Everyone knows that Call Of Duty is great, and that it’s perhaps the most well rounded and downright popular multiplayer shooter around. There’s no arguing, really. It’s just a fact of life.
It’s also one of those things that other developers and publishers would give their collective right arms to reproduce, or even beat. Of course, if any publisher was to tackle this, it would have to be the colossus that is EA, and teaming up once more with DICE (of Battlefield fame), EA set about rebooting the classic Medal Of Honor series, and the result is the latest incarnation, simply titled, erm, Medal Of Honor.
I’ll get it out of the way right now, Medal Of Honor is, as expected, a total and utter clone of Call Of Duty. The various features seem so shamelessly cribbed from Infinity Ward’s release, it could be easily mistaken for a CoD sequel. It bears all the hallmarks of the Activision cash cow: a single player campaign spilt between different military teams, a real-world setting, identical control system, similar visual style and a multiplayer replete with classes, weapon unlocks, rewards and cribbed game modes. The question is, can the sincerest form of flattery produce a superior game?
Set in modern day, war-torn Afghanistan, Medal Of Honor revolves around three groups of soldiers. Two groups are part of what the American military call ‘Tier-1′ operatives, and the other, US Army Rangers. Basically, these Tier-1 guys are actually better than the best of the best, and are able to perform duties and execute missions that simply can’t fail. If Andy McNab and Chris Ryan were to have a child, these guys would probably be the result. They spearhead major offensives by lasing targets and destroying enemy logistics, and they’re generally pretty good with the odd machine gun or two.
During the campaign, you’ll alternate between groups, with the occasional mission deviating slightly, including a jaunt as an Apache attack chopper gunner. The story isn’t a strong point, though, and is pretty basic, never managing to convey the same feeling of emotion or weight as COD MW and MW2, and the characters pale in comparison with Infinity’s creations.
There’s just no real emotion evident here, and even when the game tries to make you feel the gravity of the situation, including a section where you’re desperately trying to defend yourself from masses of Taliban soldiers, whilst running out of ammo, it doesn’t manage to stir anything. This is important, as one of COD‘s strongest aspects was the real emotional connection you felt with the characters, especially in MW, with the shocking nuke scene, and, of course, the controversial ‘No Russian’ scene in MW2.
Working the core
Still, this isn’t the most important feature, and it’s the actual game that’s no doubt going to be put through the ringer in endless comparisons with Activision’s release.
Luckily, Medal Of Honor holds its own nicely. The general feel of the game is pretty much spot on, and the controls are rock solid. Movement is fast and fluid, aiming and shooting feel weighty and accurate, and other abilities like kicking in doors and lobbing grenades are all handled well enough. As I stated earlier, the controls are almost identical to COD, so you’ll be right at home from the off.
The single player campaign, developed by Danger Close, is enjoyable, and has a variety of missions to tackle, and looks, at times, even better than COD.
The visuals are great, and although war ravaged Afghanistan isn’t the most picturesque place in the world, it looks impressive nonetheless. Unfortunately, the game does suffer as a result of some advanced graphical features, and I noticed some awful slowdown on more than a few occasions, in some cases greatly effecting gameplay. There’s also a lot of texture pop-in. In fact, there’s possibly more pop-in here than I’ve seen in most other titles, even BioShock and Mass Effect.
For most of the game you’ll be fighting alongside AI partners, which is fine for the majority of the time, but often you’ll curse your buddies as they wander into your line of fire, and hog spots of cover, leaving you high and dry. You can forgive them, though, as you can handily request endless ammo refills from your teammates, meaning you’ll always be well stocked. There’s also the now obligatory and slightly clichéd team-up moves, seeing your partner lift you up a steep wall or boost you up to a walkway.
Walk in the park
Playing through the story you’ll also notice that the game is a little on the easy side. Even on the hardest level there are few points where you’ll be pushed too hard, making its longevity relatively short. Still, it’s notable that the missions are designed to reflect real-life Afghanistan operations, such as destroying Taliban hideouts, tacking out AAA and mortar positions and so on. Thanks to help from actual military personnel, and some well designed levels and environments, in this respect, the game does seem very believable. Perhaps more so than COD, which could lean more towards military fiction.
Compared directly to COD‘s single player, MOH is quite strong and, at a push, I’d actually say the two are very close. COD still has the edge, due to the far more believable and likable characters and the moments of emotional impact, but for overall atmosphere, military realism and general gameplay, the two are close.
Of course, as with COD, the real meat of MOH is undoubtedly going to be the multiplayer, and this is where DICE comes in, having developed the online component separately from the single player.
With DICE at the helm, the multiplayer sounds very promising, being a mixture of COD staples like team deathmatch, domination, and bomb planting variants, alongside the objective-based Combat Mission mode, which sees the attacking team attempt to complete five objectives whilst the other team defends. Teams are made up of allied soldiers and the “Oppfor”, after the recent removal of “Taliban” from the online component.
Player roles are class based, with such options as sniper, rifleman and special ops, and players start off with basic equipment. As you play online matches and rack up kills and wins, you’ll level up and can unlock more weapons and upgrades. Each class is levelled up separately, though, so in order to advance and unlock sniper equipment, for example, you’ll need to play as the sniper class for a while. This is very different from levelling up individual weapons, and should drive players to pick their favourite roles. There’s no custom class option, though, which is a little disappointing, and overall the level of complexity here is far less than CoD.
There are no perks here either, but kill streaks do unlock support actions, such as mortar strikes, strafing runs and even a cruise missile attack. You’ll also unlock medals that demonstrate your prowess to others. Some maps also feature vehicles too, offering a little more firepower for some of the more dangerous maps. They do feel a little gimmicky, though, rather than substantial additions to the whole, but they help keep things interesting.
It’s all promising, if very heavily familiar stuff, and it’s all handled well. Again, as with the single player, controls feel good and weapon handling is decent, but somehow things just don’t feel right. The sheer quality, accessibility and level of control so apparent in COD is missing here. Games are far, far more difficult to get into, and it’s often very hard to even tell why you died. There’s no kill cam, and aside from a picture of the weapon you’ve been killed with, you’ll get little feedback. In fact, it’s almost as if DICE saw no need to cater for newcomers at all, or for those not as good at online shooters. Such players will likely be torn apart en masse by experienced players, leading to plenty of frustration, death after untimely death. Of course, this all makes for an interesting, enjoyable and stiff challenge, but if your skills aren’t all that sharp, it may be a good idea to stick to COD.
It’s also initially difficult to even tell who you’re fighting and who’s on your own side. Allies are denoted by tiny white arrows that can be easily missed as they blend into the scenery, and so you’ll frequently second-guess yourself before opening fire, often leading to your death. A more visible method of marking allies would be very welcome, indeed.
Spawning is another issue, and can be quite odd at times, particularly in the Combat Mission mode. DICE has tried to make sure those respawning appear right into the action, saving a trek across the map, but this doesn’t always work as intended. On several occasions I spawned on top of random walls, crates and even teammates, and occasionally ended up falling to my death as the game spawned me on top of a high tower. The system does eliminate boring walks to the hot spots, but it needs a little more work.
It’s not a bad online title, by any means, though, far from it, and I have to say that I had a great time with the various modes. The Combat Mission mode alone is well worth a blast, and the other modes are similarly playable and enjoyable. The greater lean toward more realism than COD, along with a more focused class system is also refreshing. The map design, whilst not quite as tight as the competition, is more organic and free flowing, making ruined cities and open desert areas feel more realistic, and less robotic and corridor-based.
Sounds like combat
The game also manages to recreate the atmosphere of war far more successfully than COD, with some excellent audio direction. As you fight you can always hear the screams of other soldiers in the distance, gunfire echoes through ruined, smoke-filled streets and when players call in air strikes and mortars, it looks fantastic as explosions throw up rubble and mud. The whole effect is very impressive, and its clear DICE knows its stuff when it comes to piling on the atmosphere.
If anything, MOH is more about actual teamwork than COD, where you can often run off alone and still win matches. Here, working together makes a very real difference, and players drifting off on their lonesome are usually so much kibble. It’s tactical stuff, and works well, but I can’t help but feel that many will be put off by the sharp learning curve, something where COD excelled, welcoming players of all abilities.
With DICE producing such a brilliant multiplayer title as Bad Company 2, I had very high hopes for MOH‘s online modes. The thought of a cross between COD and BC2 was tantalising, to say the least, and if done well enough, could be amazing, offering a game in the middle ground between the two, sitting in a nice niche area.
MOH doesn’t quite reach this lofty goal, though, and the online component just doesn’t manage to best COD. It’s just not as smooth and instantly accessible, and the total feel of control Infinity Ward nailed isn’t there.
I’ve referenced Call Of Duty a huge amount here, something I usually try to avoid, as I prefer to take a game on its own merits. With Medal Of Honor, however, it’s impossible, such is the similarity. Let’s face it, EA wanted to do one thing with this game: take Call Of Duty head on, and thanks to two talented developers, it’s certainly given Activision’s title a challenge. But, in the end, the game can’t compete with the giant of the genre.
MOH is a great game that’s just too much like its inspiration for its own good, and it doesn’t bring anything new to the table to make a name for itself. If it was more of a real combination of Battlefield and COD, it may have managed to become a title that could sit happily next to its alternatives on your shelf, but it’s just not different, or original enough. As such, it’ll struggle to shake off comparisons and nit-picking from fanboys, despite being the older and wiser of the two series. The lack of any real innovation won’t help it win over loyal CoD fans either, and any trying this out will quickly return to their beloved.
Medal Of Honor‘s single player campaign is certainly worth blasting through while it lasts, and the online component will attract more realism and tactics-focused players, but this is a title that I feel, despite high quality content and some great touches, will be ultimately overshadowed by COD: Black Ops.
Medal Of Honor will be released on October 15 and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.