Oh Medal of Honor: Warfighter, what am I going to do with you? I had such high hopes of the time we would spend together. Ever since I laid my hands upon you at E3 this year, I’ve been fluttering my eyelashes at you from afar.
But now that I’ve spent time alone with you, caressed you, tried to tease open your secrets, I just, I just don’t feel happy. I feel... I feel dirty. And unsatisfied.
Developer Danger Close’s second installment in the Medal of Honor reboot was supposed to be a step up from the first. It was supposed to bring gamers back to the realistic world of war, where the action was intense, and the fighting was fast.
It does none of those things. In fact, it does precisely the opposite. This game is a step backward. It is a mistaken blot of a title. It is so fist-clenchingly frustrating that it makes me angry. But my anger has quickly slunk into sadness, making me ponder whether I should give up on the entire franchise.
That’s a big call. Medal of Honor and I go way back. We grew up together. But if this is the best Danger Close have to offer, well, maybe its time to end the affair.
Warfighter’s biggest and most immediate problem is its complete lack of depth and narrative. You play in the shoes of a jarhead called “Preacher”. He might be from the first game, but I’m not sure. I really can’t remember. In any event the title makes no attempt to link the game to the background and history of its forebear. Preacher is chaperoned around various hotspots by “Mother”, the ubiquitous bearded special forces soldier with a cricket umpires cap and a Captain Price beard. As far as I could tell, that’s it. There is literally nothing new to see here.
Both Preacher and Mother appear to be dude-bros so tight, they think nothing of shacking up together in hot and heavy hotspots around the world — from Somalia to the Philippines. These environments look nice, and you can blow them to smithereens with lots of high-tech, and ultimately familiar weaponry. But you’d hardly know why — and that a good game does not make.
Throughout the confusion, Preacher and Mother have got each other’s back. Sure, theres lots of hoo-ah, roger-niner, check your six, and eyes on me, but as to what they are doing in all these places, and why you the player should care, I couldn’t tell you. Because the game never tells me.
Maybe it’s something to do with Islamic insurgents, train bombs, international terrorism, and tired racist stereotypes about Middle-Eastern otherness. Or I could be confusing its narrative set up with a thousand other military shooters pumped on the juiced-up high of American exceptionalism. Or, maybe there’s no need for conjecture. Because it's both of those things.
Sure, there are quieter moments. Moments where Danger Close has tried to show its soft side. But the cut scenes where Preacher wrestles with both his conscience and his loved ones only come across as forced and contrived. And they are as poorly animated as they are acted. Part of that’s down to empty writing. In an early scene Preacher’s wife intones “why won’t you let me in” before Preacher hangs the phone up on her. Let her in to what? His cliched war-ravaged psyche? His battles with post-traumatic stress disorder? The mind boggles. By keeping us out of that stultifying experience Preacher is probably doing us a favour.
We’ve all played games where the story, or lack thereof, gets a free pass. Pac-Man has no narrative, but I still race to it in retro arcades. Sometimes the story is just the fluff round the edges. For some titles, shooters especially, what really matters is the gameplay.
But here, too, the ugly visage of rushed production values and poor game design raises its oft seen head. As a game, Medal of Honor just doesn’t play well. Weapons appear to do both too little and too much damage, and the inconsistent emphasis on “military realism” results in a game where you can run full speed through waist high water - but where a bullet won't go through a plywood plank.
But even moments of promise, such as unlockable door-breach maneuvers, are overshadowed by problems. Fiddly controls (to lean, you need to perform finger-yoga by stabbing the shift, alt and D or A keys simultaneously) take you out of the experience. As do bizarre combat animations, such as when Mother takes the trigger of an M19 Grenade Launcher and begins firing it in the opposite direction to which he is aiming. But nothing beats being literally being taken out of the game because you’re forced to kill the executable when the title has frozen.
The frustrating game mechanics are not helped by poor level design. The maps are linear and formulaic. You are directed down avenues and paths, through hordes of spawning enemies, whose charges are triggered by your actions. It’s a turkey shoot. It’s a chore. Warfighter’s environments are also shamefully unrealistic. I should know, I’ve stood in Iran a stones throw from the valleys of Afghanistan. I’ve flown over Iraq. I’ve trained from Bulgaria to Serbia and back again. The places Medal of Honor takes you bear absolutely no resemblance. To be fair, it's a game, not a travel blog, but even the barest of research would have paid dividends.
None of this is helped by in-game guidance that is contradictory and confusing. As one level begins, we see Preacher quickly scoping his sniper rifle onto the head of a Somalian pirate. As the game zooms into his field of view, the hud tells you that taking the pirate out is your primary objective. But if you do, the game fails. Instead, Preacher must inexplicably wait (for 18 hours of game time no less) before he’s ready to pull the trigger. Why? I don’t know. I honestly have no idea. But I do know that it's a symptom of a game that hasn't been quality controlled.
Perhaps I’m missing the point to Warfighter. I’m reviewing this game as a realistic real world first person shooter, inspired by real events — as it boasts before each level.
But thats not right. I’ve got it wrong.
Its none of these things, its a Dali-esque fantasy, a surreal dreamscape where reality has been broken to mess with your mind. Danger Close have peered behind the veil and crafted a sensory overload of the horrors of war. Just kidding. That would have been cool, and a title worth playing.
Instead Medal of Honor is a formulaic experience that feels rushed, ill-thought out and hollow. Its gameplay is rote and its mechanic is derivative. To be frank, I’m tired of this. Shooter fans are not simply teenage consumers of asinine adventure. We deserve better.
Warfighter isn’t a break from reality. It’s just a broken game, and a massive disappointment.