Preview: Medal of Honor
Recently, I’ve been able to sit down with the PC version of EA’s latest attempt to reclaim the FPS throne, Medal of Honor. Even though the game is still in beta, it's possible to tell EA that has its sights set on bringing down the current FPS king, Modern Warfare 2.
It is worth noting that Medal of Honor is being built using 2 distinct engines and by 2 different development teams within EA, the Unreal Engine for single player by EA LA and the Frostbite Engine by EA DICE (known for the Battlefield series).
Medal of Honor fills in a gray zone between the frantic hail of bullets and bodies that is Modern Warfare 2 and the expansive full scale combat that the Battlefield series is known for. From the perspective of a gamer who has played both the COD and Battlefield series, it can be seen that the recent versions of Call of Duty focus on fast paced gun fights where a player can be expect to be killing others around every corner.
The Battlefield series, on the other hand, takes a more is better approach with large amounts of players, tanks, and teamwork. Kills in Battlefield also happen at a much slower pace, with focus on long range warfare. Recently with Bad Company 1 and 2, the Battlefield series has embraced the idea of destructible environments that add a whole new level of gameplay and strategy.
Even though the multiplayer version of Medal of Honor is running off the Frostbite engine that powers Bad Company 2, Medal of Honor steps into its own by offering maps that force the player to change their strategy frequently to suit whatever battlefield they are on. A single successful strategy does not exist in Medal of Honor.
The Helmand Valley map, for example, has 2 teams of 12 players taking turns attacking or defending a series of objectives, similar to the Rush mode of Bad Company 2. The map tends to have large clearings of land which greatly influences the way the game must be played, favoring a frantic rush from rock to rock as snipers take advantage of the grand open spaces. Zone control and kill boxes become key factors in winning a match as the cohesiveness of your team is tested.
Another beta map, Kabul City Ruins, shows how different Medal of Honor can be. This map could be right at home in Modern Warfare 2 due to its close quarters urban combat level design. Automatic weapons rattle off when combatants come face to face as they sprint through the bombed out ruins of this town. A majority of the kills are up close and personal with knifing and spraying galore. Maps have distinct “good spots” that can be camped and if defended, result in many a kill.
While I appreciate how Medal of Honor keeps players on their toes by forcing them to adapt swiftly to new environments, there are many missed opportunities and iffy features. First, having played and enjoyed Bad Company 2, I have seen the environmental destruction capable with the Frostbite engine. There is minimal destructibility present in Medal of Honor and the lack of bullet penetration is downright frustrating and disappointing. While I am sure the physics would have put extra strain on whatever system the game was running on, the graphics are also nothing to write home about, so I am certain the destructible terrain feature could have been included. Being able to alter the battlefield by blowing up walls and other immovable objects could have been a welcome inclusion that would have set MOH apart. The marriage of destructibility and close quarters urban fighting would have been beautiful.
As it stands now however, Medal of Honor is quite transparent in its efforts to be like Modern Warfare 2 without successfully outdoing the blockbuster game in its current beta state. The kill streak system has been lifted straight out of MW2 without the diverse set of effects or the customization. The kit configuration options are minimal, with a low number of guns available as well as a scant few modifications that can be added to said guns. There is no customization that can be performed to your actual solider, such as the Perk system in MW2 and BC2.
The UI and menu also lack the slickness and polish of current AAA shooters, employing a cheap neon light style that feels very out of place for a game attempting to go for a realistic approach to war. There are also indications that the PC iteration will be hasty port of the console versions, as there are art assets and menu options that have no business being in a PC game, such as a screen configuration option for your “television”. These problems, however, can be easily addressed before launch.
All this being said, the basics for a solid shooter are present in Medal of Honor. The feel and handling of your solider are tight and responsive. Your player moves with heft through the battlefield and every bullet you place feels deliberate and powerful. The hit recognition also seems to be top notch, which was a problem with Bad Company 2 when first released. Players seem to go down just as quickly at long range as in Modern Warfare 2, with close quarters fighting being much less predictable due to spray and pray tactics. The game also seems to reward smart use of cover and situational awareness. A tactical approach is supported by Medal of Honor while at the same time keeping the frequency of kills on par with Modern Warfare 2, which is an impressive balancing act and shows thoughtful multiplayer design.
At this point, with respect to the multiplayer half of Medal of Honor, EA has a solid foundation on which to build a shooter. In its current state, this game does not stand out as a top contender for FPS king, but with the inclusion of thoughtfully designed maps, more load out customization, destructible environments, more guns, or some combination of all of these, it can be. We will see how it develops between now and its planned launch of October 15th.