There have been far too many first person shooters this generation, some of them great but many of them utter trash. The problem is that even when developers at least try to do something different with what can be perceived as a genre lacking much innovation these days it doesn’t always work out well. That said, this late in the generation you have to wonder if FPS developers can be bothered to try anything new. It’s not always about innovation though, developers need to focus on making sure the gameplay mechanics we’ve all become proficient in are solid and polished enough that you can spend months shooting shockingly bad mouthed teenagers in their virtual face. We all know it’s the multiplayer that’s always going to be the focus of most of these games, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a solid singleplayer campaign with a well-written storyline. The lack of imagination in subtitling the latest Medal of Honor game ‘Warfighter’ should be your first sign that, sadly, you’re not going to get much of either in the game.
Most likely spurned on by Infinity Ward and Treyarch’s taking turns to each craft a new installment to Activision’s annual Call of Duty outing, EA looks like it’s set to engineer something similar with Battlefield and Medal of Honor (Battlefield 4 having been announced a few months back). Battlefield was a damn good game, remaining the multiplayer go-to game for many of my friends today, but EA insists on keeping the Medal of Honor franchise going, this time around handing development duties to Danger Close Games. It operates in a niche already filled by two extremely popular modern warfare shooters, trying to take the best of both games and not really succeeding either. It comes across as more of an attempt to get in on the action that the aforementioned games are getting, but never really proving that it could stand on its own two feet.
When it comes to story the FPS genre has its fair share of stinkers. For instance, Modern Warfare 2 had one of the messiest and downright confusing stories of this generation; although games like Bioshock show it can be done well. As with the former, Warfighter is chock full of explosive set pieces – although admittedly not as many as the Call of Duty series now throws at you – evil terrorists and a group of special forces that includes the obligatory ‘one with the beard’. It all centres around the hunt for ‘The Cleric’, the terrorist leader that’s pretty obviously inspired by Bin Laden (complete with a raid on a Pakistan compound – sound familiar?) However, EA have attempted to put a human face on these highly trained men behind the scenes. As a result you’ve got scenes of terrorists blowing up trains interspersed with an operative on the phone to his wife, who clearly wants him to get out of his dangerous life and come home to spend time with his daughter. For the wives of these heroes it’s a life where their kids will be brought up with their fathers not being around much, and they may have to confront the fact that there may be a day the father won’t be around for good. It’s commendable that EA are at least trying something different other than ‘LET’S GO KILL US SOME TERRORISTS!’ but the scenes never really strike much of a chord, and the attempt at realistic yet strangely distorted faces on the people in these cut scenes just serve to put you off caring much about their lives. Also the story jumps between characters called ‘Stump’ and ‘Preacher’ more often than a new Go Compare advert – never even giving you their real names – it’s hard to feel much of a personal connection.
A bad convoluted story might be an easier pill to take if the gameplay that held it all together was solid enough, but Warfighter is a letdown in this area too. I don’t use the phrase ‘as dull as dishwater’ much, but at least there you’ve got the excitement of accidentally cutting your hand on a random knife when you’re washing up. Here you’re funneled down a thinly veiled corridor with groups of men thrown at you at regular intervals, following the same predictable pattern of shoot at men whilst in cover at men who are also in cover. At least with Call of Duty you’ve got huge action set pieces that make these sections more enjoyable to play, whereas here the most you do is jump onto a truck or helicopter with a mounted gun to slaughter a wave of incoming men wearing turbans. Ok, that’s not strictly true; there are a couple of moments where you take control of a car, smashing through fruit stands as you chase someone through busy city streets, later on becoming the one who is being chased. These aren’t awful but they’re not exactly brilliant either, and it can’t save the monotony of the rest of the game.
It could have been slightly better if the gun fights actually felt good, but these are plagued by problems that make the experience feel lackluster compared to other games in this genre. As much as the game forces you to constantly take cover the act of doing so feels clunky. Being able to slide into cover is a plus point, but once you’re in there popping up to take a shot feels awkward thanks to the control scheme. You must hold the left bumper and push the right stick up to quickly pop your head up and a get few shots off which feels awkward when you’re trying to aim and fire at the same time. Thankfully you can just hit the crouch button instead, something that works fine in other games and didn’t really need to be made overly complicated. That said you can use the same method to pop your head around a corner and fire.
When you’re actually in cover be prepared to be rudely shoved out of it by your blockhead AI companions. These apparently ‘world class’ Tier 1 soldiers follow specific scripting patterns through each level, so if you just so happen to take the cover spot that they are supposed to occupy you’ll end up being kicked out of it. Why, in this day and age, the game couldn’t anticipate this situation and compromise is beyond me, and I’d be laughing if it weren’t for the silly amount of times this got me killed. Just taking a second to watch them will show you that they’re next to useless anyway, with many a barn door around the world being safe from ever being hit by one of their bullets. The enemy troops aren’t much better; having a knack to stand in the open like it’s a Sunday stroll or being completely unaware you’ve flanked them and mowing down their buddies, even when you’re standing right next to them. Half of the time it feels like you’re doing all the work while men on both sides sit down for a nice cup of tea and a chat about last Saturday’s football.
Fortunately the game looks good for the most part, but you shouldn’t be expecting anything less from Battlefield 3’s Frostbite 2 engine. It also has a level of destructibility, although not on the scale of EA’s other franchise. Certain cover disintegrates, although this is sometimes a bit hit and miss, while buildings crumble under called-in airstrikes. There are occasional clipping and texture pop-in issues, but these are minor issues compared to the gameplay that this beautiful engine attempts to dress up.
By now you’re probably realising that this game can only be saved by one thing – the multiplayer. Sadly it’s less like Superman zooming in to save the day and more like present day Adam West stumbling in while wearing his old Batman costume. It does genuinely have some decent ideas though; such as the fire team concept. This splits both teams into sets of pairs, pairing you up with someone on your team to discourage lone wolf play. Provided your buddy isn’t involved in combat you can instantly respawn on them, allowing you to quickly help them capture a flag. It works well, but for all the good the multiplayer introduces, you just can’t shake the feeling that these ideas would be perfect in another game.
Alongside the usual modes of team deathmatch, capture the flag is the new Home Run mode. This is capture the flag with a difference, set on smaller maps with no respawns. If the flag carrier is killed the opposite team can’t return it, so you end up having to defend or capture the dropped flag no matter how hard the location makes it. Each round only lasts a few minutes, but they’re frantic, skillful and above all, probably the best thing about the game. So the multiplayer isn’t terrible, it can be a lot of fun when you really stick your teeth into it. However, it’s hard to see Warfighter’s multiplayer having any long-lasting user base. It needs something exceptional to overtake the dominance of games like CoD and Battlefield, a target that Warfighter is far from hitting even with some new ideas thrown into the mix. After all, there are only so many multiplayer modern warfare games you can concentrate on at any given time.
Ultimately Medal of Honor: Warfighter feels like a rush job, fired onto the shelves in order to grasp as much sales as possible before Black Ops 2 was released. It struggles to find an identity of its own, trying to fill an area between the two obvious big franchises. Does the world even need another modern warfare shooter when those two are around? At least try something different with the formula if you insist at putting one out, and while you may not drag the masses away from their preferred franchise you’ll at least have a shot at putting out a more enjoyable game than the bland and boring one we see here. The world has moved on from the popularity and respect that the Medal of Honor franchise once enjoyed, and Warfighter does nothing to revive it.