Quick Take: Jon applauds attempts at FPS genre innovation even if some of them fail.
Let me say right off the bat that I really enjoyed Medal of Honor Warfighter. There, I said it. I know I’m in the extreme minority, in regards to other published reviews, but it needed to be said. And it needed to lead off this review, because there is no way to adequately dissect what does and what doesn’t work in this game without referencing some of the points of the nasty reviews circling the Internet.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter is the latest game by Danger Close and EA, and it is a direct follow up to 2010’s modern Medal of Honor series reboot. Like every other big budget military FPS on the market, it has a six-to-seven hour single campaign, and a stout online multiplayer mode. It is important to say that out loud, because really, when it all comes down to comparing apples to apples, these games are all basically the same.
You run into an area that conspicuously has plenty of areas for cover, get into a firefight, shoot all the bad guys, move on. Do this a couple of times; then wait for the obligatory vehicle/alternate objective level. Watch a few CGI cut-scenes. Rinse, repeat. There is nothing new, or unique about the modern military FPS. We gamers have come to accept this, and we buy into it. Annually.
In Warfighter, Danger Close has tried to break out of the mold in the regards to storytelling. They took the Preacher character from the 2010 game and tried to humanize him. Give him a backstory to explore via cut-scenes. Does it work? Not really. Do I care? Not really.
After last year’s Battlefield 3 showed me that story in the single player campaign can be nonsensically god awful, even though the gameplay was decent, I have completely disregarded story in a military shooter. I mean, really? All I want is a decent antagonist to string together the shoot ’em up set pieces. I want to control a few vehicles, and different weapons, and maybe a unique level, like the AC-130 level in Modern Warfare, or a dedicated sniper mission. I’m not asking for a lot, nor do I expect it.
So when other people seem to hold a game like this to a higher standard, all the while celebrating a game in the same genre, with the same objectives, it kind of makes me angry. It is a sad double standard for our industry. And it is done unapologetically.
But let me get back to topic as this review can easily run off the rails and that serves nobody.
In Medal of Honor: Warfighter you take control of Preacher, a Tier 1 operative who works to protect our freedoms from abroad. This is essentially his story, as you try to stop a jihadist terrorist cell from acquiring and using P.E.T.N (pentaerythritol tetranitrate), which is a highly explosive compound used in package bombs and even shoes bombs, and one that cannot be easily traced. When you aren’t shooting terrorists, the player is forced to watch gorgeous, yet overly sappy CGI cut-scenes that give insight into what makes Preacher tick. We meet his wife and his daughter, and we see his relationship with his fellow operatives outside of the war zone.
While I applaud the attempt to tell this story, it doesn’t really work because Danger Close has tried a non-linear storytelling technique, so the narrative is all over the place in regards to a timeline. Some missions are “eight weeks” ago, others take place “two weeks” ago, and others are in the present. The problem is, it is never made very clear when we go to present for keeps, so it is hard to establish where the story is. The ending of the game is powerful, but the early fumbling and not too clear objectives (and motivations for certain characters) really dampen the experience.
In a genre (military specialists, Tier 1 groups, and black operations) like this, there are enough published fiction novels on the subject that developers can turn to for inspiration. I mean, W.E.B. Griffin craps out stories better than these modern military FPS games each and every morning. Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, and now even SEAL Team 6 operatives themselves are writing books. The first developer to snag one of these stories for their games will blaze a trail that everyone else will follow.
While this is billed as Preacher’s story, we are also given a guy named Stump to play as. Stump has zero backstory and is just a faceless protagonist that is used as a tool to move Preacher’s story forward (and backwards, because of the aforementioned non-linearity of the narrative). But I can very easily argue that the character Soap had zero backstory in that other game series, yet it is regarded as Avant-garde and the pinnacle of military FPS storytelling. See what I mean by double standards?
Medal of Honor: Warfighter uses the Frostbite 2 engine for excellent physics and graphics. I mean, the action is beautiful and, on PS3, there was zero lag or stutters and nary a texture problem. It ran consistently clean. In the big set pieces, such a Filipino mission just after a hurricane/tsunami, whole buildings are torn apart and huge buses are washed away while gunning down bad guys. Oh, and it’s also raining, and never, NEVER did the engine fail to represent graphically.
There is also a decent amount of variety in the levels. The vehicle/driving levels are fun to play and are a nice break from the constant “shoot, run, reload” levels. In fact, both driving levels are well thought out and action packed. One level, late in the game, has you trying to escape Dubai with a special package in the trunk of your car. There are bad guys that want that package back. You have to play a game of hide and seek with these other cars in a residential neighborhood by hiding behind garages and other cars until the bad guys car passes. It was a great level and had nothing to do with shooting anybody.
And of course, there is the flying/helicopter air assault level. I truly enjoyed flying the Apache in 2010’s Medal of Honor, but this time, the objective is to man a gun of a gunship raining death from above. Again, it’s a nice break from the standard shoot-shoot-shoot of the other levels.
Speaking of, there is one level that has been much discussed that involves a sniper shot. The entire level consists of Stump taking one shot to kill a Somalian pirate who has a boat captain hostage. After levels of explosions and tense firefights, it was nice to have a simple level with a simple objective. Also, it is a free Trophy/Achievement. Does it fit the greater story? Not really. It can be argued this act shows that stopping piracy is part of what our military operatives do. And pirates do play into the greater story, as the villains aren’t all middle-eastern terrorists or old USSR expats, which is also nice.
Other than having an issue with the non-linear storytelling, there are other issues that I found in the single-player campaign. Hit detection is really hit or miss, as head shots and precise targeting is almost non-existent. Adding to this is the seemingly invincibility afforded these terrorists. I have seen instances where I have poured seven or more rounds into a guy – an unarmored guy, mind you – only to have him shake it off and keep shooting at me. It is very frustrating.
Also, the reload times are laughable. It should not take almost four seconds to switch out a clip. Danger Close has tried to make it look realistic with a set reload animation, but I don’t want to be awed by a nifty real-time reload. I want to feed my weapon to kill the persons that are trying to kill me as quickly as my Tier 1 training will allow me.
Lastly, there is an inordinate amount of slow motion door breach scenes. You know the type: Blast open the door, toss smoke, and then jump in (in slow-mo) and shoot as quickly as you can. You are rewarded for head shots by unlocking additional breach methods (axe, shotgun, crowbar, explosives), which is good, but seriously, there are more than ten door breach scenarios in the single player campaign.
Lastly, enemy AI is atrocious. They do stupid things like run right at you, or they stand out in the open even though there is plenty of cover all around. Once you rid the world of one, another bad guy will take his place in the exact same spot. And there are a few chase levels where you are tasked with capturing a person of interest for interrogation (re: don’t kill him). While chasing, enemies will attack you and the target person will seem to wait for you to complete your firefight before resuming his escape (and your chase). It is silly, and tantamount to ludicrous. Again, these issues are not unique to this game and represent the military FPS genre.
Enough has been said about the single player, but the true meat and potatoes of the military FPS is in the online multiplayer. And Medal of Honor: Warfighter does not disappoint. The Frostbite 2 engine really shines here as there are destructible environs and the level designs and maps are perfect for large group games as each level has plenty of cover and open spaces to suit each player’s different tastes. I have never felt cramped and a few times, even on maps that I’ve played a few times, I get myself lost. There is a good variety of maps, I only wish there were more of them, which I assume will be rectified in various DLC drops.
There are multiple modes to play, including the requisite team deathmatch, capture the flag, sector control, and Warfighter adds Home Run, which prevents re-spawning in CTF games, and Hotspot, in which the objective (normally to blow something up) changes from game to game, just to name a few.
The real bread and butter of Warfighter’s multiplayer is in the ingenious Fireteam Buddy System. You and a friend (personally, or randomly assigned) are teamed together in a fireteam. You and your buddy are then tied together throughout the gaming session, game after game, until one of you leaves the server. If you die, you re-spawn on your buddy, and vice versa. This all but erases spawn camping, as you or your buddy – in theory – are always on the move. There are also buddy bonuses, such as both of you capturing a sector together giving you a slight XP bonus than if you had just done it by yourself.
This feature works incredibly well, as my buddy and I actually start to look out for one another. I’ll cover him from a distance in team deathmatch, allowing him to rush in for quick kills (which go into our fireteam total and each team is measured against each other at the end of a match!). And then he’ll do the same for me, covering my back as I perch high and snipe from a distance. Also, you can talk to your buddy one-on-one via VOIP that is separate from the standard hot mic to the entire squad. Let me tell you, I enjoy nothing more than to listen to some jackass’s music or personal conversations through his headset while playing multiplayer. The buddy system is innovative and works incredibly well. In time, I can see me friending a few of these folks and playing with them long term. That says a lot.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter is also very technical heavy in its menu presentation. The menus are not simple as there is so much information that is being presented. To be clear, this is not a dumbed down experience. Danger Close advertises that they worked with true Tier 1 operatives for weapons and situations and for this reason they tend to pour it on. Luckily, they make up for this with a contextual menu system. The game will learn your preferences as you play and then tailor a menu that fits each gamer’s need, which will lead to jumping into games quicker.
There is also an incredible amount of unlockable content. There are multiple character classes, such as assault, sniper, support, and then there are different characters for each class. Heck, the player can even choose which country’s special ops team they want to play for. You like playing as Spetznatz? Be Russian. You want to play as Canada’s JTF? You can. And then there are the weapon choices. There are an ungodly amount of weapons to unlock, and then each weapon can be upgraded. And not just one or two features, we’re talking six to seven things can be upgraded per weapon! If a military FPS is measured by its online multiplayer, then Medal of Honor: Warfighter sets the bar.
It’s easy to crap on a game like Warfighter, because inexplicably, it will be measured by the other military FPS games on the market. For some reason, gamers like to choose sides, and there must be a winner and a loser. What I don’t understand is why can’t we all just enjoy that there are competing franchises that work to raise the bar (albeit slowly) in the FPS genre. Danger Close tried something new with the story (fail) and with the multiplayer (win). Treyarch is trying a bunch of new stuff with Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Innovation and change should be applauded and encouraged, because the annual FPS game isn’t going away anytime soon.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter is a good game that compliments the standard weak single-player campaign with a stout, feature-filled multiplayer that sets the bar and forces the gamer to think about what they are doing and why, and not just picking the shiniest gun and earning prestige after prestige as quickly as they can. It is not a perfect game, but there is a path of progression that is exciting for fans of the FPS. Much like WWII fatigue that set in a few years ago, killing zombies cannot save a stagnating franchise and innovation and taking chances must occur now, or we all lose.
Shop for Medal of Honor: Warfighter on PS3, Xbox 360 or PC for a discounted price at Amazon.com (October 23, 2012 release date)