Medal of Honor
Given the current popularity associated with hard-hitting military shooters, encapsulated perfectly by the unprecedented billion-dollar success of Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, it's in no way surprising to see Electronic Arts (EA) eager to channel that blend of focused gamer interest and gushing cash flow by reviving its once mighty Medal of Honor franchise.
And with recent Call of Duty titles built on unflinching and sometimes shocking realism, elements the old Medal of Honor often shied away from as it surrendered dominance to Activision's superior gameplay experience, it's also no great surprise to note that EA is peddling the new Medal of Honor on the appeal of its authenticity.
The strength of the publisher's conviction is concentrated through the towering Greg Goodrich, Medal of Honor's infectiously enthusiastic executive producer who we initially mistook for hillbilly blues phenomenon Seasick Steve as we entered the demo room and prepared ourselves to be wowed by EA's return to the military FPS arena.
Looking not unlike 'Dusty', the bearded 'Tier 1 Operator' prominently featured on promotional artwork throughout Medal of Honor's development, Goodrich is quick to make it known that military consultants have played a major role in shaping the "historical fiction" we're about to sample. He also reveals that conveying the essence of real-world warfare through visceral campaign gameplay has been a huge motivating factor for EA's in-house L.A. team.
We feel suitably impressed as Goodrich explains that, although the entire single-player campaign unfolds across just a 12 km radius, war-torn Afghanistan's geographic variety means players will engage enemies in dusty city slums, through snowy mountains, and while traversing dry arid valleys. The possibility of remaining connected to extremely localised events and experiencing different environments without snapping to and fro between international locales is another plus point. We're convinced. Start the demo already.
Sadly, with controller in hand, said demo does not deliver on the promise so slickly crafted by Goodrich's preamble and all the intriguing bluster regarding the game's elite "Tier 1 scalpel' and "Ranger sledgehammer" warriors. Expecting to taste the full FPS thrill of Medal of Honor from behind the barrel of an assault rifle, we're instead thrown into an on-rails 'sledgehammer' sequence that we sincerely hope isn't indicative of the game proper.
Assuming the role of Ranger Brad 'Hawk' Hawkins, a gunner aboard one of two Apache helicopters tasked with destroying an insurgent enclave high in the Afghan mountains, we're quickly fighting off waves of disappointment while blasting through scripted events with our 30mm cannon, ranged Hydra missiles, and forward-facing Hellfire rockets. It's all extremely impressive graphically, but somewhat yawn inducing given the build up.
While there's no denying the frenetic action offered up by the demo as rocket-propelled grenades attempt to blast our A.I. choppers from the sky, the gameplay feels shockingly flat due to the complete lack of player control. Torrents of sourced communications chatter notwithstanding (written by real Apache pilots, we're informed), our resounding memories of Medal of Honor centre on shoddy explosions and 'unrealistic' environmental destruction. We may be wrong, but a rocket slamming into a building should perhaps blow out an exterior wall or two, not erase the entire structure from existence in an instant. What was that about striving to create a sense of authenticity?
Of course, the same accusations of flat gameplay could perhaps be levelled at Modern Warfare's 'Death from Above' mission, which put the player high in the sky within an AC-130 support plane. However, by pulling the player back into a distant overhead angle and giving them access to a 25mm, 40mm and devastating 105mm cannon, Modern Warfare created a tantalisingly brief but genuinely heavy-hitting segue experience. By comparison, Medal of Honor's Apache helicopter level went on for far too long and largely failed to maintain our interest.
When it comes to preview builds, we'd ordinarily outline an air of hope with regard to the development team promptly investing the necessary effort to correct any outstanding problems ahead of release. But with Medal of Honor due to hit retail in just five weeks, we suspect the game is already locked and being readied for pressing to disc. If that's the case, expect to take to the sky and see friendly fire passing harmlessly through your support Apache, 30mm rounds fail to scar the environment or leave believable impact trails across the ground, and buildings struck by missile fire abruptly disappear in a puff of magical smoke rather than degrade realistically.
We're also somewhat worried about Medal of Honor regarding the lack of single-player gameplay media that EA has shown thus far. Beyond the on-rails demo we experienced first-hand, the majority of FPS content we've seen has been multiplayer based - and the multiplayer has been created by DICE (the Battlefield series), not Electronic Arts' L.A. studio. Is that a portent of doom? Who knows, but we'll say this: the staggering intensity, explosions and destructive effects evident in the multiplayer are superb, and certainly far-removed from what was on show during our trigger-unhappy Apache run.
Perhaps we're being unfair in our pre-release appraisal (after all, we don't have much single-player campaign gameplay to draw from), but given all of EA's bluster and chest beating, we were expecting a total package to rival Modern Warfare, not only in terms of realism but also in overall quality. Based on what we've seen so far, Medal of Honor looks set to fall short, leaving the success of Call of Duty: Black Ops as all-but assured due to a lack of 'authentic' competition. We really hope we're wrong.