EA’s rush to put Medal of Honor: Warfighter on store shelves before Black Ops II has stained the once venerable franchise, producing a sequel that may be the most derivative AAA experience of the year. There’s plenty of following AI squad leaders, firing a weapon when told, chasing down waiting targets, driving vehicles through crowded streets, and traveling around the world, but no polish synonymous with its biggest rivals. Multiplayer only aggravates matters, adding slight nuances to an already generic system of rank and unlock progression now expected of most first-person shooters. We've danced this dance in Call of Duty and Battlefield before, and when it needs to most, Warfighter does nothing to surpass its competitors during the holiday chaos.
Although Medal of Honor’s move to modern times got off to a rocky start, I still found the reboot’s camaraderie endearing. A true unspoken bond between various Tier 1 operatives circulated about the campaign’s veins, and watching the light fade from a protagonist’s eyes as his brothers in arms tried to keep him alive provoked a genuine heartfelt moment. Warfighter attempts to ride the wave of these lingering emotions by continuing the story of Mother, Voodoo, Preacher, and Dusty, along with a new face by the codename “Stump,” but the most evocative part of the campaign has nothing to do with these elite soldiers. Instead, a post-game letter honoring those who serve feels more sincere and thought-out than Warfighter’s unimaginative story.
This sequel fumbles its narrative stride, whereas Medal of Honor (2010) flowed effortlessly from chapter to chapter. Players held off an unstoppable ambush in “Belly of the Beast,” yet the inevitable drew near. As the curtains began to fall on the outnumbered Rangers, two Apache gunners rescue the entrenched squad, which gamers piloted in the next mission. Warfighter, however, adopts multiple flashbacks to tell its story, bouncing from country to country, soldier to soldier, and leading to much unwelcome confusion. First, players interrupt a delivery truck’s transport as Preacher eight weeks prior, then simulate a plane hijacking as an undercover agent in Yemen. A timeskip follows this tutorial, switching to Stump’s perspective and bringing the action up to speed one week before current events. The game then swaps to Preacher once again, four weeks ago.
War's intense, bro.
If that approach to storytelling strikes you as baffling, it is. The narrative gambols about, by no means confirming the true villain’s intentions, nor identifying what terrorist cause the military’s special forces are trying to prevent. Most of Stump’s missions contribute zilch to the grander outcome, including an ambush on a band of Somali pirates. There’s frequent mention of a radical leader known as “The Cleric” and the explosive substance P.E.T.N. too, except the disjointed writing has significant trouble tying these two ends together.
The cutscenes tell of a different battlefield: the war at home. Whose side would you take in a marital spat? The man that risks life and limb for his country, or the woman rearing her husband’s child on her own? This conflict of responsibilities posits the right questions, but the writers pen more story than can be crammed into a five-hour campaign, as the concept of executing a dozen foreign guards clashes with the image of a loving father. Perhaps Danger Close wants to shed light on that strange disconnect, even if the combat numbs players to the heroes that show no emotion, nor speak when behind the butt of their guns.
Speaking of which, the automatic rifles tend towards wildly uncontrollable, apparently dislocating the character's shoulder as the muzzle rockets skyward. The enemies don’t seem to have that problem. The insurgents shrug off multiple rounds while hip-firing their weapons during a dead sprint 100 meters away, slaying unaware players with insane accuracy. No, the real praiseworthy parts of the campaign never squeeze a virtual trigger. EA Black Box stepped in to refine the driving sequences, which control much better than the rigid protagonists. These exhilarating moments prove the studio can still make a decent vehicle segment, as you whip around oncoming traffic, plow through merchants’ fruit stands, or play hide-and-seek with a kidnapped banker’s protection service.
Didn't your mother ever tell you to knock?
But just as the chase begins to grow wearisome, it’s back to going weapons loud and breaching doors, adding an illusory goal to an already minor mechanic. Players unlock a new breach, from a tomahawk to a shotgun to an explosive charge, for every four headshots obtained during these slow-motion infiltrations, though none of these breaches affect the enemies inside. The man that rushes you head-on under the effects of a flashbang will still blitz you if a sheet charge blows the wall to smithereens.
While it only happened once, I did reach an instance where my teammates refused to stack up on the door. Other technical issues, however, condemn Warfighter to future bargain bins. The film grain produces fuzzy, pixelated shadows, not unlike a sudden screen tear; the game froze during several auto saves; my escape raft fell through the water during an improvised extraction; hostiles phase through barricades, stand in the open oblivious to cooked grenades, or disappear entirely; and the audio cuts out when not lowering itself to single decibel levels. Several instances of lighting do capture the surreal beauty of war, and yet I forgot about those dioramas upon seeing the rain-soaked Philippines. The sovereign state looks no better than alpha footage in the midst of tsunami conditions.
Those faults might not be so egregious if Warfighter excelled at its premise, but the campaign’s displays of camaraderie come off as artificial and non-mutual. Fellow Tier 1 infantry simply cease to help during firefights. As players press the advantage, half a dozen allies squat behind cars or other debris, barking orders and waiting for all enemy reinforcements to be eliminated. Objectives fall to you alone, and ammo runs out fast. You always carry one primary weapon and one secondary weapon that cannot be discarded, though you can briefly salvage a third firearm from motionless aggressors. To actually replenish rounds, you need to prompt squad mates to hand you extra mags.
This AI standoff could go on indefinitely if you don't intervene.
That buddy system plays a greater, less bugged role in the multiplayer. Matchmaking groups players into a fireteam, a two-man squad that can spawn on, heal, and refill the other’s ammo. Should an ally die, the game highlights his killer – even through walls – to give you a chance at revenge. However, the inability to spawn on your partner while he’s in the enemy’s sights prevents you from helping a friend when he probably needs it most.
Danger Close could have used a lending hand in simplifying the multiplayer’s more complicated features. Though not their first entry into the realm of competitive matchmaking, the developers commits several amateur mistakes. The cluttered menus bury the challenges, weapon customization, social functions, and server browser in difficult to navigate tabs.
Danger Close even neglects key game mode descriptions. The five match types borrow their likeness from Battlefield 3, but beyond Team Deathmatch, the game, especially its manual, is not clear about what each mode entails. You must seek the information provided during loading screens, or continue reading this review. Combat Mission and Sector Control play out like Battlefield’s Rush and Conquest modes, respectively, and Home Run puts a spin on capture the flag by terminating respawns. Hotspot tops off the mix, requiring the attackers to detonate three of five randomly activated bombsites within the time limit.
Beards, a requirement for all Tier 1 forces.
Of all the modes, Combat Mission exhibits the fewest amount of problems. This mode prohibits defenders from entering attackers’ spawn, but spawn-killing remains a legitimate, frustrating tactic. In other gametypes, Warfighter spawns opposing teams next to each other throughout the eight claustrophobic maps. (Given the absences of spawn protection, you can imagine how that turned out.) Even when players do get the jump on the enemy, the erratic hit detection accounts for many botches kills.
Figuring out the best weapon to spring an ambush proves to be one of Warfighter’s strong points. Danger Close ties 72 primary weapons to a similar number of achievable ranks, and new optics, magazines, stocks, barrel assemblies, and paint schemes give players enough freedom to outfit the weapon of their dreams. The six classes – recon, assaulter, point man, demolitions, spec ops, and heavy gunner – also specialize in a particular set of armaments, secondary equipment (grenade launchers, proximity mines, etc.), and defensive/offensive killstreaks. Warfighter still contains the same competitive draws inherent to Call of Duty and Battlefield; unfortunately, the faults hesitate to stay down. Menus freeze constantly and servers crash. Even such basics as class and weapon preferences refuse to save.
These imperfections speak volumes about Warfighter’s quality: a game rushed to compete with the publisher’s rival. Never mind the gap between Warfighter’s release and its predecessor’s; the campaign feels as derivative as any other military shooter. Medal of Honor: Warfighter could have released the year following Call of Duty 4, and the occasional downgrade in visual fidelity (despite a 2GB HD install) could support that claim. You still swap from soldier to soldier, traveling around the world to stop the non-English-speaking bad guys. And while DICE moves on to Battlefield 4, Danger Close no longer has the benefit of relying on the Swedish developer to produce a competent multiplayer component. Medal of Honor: Warfighter may not be the first victim of the year-to-year iterating on a spoiled formula, but it happens to be the most stale.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Danger Close Games
Release Date: October 23, 2012
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2-20 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC