Special forces putting their lives on the line deserve a better tribute than this, says Alex Walker.
By Alex Walker on October 26, 2012 at 5:12 pm
As the single-player and multi-player components for Medal of Honor: Warfighter are so different, we’re doing different reviews of each. We’ll bring you our multi-player review next week once we’ve had more time to get to grips with the game modes and the current state of balance. For now, here’s our review of the game’s single-player campaign.
My mother told me a story once about a time when my father had a gun pointed to his head in the Middle East. He was working on an oil tanker going through the Gulf at the time. It was before the first Iraq war as far as I know: I say this because he stopped working on oil tankers and started making a lot of trips to Japan shipping iron ore around the early 90s.
One thing that hasn’t changed, be it the 80s or the 90s, was my father’s beard; he’s had it for at least four decades, probably longer. Another thing that never seemed to change was what my mother, in her colourful manner, described as his “Jewish” look. He’s not Jewish. But he was held at gunpoint the end of a wharf for three hours until someone could vouch that this was the case.
Luckily, someone did.
I’ve heard him recall the incident a couple of times since then; he shrugs it off, although he’s not the exuberant type when it comes to storytelling so that’s kind of a standard response. But I remember it reasonably well for two reasons.
The first is that I never saw my dad a great deal when I was growing up. He was, quite literally, overseas for half my life. That’s not an exaggeration; his work schedule gave him one day off for every day at sea. Before I was born and shortly afterwards, it was six months on, six months off. That narrowed down to 3 months each way when I started going to primary school, and then to two months and finally to six weeks (although occasionally delays have extended that slightly).
For the last two decades he’s never been in any danger, but he’s been in situations like the one above where, as my mother recounted, it would have been simpler for his Arabian “friends” to put a bullet in his head and be done with it.
Secondly, the story is just plain hard to forget — with the two Iraq wars and the Afghanistan conflict, which has sadly resulted in the loss of many brave Diggers. None of my family is involved in the Army, but I can at least empathise with the prospect of losing a parent while they’re working overseas.
Which is how we get to Medal of Honor: Warfighter.
There are two elements to Danger Close’s new special forces-centric shooter. The first is a plot involving a bunch of grizzled, middle-aged servicemen hunting down Arabic terrorists across the globe in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Bosnia, Somalia and some oceans somewhere.
This part you’ve seen already, provided you’ve played at least one video game involving guns and a first-person perspective in the last decade and haven’t recently suffered a stroke. But the second is a series of cutscenes focusing on the fragmented relationship between Preacher – one of the protagonists – and his family.
Being special forces, he doesn’t see them a great deal. It’s understandable: you’re having a conversation with your family one minute, work calls the next and then you’re on another continent 24 hours later. They don’t know why, but they know not to ask.
What complicates matters somewhat is the overlying “hook” of Warfighter: the story was written by two active Tier 1 operators. Most of the missions start with a note in the bottom left that says “Inspired by Actual Events”. Whether Danger Close/EA want us to think that means “this actually happened but we can’t really tell you about it so here’s this other thing that seems plausible”, I don’t know.
That culminates at the end of the campaign. It’s difficult to talk about this section – there’s a small story following the final cutscene – without spoiling it, but it’s not until then that the “truth”, or I suppose the real message of the game, becomes clear.
And it wasn’t until that message was revealed that I became, well, probably the angriest I’ve been in a while.
It’s not that the campaign is really bad by any measure. The nuts and bolts of the game come courtesy of DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine, which does a fine job of rendering anything you can throw at it. I’m running a i5-3750K with a factory overclocked 660 Ti and a few SSDs, and as expected, the game pumped out at a flawless rate of knots without batting an eyelid.
Strangely though, the best use of the technology is in the cutscenes. Without watching it yourselves on a fullscreen, the closest example I can think of is what Pixar would make if they decided to ditch the cartoons for exceptionally lifelike, but animated, productions. There’s a noticeable lack of colour in some of the scenes, but it’s a deliberate effect rather than a limitation. It accentuates the idea that the protagonist’s relationship is actually sapping away his life-force, that he’s slowly seeping into depression.
That’s probably part of why I was so peeved, simply because the rendering was so bloody good. If DICE ever saw fit to release the technology to machinima fans, you’d see some extraordinary movies; it’s clearly a wonderful, wonderful piece of coding.
But I digress. You don’t buy a first-person shooter for the tears; you buy it for the non-stop action, and while there is most certainly a great deal of gunfire, I’d be lying if I said any of it was memorable. The first mission has you creeping behind an enemy with orders to take him out, a pursuit you literally cannot fail at as the game prevents you from aiming away from his head.
It’s a curious decision: if you can’t trust me to accurately pull the trigger at this stage, why not take away the control and then run through a training stage later?
As it turns out, that’s pretty much what happens. Rather than opening with a tutorial, however, Danger Close have gone for the “opening door” technique. Start things off with a big bang and lots of action. You know, just like Call of Duty. And then you run through the basics, including a timed obstacle course in a faux airplane.
And that checkbox mentality, meeting whatever benchmarks Call of Duty set half a decade ago, can be applied throughout the campaign. Obligatory long-range sniping mission? Check. Gunning down terrorists from a helicopter? Check. Kill stuff with a cool piece of equipment? Check. Enemies that constantly spawn unless you move forward? Check. An annoyingly linear path complete with obnoxious invisible walls, even in open areas? Check. Slow-motion after a breach? Multiple checks.
There’s no nuance here. You’re literally told at several points to move from cover to cover, as if Warfighter will somehow be the first shooter a gamer has ever played. There’s even a couple of chase scenes that are, again, almost identical in length and style to what gamers have come to expect from any first-person shooter.
But Danger Close’s idea of what can pass for a AAA-shooter in this day and age might be well below gamers’ expectations. Whenever your squad lines up to breach a door, you’ll be given a half-circle of options, from merely kicking the door in, blowing off the handle with a shotgun, using a strip of The World’s Most Explosive Duct Tape or even a cute little charge that hangs off the doorknob.
Sadly, none of the options make any difference, except for the fact that they waste your time just that little bit more. Which would be nothing more than a mild annoyance, if for the fact that your time wasn’t already being wasted by the inconsistent squad AI. Occasionally, they would save me the trouble of having to shoot things myself, while other times they’d happily stand by and hold down the trigger at a target 4000 miles away while I’m getting shot at point blank range by a terrorist within arm’s reach. Seriously.
At best the campaign is mediocre, something you can say about any first-person shooter these days, which I suppose in a way makes it even worse than if it was genuinely bad. If something’s horrendous, it’s at least memorable. I feel bad for even saying that, because in the back of my mind I keep thinking I’m basically just denigrating what, for all I know, could actually be a true story.
But even though that may be the case, the reality is that the actual experience of the campaign — what the game actually asks you to sit down and do — has been done. All of it. There’s nothing you haven’t done in Warfighter that wasn’t done somewhere else, and better. It’s more plausible than Battlefield 3 or Call of Duty but also less interesting; it doesn’t set a new benchmark, let alone even try.
Perhaps the only part of gameplay that could manages to stand out is an odd driving mission — yes, driving — where you’re trying to escape with a target without attracting the attention of various patrols. It’s intriguing if only because it’s so different from the typical chase/drive away set-piece. But even that spark of innovation is limited; you’re effectively stuck to a couple of blocks and one highway to drive down. You could try a sneaky U-turn to throw off your pursuers, but the game won’t have any of that; the only way forward is quite literally the path ahead of you.
And that’s the true disappointment, especially considering that Warfighter is constantly trying to make you empathise with what the game quite literally describes as superheroes: the men and women that make up special forces units around the world.
Commandos are amazing. They’re the closest thing we have to superhumans, considering the sacrifices and the feats of endurance, strength and willpower that’s expected of them. None of those qualities are present in the campaign though: it’s just ordinary and completely forgettable.
Diggers, or any other serving member of the armed forces for that matter, deserve a better tribute than this.
- Cut scenes are superbly rendered – perhaps the best yet
- Driving around Dubai mission was an interesting diversion, if limited
- Frostbite 2 still looks amazing
- Uninspired gameplay; probably the least ambitious shooter this year
- Inconsistent squad AI
- Effectively the same FPS you’ve been playing for the last 5 years