The obvious comparison for Medal of Honor is the Call of Duty franchise, and people are generally quick to make a judgement about which is a better game. I'm going to try to avoid comparing the game to Call of Duty specifically, at least until the end of the review, and instead discuss the game on it's own merits, which are, in my opinion, fairly substantial. I think the games play differently enough not to warrant a very close comparison, and they're also targeted at slightly different markets. This review is only about the single-player portion of the game, developed by Danger Close, but the same will hold true when I review multi-player at some point after I get the thing WORKING (don't worry, it's not the game that's buggy, it's PunkBuster. I have perpetual issues with it).
Probably the first thing that stuck me about the game was that it has a very deliberate pace. You move through the levels and the game's story gradually, instead of in a constant state of rushing. This isn't to say that there aren't hectic moments – there certainly are – but they are not the norm, and their impact is, as a result, heightened. I also felt like the games pacing gave you a closer relationship to the story and the characters in it. Some of these characters are very cliché, and most of them aren't fleshed out very much, but they are all a little distinct and you are given the opportunity to grow somewhat attached to them.
The next thing that hit me was the sound. The quality of the sound design in this game is second to none, and I don't say that lightly. I really think that this game raises the bar. It's hard to describe all the little parts that make up the incredible sound in the game. Everything is so authentic, from the distinctive crackling of an AK47 to the echoing booms of shell impacts. The environmental audio effects are spot on, too, and they add a whole lot of atmosphere to the game's areas. Little details – like the difference in sound of weapons fire depending on where you're standing, and the fact that when you're standing near somebody speaking on the radio you can hear both the fuzzy sound of the radio and their actual voice together are seemingly minor, but together, all these small things add a whole lot to the game. The game sounds amazing.
The voice acting is also very good, dipping to average at times but never really below, and is augmented by a strong script. You can believe that this is the way special forces operators would talk to each other in the field, and you can hear the strain in your comrades voices over the radio during a fire-fight, or how tired they are after a long day, or hear them panting because they're running, or hear them coughing and choking on dirt after a nearby explosion. All little things that contribute in some way to the game's atmosphere.
It also looks great, and by that I mean, it ran very poorly on my PC (more a reflection on my aging hardware than on the game's software in this case, I think) even on very low settings. But even on those settings, the game was still quite striking. It features so many grand, sweeping environments that you'd think the impact would be lost, but it's not. The landscapes in the game are stunning to behold, augmented by excellent lighting effects and effects such as fog or thick smoke which look absolutely spot on. The game is incredibly atmospheric. The same level of detail extends to character models, with people all looking very individual.
These factors all contribute to a very strong sense of authenticity around the game. It feels very real, and very solid. The more deliberate pace reflects actual combat or special forces engagements much better than an absurdly fast rush. The sound draws you into the game. The voice acting and script make you feel like you're fighting alongside real people. The detail on the environments and characters draws you into the world. This leads you to having a very strong connection with what's going on in the game, even moment to moment. At one point in the game, I was frantically and repeatedly stabbing a terrorist to death in combat, and I saw the guys face and I actually felt a little sorry for him. It's rare for a game to draw you in that much and to create that level of empathy, and it helped emphasise the horror in the events being depicted. This game can be pretty confronting at times because of how real it is. Or maybe I'm just a big softie.
Another factor is that the game isn't particularly over-the-top. It has its moments, sure, but for the most part the circumstances and events in the game are quite believable (and many of them are closely based on real battles). And when the shit does hit the fan, oh boy, is it good. This game has some extremely tense, dramatic moments that are so effective because they are few, and because the game is so successful at creating a believable atmosphere.
But I haven't really talked about how the game actually plays yet. I think that's because in some ways, the game-play is the least interesting aspect of Medal of Honor. I enjoyed the campaign. I like it very much, in fact, and I'm going to say now that I liked it more than the single-played components of the more recent Call of Duty games (I haven't played Black Ops, but I doubt it'll change my opinion). But the reason I liked it so much was for its authenticity, and its characters, and its story, not for the game-play.
Don't get me wrong, the game-play was good. It was quite solid. It didn't really do anything new, though. It was enough to carry the game and it fit well with the general style of the game as being a little bit slower paced and a little bit more realistic. Shooting felt good, moving felt good, but it wasn't anything special. Probably my biggest complaint was that I felt the game was a little too easy. I only died a few times on the highest difficulty. That said, it gave the game a smooth flow, which is nice, and it's possible I'm just a super-ultimate bad-ass. The campaign is also quite short (5-8 hours depending on skill and swiftness, I'd estimate), which is about par for the course these days. It didn't overstay its welcome, which is important, but I felt like it could've been a little bit longer, all things considered.
There was some good variation in the different levels in the campaign which ensured that it didn't get too stale. You get to drive an ATV and play as the gunner for a helicopter pilot. There are some very long-range sniping segments. There are some stealth segments (and these are actually GOOD, surprisingly). I liked the fact that they mixed it up a little bit and gave you a taste of different roles within the army. I know, I know, you're thinking “But I saw all this stuff in CoD. What a rip-off!” but the fact is, the game plays so differently from Call of Duty, and FEELS so different, that I hardly noticed and it really didn't bother me. Besides, Call of Duty wasn't the first game to feature any of these things.
It kind of bothers me just how much the game screams “AMERICAAAAA, FUCK YEAH!” at you. The only troops depicted in the game are American soldiers, despite the fact that many nations contributed troops to the war in Afghanistan, including fighters in the specific battles and regions shown in the game. This seems significant because in a lot of ways the game is about celebrating the courage and dedication of armed forces members, and it seems like kind of kick in the teeth to exclude soldiers who didn't happen to be American. I'm sure this wasn't Danger Close's intent, but it kind of comes off that way. There's also a dedication at the end of the game, which I felt was a nice sentiment but came off as extremely cheesy and a little forced.
At the end of the day, though, despite a few flaws, Medal of Honor's single-player game is an rewarding and varied experience, and separates itself from the crowd and from the mammoths of the genre with its own unique style, although it does borrow heavily from similar games. It's a shame the campaign isn't a little longer, but I guess I'm just going to have to accept that that's the way shooters are made these days.
I mostly bought the game for the multi-player, and I'll have a full report on that soon I hope. I can't really recommend the game based on single-player alone, if only because it's over so quickly, but it's definitely a very solid experience.