UPDATE: Added impressions of the multiplayer based on final retail code.
Do yourself a favor with "Medal of Honor." Treat it like an atmospheric joint. Yank the shades, crank up the surround, and sit on top of the action. You'll feel disgust as you turn foes' heads into miasmic plumes of viscera with the crushing power of a sniper rifle; your choler will rise alongside a general's as you're forced into a battle you don't want; and you'll feel choking tension and fear as you shack hop in the middle of a dimly-populated urban wasteland that you've created.
You'll be immersed in other words. "Medal of Honor" has that rare ability to suck you in, conjure all sorts of emotions, and then spit you back out.
You play as a smattering of American soldiers engaged in the Afghanistan war in a slew of events leading up to a large, but unseen battle. The game's structure is that of a modern FPS highlight reel: you'll hut hop, defend or take a strategic positions, and then drive an ATV, snipe, pilot a helicopter, and become a turret gunner in other sections. While derivative, each piece of the campaign is unique in that it's grounded in our reality -- a grim, teeth-clenching reality, I'll add, that is sometimes terrifying to witness.
Everything that you could want from the controls and shooting/killing systems of a modern warfare title are present and accounted for. Bullets have impact, guns have heft, the physics aren't dodgy, and dudes aren't bullet sponges. The friendly AI specifically is a unique highpoint: your buds don't miss often, nor do they stumble into your crosshairs.
This Seems Almost Too Real
I don't know what war is like, much less the Afghanistan war. But "Medal of Honor" manages to feel like a realistic portrayal of it. Low enemy counts and great level design give the game an edge, making each confrontation feel impactful, and more importantly, human -- you're not a turret in a shooting gallery knocking down Taliban targets at will (until the latter half of the game, at least). There's a certain intensity that the game oozes as a result of the superb execution of its first half that forces a gamut of emotion, ranging from stress, to fear, to horror, and even hopelessness and melancholy. I've yet to feel anything quite like this in a video game before.
Oh, The Things You'll See
Not all battles are fought with boots on the ground, and while I think the game's vehicle sections in particular detract from the moody atmosphere, they're valuable additions. The Apache helicopter parts in particular, which have you manning a mounted gun and firing infinite rockets, are noteworthy, as they pull you out of your low-impact states and turn you into a weapon capable crippling cities. Smart writing makes these transitions away from standard play easy to swallow.
You're Pulling Me Out, Here
The gamey aspects pull you out of "Medal of Honor." In particular, jumps to the "Greatest Hits" vehicle or actions sections, the discovery of a level's invisible borders, seeing a foe spawn, or kicking in door after door all dissolve the emotion the game conjures. A big change in the design direction towards the latter part of the campaign does so irreparably, as it starts throwing hordes of enemies at you to kill. Until this point, the game reinforces you as just being a dude -- not some sort of Taliban-squashing Terminator.
It's A Little Buggy
Animation glitches are commonplace. Some are as minor as an insurgent who turns as if his own men are the threat. Other hitches are more game-breaking severe. Several times in the campaign, I had trouble with getting an event to trigger because a character was stuck in place or, in the worst case, running into a wall. I think the auto-save feature might hurt you once or twice as well, as it doesn't seem to have a regard for enemy presence.
Who Is This Dude?
"Medal of Honor" is stone cold linear and you'll feel no connection with the men you control, despite the game's grip on its narrative. This is unfortunate, as the story eventually wants you to sympathize and identify with one set of four characters in particular.
"Medal of Honor's" multiplayer includes your normal array of adversarial modes and persistent experience systems. Unlike most shooters, "Medal of Honor" is light on classes, offering only three: assault, sniper, and spec ops. This lack of support classes is telling of the pacing: matches move too frantically for support to have an effect, and the maps are much too cramped and vertical-heavy to make moving out into the open a smart idea.
I'm not sure what EA DICE, the creators, were going for here. The speed is fast, sure, but it is to the component's detriment. There is no time to strategize, you'll hardly ever live long enough to use killstreak special abilities, and you're often reduced to camping in order to either A) wait for idiots to bother attempting to run out of their spawn or B) kill people while they are spawning and helpless. There's just not a lot to enjoy overall, though, like all shooters, every match has its moment or two -- when the servers are working, which as of now, they aren't operating at an acceptable level.
The influence many modern warfare titles have had on "Medal of Honor" is clear, but "Medal of Honor" does offer things other games don't. It can boast a clear, concise story that doesn't get muddled in its own war-porn fantasy. More importantly, however, it can boast that it offers a disturbingly realistic and haunting view of a war that, actually, sucks you in. "Medal of Honor" is a solid and entertaining title, but I urge you to play for the atmospheric offering. There's no modern shooter like it.