Although the first Medal of Honor has gone down in history as one of the most influential first-person shooters ever released, after the launch of Medal of Honor: Airborne, the series had reached a point where it had to reinvent itself if it was going to survive. Especially on a market dominated by Call of Duty and, lately, Bad Company 2. Thus Electronic Arts decided that a reboot was in order, moving the action from World War 2 to today’s Afghanistan.
Thanks to this, the developers from Danger Close (ex EA Los Angeles) were helped during development by soldiers collectively known as Tier 1 Operators, elite troops operating under the United States National Command Authority, who are sent on the most dangerous and difficult missions. It may sound like a cheesy description, but the authenticity of the single-player experience really is one of the game’s stronger points.
The practical nature of the storyline (such as it is) was also welcomed. There’s no crazy dictator threatening the United States, no nuclear bomb to be found or global conspiracy to unravel. The perspective alternatively shifts from the Tier 1 operations to the Army efforts, the main objective being the annihilation of a significant Taliban force in a mountainous area. Clean and simple. True, as a Tier 1 Operator you’re still the meanest fvcker in the valley, but you don’t really have that cheap feeling you get in order similar titles or action movies.
Even though there will be moments when you’ll use heavy-calibre weaponry, these don’t last long and you’ll immediately have to scramble for cover behind a solid obstacle. Just like in Far Cry 2, Medal of Honor allows you to slide into cover to dodge bullets, a mechanic you’ll use often when trying to flank you’re enemies, especially since sprinting doesn’t turn you into Flash (which is kind of an issue when going over longer distances, because you’re moving slowly than you should). The enemies also know to use cover, but that’s because they’re controlled by scripted events, not because the AI is terribly smart.
Playing on the Hard difficulty, I rarely saw and enemy retreating when it’s clear that he’s going to be surrounded, they’re only quality being the annoying accuracy, even you’re hidden behind a rock. Naturally, you’re their favourite target, with enemies choosing to ignore your teammates and focus you down, like you had a big “Shoot me first” target on your back. Yes, compared to your comrades, you really are the most dangerous soldier in a 10 mile radius, but this attention borderlines the ridiculous when you’re running towards a helicopter, everyone makes a right in front of you, but you get shot once around said corner by a Taliban who let everyone else pass. Seriously?
On the other hand, if you stick behind your teammates you can use them as human shields, seeing how apparently they have way better body armour than you do. Bad news is that the mission evolution is entirely depends on you, so if you don’t go through that door to trigger the next script, everyone will sit around looking at the butterflies. Because of this, I had several facepalm worthy moments, one of the more memorable being an assault on a hangar, where I went inside, killed everyone by blowing the gas tanks, then waited for my colleagues… who once they got through the door, started shouting “Blow the gas tanks!”… dude, how thick are you, really?
And this is just the start. Weapons that you can’t pick up because they’re too close to walls, enemies that die with their hands sticking out of another wall, or remain stuck in a door or a tank cannon, scripted events that teleport you to the beginning of a mission… it’s been quite some time since I last saw such a ragged game that pretended to be an AAA title. At least if these were things you actually had to look for, ok, it’s nitpicking, but they are so in-your-face obvious that it’s depressing. Sure, when you see a guy stuck in a door, you shoot him and move on, nodding your head disapprovingly, but when you can’t finish a mission because of a bug (something that hasn’t happen to me in years), it’s not funny anymore.
An epic moment concerning poorly triggered scripts and bugs happened during the ATV mission, where me and the lumberjack on the game cover where infiltrating a village teeming with enemies so we could mark some trucks for a fireworks show. Upon reaching the first truck, I’m being told “multiple target, let’s wait for them to split up”. I take up a defensive position, a group leaves, with only one lookout behind. I go around its back, trying to get a stealth kill with the knife, like the pros do it. I gut the poor bastard, bam, bullets start flying everywhere, I eventually die in a blaze of glory. Moron, the man said to wait, have patience.
Ok, reload, maybe I killed him too soon. Instead of staying on the stairs, I remain up top to see what’s going to. The group leaves once again, the lookout is on its own. I wait… and wait… and wait, thinking that my colleague will give me the go-ahead to whack him. After 2 minutes of standing around, I lose my patience and put a bullet in the moron, consequences be damned. Surprise, he falls to the ground, nobody says anything, total silence. A-HA!, I think to myself, so that’s how it was supposed to be done.
Needless to say, I wasn’t pleasantly surprised to trigger the “alarm” when I went on the above-mentioned stairs, even though nobody saw me. At which point I had to fight everyone again, but the real Kodak moment waited for me at the end of the fights, when the lumberjack tells me on a disapproving tone “Keep your head together D.”. At the second reload, the sentinel went in the other direction and we proceeded to sneak through the entire village. Ninja, I’d say.