The season of shooters has officially begun with Tuesday's release of EA and Danger Close's latest shoot-them-in-the-face war themed game and manly beard simulator, Medal of Honor: Warfighter. Perhaps that's more straight forward description than intended but as with many other shooters, this one is also staged in war-torn urban settings and Middle Eastern deserts charging you with taking down the terrorists. 2010's "Medal of Honor" reboot promised (and mostly delivered) on a more or less down to earth, realistic story in contrast to its bombastic FPS rivals. Admittedly, Warfighter has some smart additions brought to the table and at times it threatens to make a real emotional connection with the player, but does it have what it takes to make you want to jump back into the boots of a super elite soldier?
While Medal of Honor's of the past haven't really been about a solid, involved plot with twists and reveals they have been fairly engaging to keep playing. I won't beat around the bush any longer about it- the single player campaign is pretty weak. It's a pretty standard fare starting with a simple mission getting cocked up by an unknown terrorist player and soon enough you're searching far and wide spanning the globe. You alternate between a couple of Tier 1 operatives, "Stump" and "Preacher". I can't honestly say if they have any connection with the reboot, though I recall a few of the other codenames being used here once again and there doesn't seem to be any direct plotline that tethered the two other than the cast.
Between each mission is a short fully rendered cutscene filled with macho tough guy talk along with plenty of military acronyms tossed about ultimately framing a somewhat vague idea about really bad, bad guys with access to some pretty nasty boom-boom juice. Missions range from infiltrating enemy bases, running down suspects, car chases and more. Mostly, they're related to the story but occasionally you'll get a sense of "why the hell am I here" like this one time when you have to take out a group of Somali pirates.
At other times, the six or seven hour long plot takes a break from the terrorist threat to form a personal story of a strained relationship between a soldier and his family. It tries to play the empathy card but it all comes off a little too forced- you can 't just tell me that I should feel anything for my robot family when there is no connection built up to even form that relationship in-game. In the end, there are few moments that offered any real surprises and it played out like any other typical modern war tale.
Gameplay-wise, the headline tells it all. You follow your AI partner from checkpoint to checkpoint clearing out enemy soldiers. Veteran shooter fans know the drill about controls but Danger Close did include a nice lean feature that proved to be very intuitive and useful throughout the entire game. Simply hold the left bumper and your character will stay planted so that you can bob over and around cover. You'll also automatically (which you can turn off in the options menu) sight while leaning, saving yourself a cramped hand while picking off baddies. Movement never feels sluggish though there is a certain feeling of weight while turning or jumping. You can, however, sprint and then quickly press the duck button to slide into cover and I often found this my preferred method of getting around the environment.
The other addition is a breaching ability, whereby you can earn new ways to break open a door to get the drop on foes. At first, you only have the standard back kick but with four successive headshots during the slow-mo animation after a breach you'll unlock more dynamic ways to knock on the door. While this is certainly a fun way to include a little player choice to an otherwise heavily scripted game, it falls short because new breaches don't provide anything else other than a cool animation. Fundamentally, the breach plays out the same way and what's worse many of the newer ways take longer to perform making the default kick better at quickly moving things along. If it could be used to make a legitimate tactical advantage it could have made a vastly more interesting mechanic.
Apart from running and gunning, you'll take control of a car in a few missions that plays closely to a rally race of sorts when chasing down or attempting to shake off targets. I actually liked these missions, especially a mid-game stealth section similar to a weird car version of "Metal Gear Solid". Surprisingly, driving the car wasn't frustrating as vehicle parts often can be in game of this type and overall the handling felt relatively solid.
Visually, Warfighter has somewhat pretty neat visuals thanks to the Frostbite 2 engine. Like "Battlefield 3", this game has a high-res texture pack included on the disc. It's a a little more than 1.7GB but you'll want to clear the space to install otherwise the game won't look nearly as good. Still, even with the texture pack, Warfighter won't be breaking the mold in the graphics department, offering up dusty, dark, bland, and sometimes uninspired environments in contrast to excellently rendered guns and explosions. Cutscenes suffer the worse part, with equally watery textures and downright monstrous, robotic people. One little girl in particular is going to haunt my dreams over the next few days (perfect timing for Halloween?). Why they didn't choose to go with in-game models is beyond me.
At least the audio department brings it home with booming blowouts and crackling gun reports. Even the VAs get into their scenes with some surprisingly good acting. I don't have any real complaints about the sounds so your ears will get a nice treat, especially with a stellar audio setup.
I don't want to harp on the single player that much but overall it seems just milquetoast- never straying too far from the safety of a generic FPS. Even upon opening the case it's clear that multiplayer is the key feature as disc one contains that particular executable while the second is all single player. This pretty much follows suit with "Battlefield 3" as really it's a multiplayer game with an ok single player mode. That said I did mess around with multiplayer a bit, though not enough to make a final judgment. The two or so hours I spent with MP proved fun enough and if you played the MOH reboot, not too much has changed.
There are several modes to choose including the usual suspects like Team Death Match. You also have a few different classes to pick with special abilities like giving partners more ammo or health. You have snipers, assaulters, heavies, etc. each with a particular place on the battlefield, though it's not totally role based as a competent teams will be able steamroll over a group of unorganized players. Keeping everything in check is an unlock path with points earned from winning, helping teammates, and completing objectives in various game modes. There's a ton of variety as you'll eventually have access to dozens of weapons and equipment to customize them. If you're a little dry on shooters then Warfighter is adequate for your competitive shooter needs.
Really, what sums up Medal of Honor: Warfighter is that it's a game you can play. It's not terrible by any stretch but it's not really all that great, either. If you're a big fan of modern military FPSs or shooters in general, then you've more than likely already played this game. It doesn't offer up anything incredibly new and with that 50-some-odd MB day one patch it's clear that this needed a little more time in the oven. Maybe with some more care and a little more polish, this could have been an great title to jump into; at least you'll get that "Battlefield 4" Beta access for next year...
[Copy of Medal of Honor: Warfighter provided by EA. Played single player to completion on Xbox 360]