, 2012's game rips directly from some of the more world changing events of the past five or so years.
There are references to almost every major terror attack which has occurred in the west during that period and the storyline revolves around trying to prevent repeat attacks. The storyline itself is serviceable and gets the job done, but it's unlikely to keep you coming back for more with the ultimate conclusion being easy to predict right from the outset. There are some moments in the storyline that may shock you, but having now seen the entire campaign, those moments do not fit into the story well and appear to have been added just for the shock factor.
Whilst MOH: WF is a first person shooter at heart, there is quite a bit of variety during the campaign. In some missions you will be driving a car (showing off the power of the Frostbite 2 engine which powers this game) trying to outrun some enemies or deliver a package. In fact, it is in one of these missions that the problems of the game really come home to roost. They are just not interesting to play at all. Whilst in Call of Duty you will see huge explosions and crazy Hollywood style set pieces, Warfighter has decided to go down a more realistic path.
The problem is that in a game like Medal of Honor, having somewhat realistic combat (although we flinch at calling it realistic) is that it is quite boring to play through. As well as this the developers have tried to mix up the gameplay with some different mechanics being thrown into each mission. For example, one mission has a very metal gear style stealth section. It sounds fine right, especially for a military shooter, but when you add in the fact you are in a car at the time you can see just how desperate it seems the developers were to break up the monotonous shooting.
The game also has some technical problems which are at best frustrating and at worst controller smashing. The main problem we encountered on the PC version was that every so often when we had to restart a checkpoint due to being shot, the game would push us back four or five checkpoints. This led to us losing sometimes thirty minutes progress, and this happened multiple times over the course of our testing. The only way we managed to avoid this problem was to quit to Windows before reloading a checkpoint, starting the game, and loading the mission. This is just ridiculous, but it was the only way we could guarantee that our progression was saved. There are other problems as well although not so game impacting.
Enemies will clip through objects in the world and there will be times where you know you have hit the enemy, but the game thinks you haven't. Crosshair right on the center of the enemy, shoot, but no hit. It just doesn't make sense. However, perhaps the most ridiculous thing was that when we plugged in our Xbox 360 controller after playing most of the game with a keyboard and mouse combo, all these problems virtually disappeared. We no longer had the checkpoint issue and in actual fact the game ran better. We have chatted with another games writer who has agreed that this improves the game markedly. Add this one to the baffling column.
When you look past the problems of the game, you find a fairly serviceable title. Depending on the difficulty level that you choose, you could be through the game in as little as five to six hours. It's hard to overly criticize Warfighter for this when its main competitor suffers from the same problem, but there is one difference. Warfighters campaign is just boring. Many times we found ourselves wanting to quit the game and play something else. In fact, the only reason we finished the game was for this review. There are so many missed opportunities with Warfighter.
For example, during its problematic PR campaign, EA was focusing on the fact that the Tier 1 operators of the world were going to be present in the game including the British and Australian SAS teams. However, the campaign itself focuses on two US tier 1 operators, and occasionally you will meet up with another AI controlled Tier 1 group. This is just completely puzzling. Over the course of the missions they could have had you play a different Tier 1 squad much like what Call of Duty does with its multiple protagonists and EA even setup for that during its marketing campaign. It's a real shame because it potentially could have added a lot more variety to the game.
Obviously a key point of the Warfighter experience is going to be multiplayer and in some ways this is the better side of the game. The usual things are present such as persistent unlocks, but again like Call of Duty, this means that if you do not play the game regularly, you will fall behind and just get hammered each time you play. The multiplayer section also continues the Battlelog feature of Battlefield 3 with multiplayer games found and launched from a web browser. It worked well in BF3 and it does work well again with Warfighter. One of the more interesting elements of the multiplayer is that you can choose your Tier 1 force from the globe. In a very FIFA-like style, EA tracks the number of users playing for each squad and lists it on the Battlelog page. Depending on the squad you choose will affect the weaponry you have available and the perks that will unlock as you progress.
This variety would have been very well received in the single player campaign and could have made for a significantly better campaign. Also in the online game you can choose a player to be part of your Fireteam. When a player is on your fireteam, you can gain ammo from them at any time (much like in the single player campaign) and an icon appears on the HUD to show you where they are at all times. The campaign is not available co-operatively which is again a frustrating omission because there are times where a squad is needed to breach a door, for example. Working together as a group could have been a very valuable addition to the game.
Animations on the enemies are serviceable and one area which is somewhat impressive is that AI will react to how you move. If they have spotted you and you try to run away, they will chase you down. They also listen out for reloading sounds and will attack when they hear one. This does mean that at the higher difficulty levels you have to be right on your game and plan each area accordingly. There are areas where the game just floods you with enemies and the challenge is more surviving than anything else. Some of these areas can feel cheap and the game does have a number of 'roadblocks' where you will get stuck over and over again until devising the right strategy. That's not necessarily a major problem, but for those who just want to play and progress, it can be. At any time you can drop the difficulty level down, but to boost it up, you have to start the campaign mode again.
One area where the game absolutely shines is its graphics engine and visuals. Using Frostbite 2 the graphics is most definitely on par with last year's graphical powerhouse Battlefield 3. In missions where rain is present, rain drops will accumulate and fall off the soldiers as they move and the environments are in general beautiful. This is one area where the game shows how good it could be.
This is definitely one game title to show off the brand new graphical powerhouse video card you've just purchased to friends. The sound effects are what you would expect as well although in a surround sound environment the effects are very impressive. Voice acting gets the job done without being anything impressive and the soundtrack suits the story well. The soundtrack is an interesting one though because for at least us, the music was dialed right down and we could hardly hear it during the campaign until changing it. This is strange when the campaign represents such a cinematic style of presentation.
MOH: WF is not necessarily the worst game on the market, but it is far from the best. The campaign is just not interesting to play at all, and whilst it tries to do some new things and remain realistic, it still fails to shine. Call of Duty may have some of the most ridiculous storylines and set pieces in war gaming history, but it's interesting to play. MOH: WF is full of missed opportunities and this is one game that you should miss.
We're sure that EA will again go back to the well with this and try and build another military FPS. Let's just hope this time they learn the mistakes. Next generation offers an opportunity for a MOH reboot, and if it's to be one of the more revered series around, it needs it.