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Medal of Honor Warfighter review: The single shot

Medal of Honor Warfighter review: The single shot
David Hinkle
David Hinkle|@davehinkle|October 26, 2012 10:00 AM
In the year leading up to the launch of Medal of Honor: Warfighter, EA and developer Danger Close Games touted their pursuit of humanizing the soldiers – showing us how these Tier 1 Operators balance their lives with one of the most intense jobs on the planet. After playing through Medal of Honor: Warfighter's campaign, it's clear Danger Close failed in its objective.

Danger Close's promise manifests in a few brief cutscenes that show snippets of protagonist Preacher's life. Here's Preacher in a hospital bed, there's Preacher sitting in a cafe with his family. Now we see his wife having a terse, passive-aggressive phone conversation – presumably while he's out on a mission – as she sadly stares out the window of an empty motel room. There's clearly some strife, but we never get a glimpse at why this man does what he does. Does he just love to shoot bad guys? Is he in it to protect his country?

Some men were just born to fight wars, I guess.
%Gallery-168105%The story of Warfighter is propelled by P.E.T.N., an explosive substance familiar to those who followed the case of the shoe bomber. It's ripped from the headlines and based on true events, and jumps around more than Scott Bakula in Quantum Leap. It juts back and forth constantly, from the past to the present, back to the past, and even further into the past, and then right into a mission. Danger Close would like you to believe Warfighter is the story of a soldier toeing the line between family and duty, but you learn so little about the man that the attempt rings hollow.

Beyond the story, Warfighter is a predictable war game filled with the usual spectacle and bombast. The pattern starts to emerge only a few missions in: enter large space, fight platoon of bandana-wearing bad guys. That's how you know they're the bad guys. They wear bandanas.

"One sniper shot and that's it. End of mission."

These scuffles are broken up with the occasional foot chase, the only problem being that these usually lead to yet more open areas which must be cleared of yet more bandana'd scoundrels, after which the chase can resume. You might think a protracted firefight would give your target time to flee but – time and again – he'll be right there waiting for you, ready to continue the chase once you've killed his comrades.

There are the requisite helicopter and boat sequences as well, the latter of which are a particularly ugly example of the sort of lazy design exhibited by the single-player campaign. Escaping a flooded city and manning the cannon on an NPC-driven boat sounds thrilling, until you realize the vessel is invincible and you don't have to fire a single shot to complete the mission.

Another bizarre mission sees a soldier named Stumps and his boys stationed on a helicopter landing pad, as they prepare to rescue a hostage from a pirate barge. Shoot one pirate in the face while your buddies handle the other two. One sniper shot and that's it. End of mission.

You may be asking yourself, "Who's Stumps?" Believe me, I wish I knew. You take control of him for roughly half of Warfighter's missions and, if Preacher's motivations are unclear, Stumps' are an unknowable mystery. He barely ever says a word and Warfighter makes no attempt to explore his character at all.

It feels like the team at Danger Close did its homework designing the campaign – in that it adequately emulates the tropes we've come to expect in AAA military shooters – but no one bothered to ask if there was anything that Warfighter did better than the competition. Some of the orchestrated moments are well executed, as you'll see when helicopters lay waste to a village, but ultimately the campaign is mired in uninteresting skirmishes and mediocre breach-and-clear slow-motion shootouts.

None of these moments would have as much merit as they do if it weren't for Frostbite 2, the engine powering Medal of Honor: Warfighter. As players have come to expect, the engine provides competent gunplay. Bullets drop over long distances when sniping, shotguns have plenty of oomph and each gun feels unique and powerful. There are a few bits of environmental destruction at play, like wooden cover that can be chewed up by gunfire, and plenty of vehicles and barrels of flammable liquid that offer up impressive explosions.

But no matter how competent the gunplay or how pretty the explosions, it's not enough to make up for the very poor AI on both sides of the conflict. Enemies charge you blindly. They take cover in the same places their buddies died moments before. Your fellow soldiers frequently squawk about how well-trained the enemy is, but whatever masterful tactics they learned in Terrorist 101 are never seen on the battlefield. As for your fellow Tier 1s, they slavishly obey the same scripted routines in every encounter, following the same paths and taking cover behind the same wall every time you play through a specific encounter. And if you just happen to reach their designated cover first, too bad. They'll run up and literally push you out of the way, often into oncoming fire.

One thing your pals are useful for is ammo. At any time you can walk up and request ammo from a buddy followed by a brief cooldown timer. Even with the cooldown, though, friendlies never run out of ammo – and you can glitch the cooldown timer easily. During scripted animations (see: kicking down doors), you can request more ammo with no penalty. It's great if all you want to do is throw grenades all the time.

The multiplayer side of Medal of Honor: Warfighter shows a bit more ingenuity and creativity than the solo segment. The fire team is essentially a buddy system, pairing you with a teammate to do everything – you spawn on each other, share ammo, can see each other through walls and get bonus points for working together to level up faster. The system really encourages you to stick with your partner and forego the lone wolf play style that permeates most online shooters, and the fact that both players benefit from quicker progression is a nice plus.

Unfortunately, the progression system is barebones at best. At the outset, the game unlocks the Assaulter class for you and lets you choose from one of several different countries – each with its own weapon and stats – to further personalize him. From here on out it takes hours before you've unlocked more classes and countries, which is a real problem if you go in knowing exactly how you want to play Warfighter's multiplayer. You can land in a map full of new players, all running around with the same stuff, and suffer through a string of bland matches before the unlock system wakes up.

Once you unlock a few classes and get some real personalization, though, Warfighter's multiplayer really opens up. Classes definitely feel different – a sniper will have a different arsenal, array of perks and movement speed compared to the heavily armored demolition guy. This allows you to not only adopt your preferred style of play, but also to strategize based on the game type. If you're playing a match where you have to defend a hotly contested location, the demolition soldier's armor and C4 packs are great for setting up traps and making a stand. If you're assaulting, you might snipe to clear a path for your pals, or you could choose the speedy Point Man, rush in and try to plant the bomb yourself. Being able to approach any situation in your own comfort zone goes a long way to extending the multiplayer experience.

Outside of classes, countries and weapon modifications to unlock, Warfighter also has a healthy amount of game modes, all contained within separate playlists. At first, the multiplayer screen is daunting, simply because there's no explanation supplied for anything. If I hadn't spent a few hours playing multiplayer at a preview event a few weeks back, I would've been completely lost at the outset.

Modes run the gamut of your typical shooter fare, from team-based deathmatch to objective-oriented modes. The Home Run mode – a six-on-six elimination-style team deathmatch and objective-based mode all wrapped in one – is one of my favorites. In each round, you can either kill the opposing team, capture a flag or toe the line between both strategies. With all the options in play, it makes for an extremely quick, tense experience. Hotspot, a mode where two teams fight over randomly chosen objectives on a large map, is another standout. No two Hotspot matches really go down the same way, making it a boon for players craving variety.

There are brief moments where the multiplayer shines, like struggling over a last objective as the clock winds down or that crucial last round of Home Run when it's all tied up, but the multiplayer still suffers in the same way the campaign does – there's nothing here that sets it apart from the cavalcade of multiplayer shooters out there. It has classes, unlockable guns and cosmetic customization options, but even these pale in comparison to Warfighter's competitors. There are no customizeable sidearms, no equipment options, only one main weapon with several personalization options. Some may enjoy the stripped-down approach, but I'd argue most players want to feel like their soldier is their own.

It's impossible not to compare Medal of Honor: Warfighter to the Call of Duty franchise, the series that dominates the genre and so clearly serves as an inspiration for Warfighter's large-scale moments. While the Call of Duty series has shown solid and creative iterations year-after-year, building upon its core foundation with interesting additions, the sum of Medal of Honor: Warfighter's parts instead comes off as an estimation of what a shooter must have to be considered competent.

There are some worthwhile components in Medal of Honor: Warfighter, but it feels cobbled together, a design-by-committee approximation of "AAA military shooter." The concept behind Warfighter is sound – particularly its attempt to personalize the internal conflict of a soldier – but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

This review is based on the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of Medal of Honor: Warfighter, provided by EA.

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Medal of Honor Warfighter review: The single shot