Note: the content of this review represents the game after downloading the day one patch and installing the optional high-resolution texture pack for the Xbox 360.
If 2010’s Medal of Honor is to be considered a reboot of EA’s once mighty series, then 2012’s Medal of Honor Warfighter is the drastic course correction of the reboot. Developer Danger Close has now assumed full control of single and multiplayer, bringing the power of DICE’s Frostbite 2.0 engine to bear with it. It looks and feels markedly different than its predecessor, but even as it attempts to retain some thematic cohesion with the series’ legacy, it’s painfully apparent that Warfighter wants to be all military shooters to all people.
The end result is a game that feels like a patchwork quilt of military shooter design; emphasis on patchwork. Warfighter feels dull, unfinished and most frustratingly, unnecessary. There is little here that hasn’t been seen before, and what Warfighter does do well isn’t nearly enough to bring its head above water. When these conceptual problems are met with an audaciously self-righteous narrative and a labyrinthine multiplayer suite, the title trespasses from merely familiar ground into hostile territory.
As with 2010’s outing, Warfighter places players in the shoes of American “Tier-1 operators,” a special class of Navy SEALs who effectively operate of their own accord. In a nice bit of continuity, each of these characters returns from the first game, but unfortunately, the impression they make on the story is no more distinct than their overgrown beards. When it comes down to it, Warfighter is about doing the soldier’s work rather than getting to know who the soldiers are, which grows frustrating as the story unfolds and tries to establish footholds of character development.
Unlike the first game’s single Afghan setting, Warfighter’s campaign takes place across several theaters, from Dubai to the Philippines. Each offers a bog-standard shooting gallery of be-turban’d footmobiles to gun down, and, save for an interesting driving mission that recreates the “don’t get caught” tension from the opening sequence of “Drive,” the campaign’s take on first-person shooting tends to run together with memories of pretty much any military FPS from the last five years.
The unique lean mechanic returns, allowing players to root themselves in place and pivot in and around cover for quick shots, but since it forces players to aim-down-sights as they do it there’s a loss of situational awareness that makes the mechanic less useful than it was in the last go around.
Elsewhere, while the gunplay generally feels alright, there’s an unvarnished rawness to the mission design that sees many bugs and glitches popping up in various places. In one level, enemies were able to fire through cover, and in another they would disappear and reappear at random. Ally NPCs in a sniper sequence mistakenly identified targets as down despite their continued survival and fearless use of rocket launchers, and a lighting glitch during a level set in a thunderstorm caused enemies to be completely hidden by darkness when they should’ve been out in the open. It’s only in the last third of the campaign that the various glitches- some of which freeze the game and demand restarts -start to clear up.
Up to that point, Warfighter divides its time between monster-closet firefights, interminable door-breaching sequences, and halfhearted explosive set-pieces. There are of course, some singular moments that do raise the pulse, such as the aforementioned driving mission and a foot chase across a Pakistani village, but in general, the flavor of Warfighter’s brand of military shooting feels artificial rather than natural.
Once again, the multiplayer fares better, if only for the presence of human opponents, but this too has significant issues. The entire menu and interface system for the multiplayer section is overgrown and needlessly complicated. Players start by selecting a special forces soldier from a particular country, each with their own physical stats, and are then locked into that choice until new options are unlocked through character progression. Since each soldier is kitted with a specific weapon to start, players need to be careful about who they choose first, given that the decision can’t be reversed and there are no other preset classes to experiment with. It’s an awkward set-up for multiplayer, and puts new players at a greater disadvantage than usual against experienced combatants for the first several hours of their progression. Of course, once enough XP is accrued and the weapons start flowing it becomes better, but the early experience is still rough and off-putting.
Don’t be fooled by the use of DICE’s Frostbite 2.0 engine here. Warfighter has more than its fair share of visual issues on console. This is chiefly due to the contrast in lighting, which is so high that dark areas are nigh imperceptible, even in daylight environments with the brightness cranked up, and bright areas tend to look washed out, diminishing the effect of a severely limited color palette. It’s a constant harsh reminder that using the same engine as Battlefield 3 won’t make your game look like Battlefield 3.
On top of that, the visuals in the multiplayer mode are noticeably worse than the single player. It’s a remarkable sight to behold in a way, but at points the multiplayer textures make Frostbite look downright ugly- and keep in mind this is with the hi-res texture pack installed. In all likelihood it looks much better on PC, but on 360, the multiplayer mode looks muddy and amateurish. The overabundance of brown in the color palette doesn’t help this, and the visual distinctions needed to identify between friend and foe are far less pronounced here than they are in established multiplayer shooters.
It’s hard to imagine that this game is cut from the same cloth as the gorgeous Battlefield 3. Without a doubt, Danger Close should have had more time to refine it.
Here’s the aggravating truth: Warfighter is bad. Even given the fact that it’s functional and competently designed at its base, the game in no way provides a nutritive and compelling addition to the genre it wants so badly to rule. Its core premise, to provide players an “authentic” special forces warfighter experience, never comes within striking distance due to hazy plot development and abrupt, inorganic pacing.
The storytelling is by far the most egregious offender in the package. When the five hour campaign comes to a close, there’s a sincere and uplifting message that plays just before the credits. Written ostensibly by the wife of a real-life Tier 1 operator, it’s a stunning and heartfelt overture to the dedication and sacrifices of special forces soldiers everywhere. Whoever wrote it should be proud of themselves.
So what’s the problem with it? Not a single, dadgummed syllable of this stirring valediction is either earned or appropriately reflective of the campaign at large. The theme of service, authenticity, and sacrifice that Medal of Honor has trafficked in so slavishly throughout its history is present nowhere but in these final moments, when, one assumes, the player is expected to sit back and reflect on how this hodgepodge of technobabble, grimacing Arabs, and grainy satellite footage is supposed to resemble a serious tribute to the nature of human trial and triumph. It’s a reflection that simply won’t take place.
When the total lack of plot momentum, personal stakes, and relatable characters is finally capped with the pre-credits message of valor and glory, it feels like a slap in the face; a final guilt-trip for everyone who managed to get through the campaign with only the meanest of understandings of why anything in the story mattered. And then Linkin Park starts to play.
It’s fitting that so much of Medal of Honor Warfighter’s script is composed of military acronyms, given that the entire game is shorthand for designs and concepts that have been done in other, overwhelmingly better military shooters. Warfighter is uninspired, underdeveloped, and completely profligate with the solemn potential of its core concept.