Where once Medal of Honor was the premier war game shooter series, over time the franchise has been milked to within an inch of its life, hitting every platform from the PC to the GBA, with increasingly “meh”-inducing results. Following the mega-successful lead of the Modern Warfare games, the latest Medal of Honor reboot catapults us into a modern-day Afghanistan setting in an attempt to re-kindle flagging interest in the series. But will it be enough to reclaim its crown as king of the wartime shooters? Read on for Tech Digest’s impressions from the latest Medal of Honor preview session.
Up until now, the majority of information released on the new Medal of Honor title has focussed on the missions of the Tier 1 operative, the beardy special-ops type who has been at the fore of EA’s Medal of Honor teaser releases. Our hands-off PS3 demonstration (with Sony’s console being the lead platform for once) from lead designer Greg Goodrich however focussed the other playable team in the single player campaign, the US Army Rangers. As Goodrich himself explained, if Tier One represents piercing infiltration, the Rangers are the overwhelming sledgehammer of the US forces.
The demo centred around a Ranger team in the Shah-i-Kot valley in Afghanistan, looking to take out a machine gun post that has their comrades pinned down. The team approach a village en-route to the bunker before being ambushed by Taliban forces.
The first thing that struck me about the demo was the fairly strong sense of realism on show. Medal of Honor looks to make Modern Warfare seem like an episode of the A-Team by comparison. Sound design is incredibly authentic; team-mate’s barked orders echo around the rocky, dusty valley, while the pinging sound of gunfire seems lifted straight from a news report. Likewise, the visuals seem hauntingly true-to-life – the colour palette is realistically pale, with glaring lens flare often saturating the screen with light, even if the facial expressions of your comrades appear a little wooden.
The village shoot-out shows off some intelligent AI too. The Taliban forces attack from multiple positions, regularly flanking and taking cover, defending themselves when under-fire and protecting allies in trouble too. Ricocheting bullets rip through weak cover, meaning that no hiding place is all that safe for very long. Animation seems a strong point too, with the enemy squads popping in and out of cover convincingly, and dropping when killed with a weighted realism. Despite the first-person perspective, there also appear to be multiple cover animations for the player-controlled character too, which is welcome. He hugs walls and crashes into cover if moving at speed, and slides in tight behind low objects.
The Rangers stumble upon a hut housing a huge armoury of weaponry. The resulting dialogue between the soldiers gives a good indication of the tone of Medal of Honor. This will be a gritty, soldier-orientated depiction of war, full of jaded and scarred troops who barely bat an eyelid when uncovering a mountain of munitions intended to destroy them.
Once the village had been cleared, the Ranger squad continued up through the valley to the machine gun post. Lots of long range foes had to be felled along the way, hiding in craggy regions above the player. Those worried that the single-country setting of Afghanistan may lead to little variation in environments would appear to have nothing to worry about. The decorative surroundings of the demo level on show revealed icy mountains and small shanty town-like settlements in the distance. There is more to Afghanistan’s geography than just deserts, and EA seem ready to capitalise upon this fact.
Heavy opposition meets the Rangers at the machine gun post, with your squad commander quickly realising that your team will be unable to take it out without aerial support. A red, smoking flare paints the sky above the outpost, leading to a devastating air-strike that convincingly causes chunks of rock and dirt to rain down. Killing all but one of the Taliban forces, a brief chase ensues to neutralise a fleeing insurgent before he calls for back-up.
The Rangers then climb a small hill and approach the cabin at its peak which the runner was headed for. All seems fine until the suspicious ring of a mobile phone can be heard nearby. Seemingly the trigger to an IED (Improvised Explosive Device), the landmine-like bane of troops in Afghanistan, the screen shakes with a blast, then fades to black, marking the end end of the demo.
So far, so good then for Medal of Honor. With impressive visual fidelity and a sense of authenticity which the blockbuster Modern Warfare 2 lacks, EA have a good chance of attracting the COD fan looking for something a little more mature from their first person shooters. With the yet-to-be-revealed multiplayer being produced by DICE, the studio behind Battlefield, things can only get better too. Roll on E3, where we expect to see a lot more of Medal of Honor.
Medal of Honor is set for release on October 15th 2010, heading to the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC platforms.