Call of Duty is a relentless beast. Each year, it comes out in November and sells millions of copies. Each game has a two year development cycle, with one studio working on the contemporary franchise and one working on more historical fare.
To compete with the Activision juggernaut, EA has adopted a similar strategy – selling a new Battlefield game one year, then a Medal of Honor game the next. But while Call of Duty’s two developers proved quite close in their success, Medal of Honor was much less popular than the Battlefield titles bookending it. So this year, it’s another Battlefield off-year and that means it’s up to Medal of Honor: Warfighter to go up against Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.
Unfortunately for Activision, Medal of Honor is still is nowhere next to the task. The game’s single player campaign apes the Call of Duty formula of set-piece gun battles interspersed with vehicle sections, but without the hallmarks of the Call of Duty franchise that have made it successful.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the pacing seems off. While there’s that familiar progression of sneaking around to all-out fighting to vehicle section, the actual gameplay bits that you’d expect to control are frequently cutscenes, or worse, skipped over entirely with a fade to black. Where in Call of Duty getting escaping into the back of a van with angry militants in hot pursuit would mean shooting at your pursuers in a mobile gun battle across the city streets, here it just signals the end of the mission. I feel that Danger Close felt pretty good about the whack-a-mole gun battles, but less sure about how well they could deliver on the interesting bits… and so the interesting bits weren’t included.
The AI is also… not ideal. Your NPC allies are perhaps the most maddening, shoving you out of cover into enemy fire like it was going out of style. They’re also quite useless at the actual shooting bit themselves; I rarely found that they had achieved a kill. Conversely, the enemy AI is equally dumb but is frickin’ amazing at shooting you. Regardless of the weapon they’re using, whether they’re aiming down the sights or how much cover is obscuring their view, they will shoot you with perfect accuracy until you are dead. While grenades and getting melee’d are less of an issue than in Call of Duty, perfectly accurate enemies are perhaps even more annoying. I spent most of the game playing on Normal instead of on the hardest possible difficulty, as I found that it was just not worth the hassle.
That’s not to say that the campaign doesn’t have some bright points that shine through the mire. The driving missions, for example, are excellent – it’s clear that EA’s experience with using the Frostbite Engine in Need For Speed: The Run hasn’t gone to waste. More importantly, it’s one of the few examples of the campaign providing a gameplay element that is genuinely new and interesting, so of course it’s got to be worth mentioning. If the same sections were in Black Ops II, I think they’d have attracted much less attention.
Overall, the game feels highly derivative. It could be described as “Call of Duty, but with Battlefield’s engine and less bug testing.” I think the authentic feel of the game is great, but Warfighter has proved that a triple A title can’t succeed just because it has a good engine and a big budget – it needs some fresh ideas, too.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter is available now, but I’d recommend you pick up Battlefield 3 Premium or the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops II instead. That game is due to be released on November 13th, the same date as my employer Mobile Fun receives a heaping helping of Google Nexus 4 accessories. Coincidence? I think so!