Most reality-based first-person shooters use their authentic geopolitical locations, enemies, weaponry, and tactical strategies as mere window-dressing; regardless of what these environments or adversaries are called or look like, they still function only in rudimentary video-game terms. So it most definitely goes with Medal of Honor, which like Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series, finds EA rebooting its classic WWII-themed franchise for the modern age, positing you as a Tier 1 special ops badass tasked with eliminating Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan. What this in fact means, though, is that the action takes place in scraggly mountains, caves, and towns, and requires that you mow down vaguely Arab-looking fellows alongside comrades dressed in local attire and matching beards. Otherwise, it’s the same old FPS mayhem: Go here and kill lots of robotic villains, then trudge (by foot, or ATV vehicle, or chopper) to the next venue and battle even more faceless foes whose behavior is so predictably routine—everyone either runs right at you, or takes cover in the same spots, emerging at regular intervals to shoot at you—that any verité trappings are immediately and conclusively undermined.
That Medal of Honor feigns reality but delivers only standard video-game combat makes it no more reductive, misleading, and insensitive to the wartime experience than its legion of genre brethren. Yet it’s still somewhat jarring to find the game go to such lengths to assume an air of verisimilitude, only to then deliver gameplay that doesn’t swerve from stale fantasyland formula. With an efficient but nondescript control scheme borrowed from every other FPS on the market, EA’s wannabe-blockbuster (produced by Danger Close) hits all its expected marks, at least design-wise: on-the-ground firefights, flying and driving interludes, and cutscenes that provide a flimsy, superfluous narrative framework. Lots of in-action radio communication from squadmates and far-off commanders supposedly reveal the specifics of your objectives, but those explanations are also unnecessary, since they don’t enhance what amounts to a prolonged game of kill-everything-in-sight. By those modest terms, Medal of Honor is merely a redundant effort, one constructed to afford gamers a familiar experience that doesn’t deviate from the norm in any appreciable way.
Except, it must be noted, during those moments when it strays the course through malfunctions. Just as the graphics for this campaign are generally sturdy but, upon closer inspection, prove a mixed bag (up-close textures look muddy, and character animations sometimes appear mechanical and unreal), Medal of Honor’s competent action is intermittently decimated by glitches. On five separate occasions, an animation failed to load, or my cohort or I didn’t behave in a necessary predetermined way, thus effectively halting the game’s progress. In these aggravating instances, restarting from the last saved checkpoint was the only solution, and even then, the problem sometimes reoccurred unless drastically different measures during the level were taken. In one sequence, after a Taliban cave shoot-out, a companion told me to follow him and then stood in place, refusing to move and, thus, forcing me to refight the just-completed fight with a much more aggressive, pushing-forward strategy so that I might bypass this hiccup. To be sure, perfection is asking too much, but given that this stands as one of EA’s late-year flagship titles, a bit more fundamental stability would have gone a long way.
These issues frustrate a sense of immersion, though not any more than the generally average nature of the game itself, which is bogged down by humdrum levels that are one-way-only and cutscenes that futily attempt to create emotional engagement with the plight of featureless characters. The multiplayer portions of the game (designed, unlike the main campaign, by Battlefield vets DICE) are slightly more exciting, if only because—despite having to master a control scheme that differs from that of the single-player campaign—it seems like novelty is a priority here. Still, learning the unique mechanics of each available gun quickly grows tiresome, especially since the online arenas themselves are by and large functional but lackluster. That’s ultimately the most fitting description for every aspect of this new Medal of Honor, which does nothing horribly wrong but almost nothing fantastically right either, content as it is to take up residence in that cavernous gray area where inspiration takes a back seat to dutiful replication.