Medal of Honor: Warfighter (Xbox360)

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The release of Medal of Honor from Danger Close and DICE in 2010 marked the official reboot of a venerable series of military shooters, following on from the ground-breaking classic, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. While 2010’s Medal of Honor wasn’t quite up to the task of confidently continuing the celebrated franchise, the title held a lot of promise and gamers gave EA the benefit of the doubt, looking to the sequel to see how the development team would build on its solid foundations.

Now two years later, Medal of Honor: Warfighter has been tasked with carrying the series’ banner into the future and while it benefits from development under one roof this time around and feels like a more cohesive package across singleplayer and multiplayer, the game’s strong story and presentation in the campaign and two evolutionary online features aren’t enough to repay gamers’ faith in the franchise.

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Singleplayer Campaign:

Medal of Honor: Warfighter sets the tone of the action and adventure to come from the very first mission, and after learning of my assignment to stop a global terrorist network, I took on the guise of ‘Preacher’ on a covert night-time operation at a dockside setting in Pakistan. The type of action to come was also telegraphed to me with my very first action in the game: killing an unknown person with literally no option other than to shoot him in the head at point-blank range in order to continue.

From this point on, I tumbled into the oftentimes explosive story-driven campaign where clandestine codenames like ‘Mother,’ ‘Voodoo’ and ‘Stump’ are uttered without batting an eye, while little thought is paid to travelling to far-off and exotic locations around the world like the desert city of Dubai, the pirate-run underworld of Somalia and a war-torn city in Yemen, as well as the Philippines following a devastating monsoon.

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The story of Warfighter certainly jumps around in space, and time, and I played through missions set in the past, as well as ‘present day’ as a variety of different characters to allow the military-focussed yarn to unfurl. If you pay attention to all of the hopping about, however, you’ll be rewarded with a genuinely affecting and emotional narrative – the story beats in Warfighter pack a mighty punch with extremely powerful moments and striking sequences designed to gently and violently pull at your heartstrings.

Connecting the dots are the variety of missions and gameplay set-pieces that Danger Close has laid out for you, but despite Medal of Honor: Warfighter’s propensity to instil awe with its incredible visuals and stirring orchestral themes, the game never finds a good, measured pace and fumbles opportunities to back up the narrative with the urgent, razor-sharp action it deserves.

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Listing the range of mission types would put Warfighter in a positive, shining light with opportunities to assault an enemy-held fishing village in the midst of torrential rain, the challenge of chasing down a target on foot and in a fully drivable car, and operations where you engage in all-out and severely taxing close and long-range firefights. It’s when these missions regularly overstay their welcome, and appear more than once, that Warfighter begins to wear thin.

I lost count of the number of times I acted out a slow motion ‘breach and clear’ sequence, while one mission in particular was completely ruined and lost all impact because the developers simply didn’t know when to cut it short. Firefights through the game’s varied locations tend to drag on for far too long, too, and while pace changers like turret sequences, special set-pieces, helicopter runs and story cinematics do their part to break up the action, I found my patience running out.

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My tolerance for Medal of Honor: Warfighter’s campaign was also rapidly whittled away by inexcusable issues I have with games in general, both designed and unintentional. Instant failure states for doing ‘the wrong thing’ is a game design sin in my book, but worse than this are times when the game refuses to progress because the next sequence of events has failed to trigger. Broken scripts simply shouldn’t be allowed to happen, but I found myself reloading back to a checkpoint on no less than five occasions because my AI buddies had ‘forgotten’ what was supposed to happen next in the story.

These failures and shortcomings in Medal of Honor: Warfighter are a pity, because the minute-to-minute gameplay is very satisfying. Running and sliding to cover is always fun, while leaning around and over objects to steal a few headshots in a raging battle is a great returning (and improved) feature from 2010’s Medal of Honor. The range of pistols, rifles, shotguns and sniper rifles are all punchy and effective, too, and the in-game play spaces are expertly designed to promote movement, flanking manoeuvres and a great feeling of ebb and flow combat.

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Medal of Honor: Warfighter’s campaign is extraordinary in its attempt to tell an affecting narrative wrapped in impressive presentation, but unfortunately Danger Close didn’t learn enough lessons from its singleplayer effort in 2010 to deliver a solo experience free of blemishes. How does the game’s multiplayer offering fair?

Medal of Honor: Warfighter – Multiplayer

Medal of Honor: Warfighter’s multiplayer revolves around the inclusion of twelve globally recognised, highly trained, best-of-the-best soldiers, or ‘operators,’ each from a different nation. Once you’ve chosen from a selection of warfighters ranging from the US Navy SEAL and British SAS, to the Australian SASR and Polish GROM, and decided on whether you prefer an accurate shooter and mobile fighter over a stealthy operator, you’re able to additionally modify your traits by choosing from one of six classes.

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The Assaulter, Pointman, Heavy Gunner, Spec Ops, Sniper and Demolition classes are all available, each of which have their own unique combat skills and advantages, like the ability to call in air-strikes or throw an aerial attack drone, or be more proficient with an assault rifle, say, over a sniper rifle or shotgun. Once you’ve become acquainted with all of the options, mixing and matching operators and classes in this way will eventually allow you to choose an ability and weapons load-out suited to your playstyle, but the options are initially very overwhelming.

It took me some time to consider each of the trade-offs in statistics, and unfortunately it’s not possible to directly judge the merits of two chosen combinations in a head-to-head comparison. Instead, the statistics bars shrink and grow as you flick between the options which can be frustrating when you simply want to know what’s best for you. It may be strange to even mention, but the menu system functions rather peculiarly, too, with no hotkeys (like face or trigger/bumper buttons) assigned to navigation in most instances, while certain menus react inconsistently to the previous one. Bizarre.

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Gameplay actions in Warfighter’s multiplayer follow that of the singleplayer, and once you’ve slipped into an online match that sees your team of players either attacking or defending a given objective while battling with an opposing team, you’ll automatically be paired with one other team member in what Danger Close calls a ‘Fire Team.’

Fire Teams are two-man squads who are encouraged to stick closely together during a match, with in-game bonuses their reward for doing so. While your entire team is tasked with planting or defusing bombs in game modes like Hotspot or Combat Mission, retrieving or defending flags in Home Run, occupying spaces in Sector Control or simply gunning down the opposition in Team Deathmatch, you and your Fire Team buddy need to work as a smaller team to watch each other’s backs, while also earning all-important Experience Points to rank up and earn additional equipment.

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You’re also able to resupply your buddy with ammunition or heal her/him in the thick of battle, while recently seen enemies, and enemies who have killed your buddy, will momentarily appear on your map and on-screen, outlined in red, which is useful knowledge especially considering that there’s a chance to bring your buddy back into the match more quickly than usual if you get revenge. Spawning on your buddy’s location and helping each other earn Support Action points (that go towards using the special abilities of your class) are also great uses of the Fire Team system.

While this system is merely a half-step over Battlefield 3’s four-person Squad system, Danger Close must be commended for sticking with the implementation of the Fire Team concept across all of its modes, rather than allowing players to opt out. This system definitely encourages team play and while it has a few disadvantages and oversights (What happens if there aren’t enough players on your team to get a buddy? What if your buddy is a camper or sniper?), playing with a friend will result in some great dynamic co-operative stories in the future.

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Ranking the performance of different Fire Teams within a single team at the end of the round is also a great way to spur friendly competition, while performance within a Fire Team (of two people) is also ranked, so you’ll always know who was the more important member of the team. Devious.

Another key component of Medal of Honor: Warfighter’s multiplayer are the seasons of ‘Warfighter Nations’ contests, which pit the 193 countries of the United Nations against one another and challenge gamers in each country to contribute to a weekly points tally to determine which nation has the best warfighters. By spending earned tokens on Warfigher’s version of Battlelog online, players can affect the ranking of their country – at the time of writing, South Korea, the US and Russia were all vying for the top spot, while South Africa sat at a lowly 158 on the global scoreboard…

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It is these two features of Warfighter’s multiplayer offering – Fire Teams and Warfighter Nations – that represent the game’s sole unique and evolutionary contribution to the world of online shooters. In comparison to games like Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Halo 4, Medal of Honor: Warfighter seems featureless with a shallow Support Action unlock system and linear level and rank progression.

On launch week, the servers were more often than not full of players and I didn’t have a problem finding matches, but games can become quite dull due to the fact that there are only eight maps spread out across the game’s five game types – and you’ll be seeing these maps very regularly in a single play session. Server search features are generous with the ability to filter and choose games to suit your mood and tastes, but I feel Warfighter needed to do a lot more to wrest players away from other online shooters.

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Medal of Honor: Warfighter unfortunately isn’t able to repay series fans’ faith in the franchise and those hoping for major improvements over Medal of Honor 2010 will go wonting. Now responsible for both the singleplayer and multiplayer portions of the game, Danger Close was perhaps stretched a little too thin in both departments and despite a very powerful narrative in the campaign and the inclusion of interesting features in multiplayer with Fire Teams and Warfighter Nations, the game simply can’t match the pitch-perfect pace of a Call of Duty or the deep multiplayer rewards and gameplay offerings of Battlefield 3 and its Premium content.

Military shooter fans will congregate around Medal of Honor: Warfighter in the same way players test out massively multiplayer online games and then move on, while hardcore fans will stay true to the franchise and continue to provide the game with an audience for at least a year to come. Current and future games in the same genre, however, will offer a lot more to casual gamers.