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EA's controversial shooter may not be the most original game in town, but it certainly is good...
Let's not beat around the bush, Medal of Honor is a lot like Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare games. To claim that it isn't would be like saying that Jedward look kind of alike. There's the heavily directed gameplay with its grand set-pieces, the complementary gunner level (an Apache Gunship in Medal of Honor's case), some long-range sniping a la Zakhaev in Modern Warfare, tightly controlled stealth sections led by a Captain Price-style character ('Dusty' in MoH), the 'feathering' system for aiming that was made famous by Call of Duty, and a single-player campaign that struggles to top six hours in length.
EA's Danger Close studio has clearly been following the Infinity Ward blueprints very carefully indeed, and you can criticise the developer for ripping off Modern Warfare if you like; you can suggest that they're just trying to cynically cash-in on the success of a rival series. You'd be missing an important point though: regardless of whether or not Medal of Honor plays like a bit of a clone at times, it still plays like a very good game nonetheless. What do we have to complain about as gamers? 'How appalling! There are now two brilliant modern combat shooters for me to sink my teeth into. How dare EA offer me this kind of choice and additional enjoyment of the FPS genre!'
Unlike Dante's Inferno, which felt like a cheap God of War knock-off with outdated gameplay and visuals, Medal of Honor at least plays out like a very expensive knock-off. It's obviously been deeply researched, the cinematics are of the highest standard for the genre, while the gameplay itself is both enriching and immersive of the game world. You couldn't really ask for more from a campaign really. Much like Modern Warfare 1 & 2, Medal of Honor may offer a very short campaign, but at least that campaign pulls together six of the finest gameplaying hours that you're likely to experience anywhere else. It's a case of quality over quantity again and, to be honest, we're kind of glad that six hours is fast becoming the standard length for modern combat shooters. In many ways it's a lot more preferable to 12 hours that are painfully drawn out and effectively dismantle any semblance of a cogent storyline.
The design is solid all-round as well and, in some places, it does a better job than any other shooter out there. Take your AI team-mates, for example, who actually manage to help you out by killing the enemy and taking cover in sensible positions. Who'd have thought it would be possible? And it's not scripted either. For a squad system of its kind, which is entirely AI directed, we're racking our brains to recall one that's quite as good. Because you play as a range of characters in Medal of Honor (another Modern Warfare knock-off) who are constantly following orders from superior officers, making those superiors actually capable of fighting beside you believably makes the whole experience that bit more engaging.
If there are criticisms of Danger Close's single-player component for Medal of Honor (beyond the lack of originality of course), then the most significant of them are related to annoying technical issues. Medal of Honor isn't as smoothly optimised as it could be, which leads to the occasional framerate stutter or high resolution textures struggling to load-in at close range. One particular mission starts off with a goat directly in front of your face and, when the high res texture struggles to load in for a second, the remaining low res goat is genuinely alarming in all its demonic facelessness. Still, there are other technical achievements in the game that are particularly impressive, such as the audible effect of silenced bullets ricocheting off distant buildings with a "tak" sound and sending out echoes across the landscape - that's the sign of some truly obsessed sound engineers.
When it comes to Medal of Honor's multiplayer, EA has made no bones of the fact that it's developed by a completely different studio (EA DICE) and may lack continuity with the single-player as a result. Somewhat surprisingly, the two different game types actually feel closer to each other than we'd expected. It's DICE's decision not to opt for perks or killcams - which were present in Bad Company 2 - that makes Medal of Honor more tuned towards the FPS purist. A steadfast focus on team-based modes instead of all-out deathmatches also adds to the authenticity of the multiplayer, which is one of the finer points that stays with you from the single-player as well.
Danger Close has focused on telling an authentic soldier's story with Medal of Honor - one that actually manages to be genuinely touching at times. Similarly, DICE has focussed on bringing this authentic feel over into the multiplayer. With the absence of gamey perks and killcams, MoH's upgrade tree focuses intently on the technical aspects of its weapons instead, such as their barrel slots and sights. It may seem like a bit of a step backwards at first; a bit plain perhaps, but you soon realise why it's there. Despite the gaminess of DICE's multiplayer at times, with its +10 XP icons that pop-up from the body of each successfully killed enemy, it's still more of a pure shooting experience than its competitors, unfettered by RPG-style class bonuses or the addictive chimes of a fruit machine.
Killstreak rewards or, in Medal of Honor's case, Support Actions are the only conventional bonus type that DICE has decided to include. Again though, they're not quite as off-the-hook as what you might find in Modern Warfare 2. Supporting airstrikes or mortar fire, combined with defensive rewards such as improved ammo or extra health, do give you something to play towards and encourage a cautious approach while avoiding silly deaths. However, relatively speaking these rewards have been downplayed somewhat and won't overdose the gameplay quite as much as a circling Pave Low or AC-130 strike, for example. Instead, the stress is placed squarely on infantry-based conflict.
Beyond this, DICE's Frostbite engine with its unmistakably destructible environments serves well here (albeit not as impressively as in Bad Company 2) while Battlefield fans will be glad to hear that MoH's modes are a mix of objective based matches in the 'Rush' style, a Conquest-type mode, and the standard team deathmatch. There's more immediacy to the combat than you'd typically find in a Battlefield game though, delivered through tighter maps and swifter deaths. The pace is faster as a result and, once again, this places Medal of Honor much further into Modern Warfare territory than DICE has typically strayed. That said, MoH isn't without the occasional original idea, such as a Skill Level stat that increases when you kill players of a higher skill or decreases when you're felled by a noob.
And the content doesn't end there either. A 'Tier 1' tab in Medal of Honor's single-player component opens up a wealth of ranking boards for the 10 levels featured in the campaign. Players can attempt to place themselves on these boards through a number of criteria, from the amount of headshots achieved on one level to the completion speed of another, while a 'Par Time' for each level then unlocks medal awards for your profile.
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