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Hindsight : Medal Of Honor Warfigher

Cart: Medal Of Honor Warfighter
Cab: PC / PS3 / Xbox 360
Coin: Danger Close Games

After fourteen games over almost as many years, it was perhaps the right time to retire the Medal Of Honor franchise.

Arguably the grandfather of the modern military shooter, the original 1999 Medal Of Honor was scripted by Steven Spielberg and released to critical acclaim, riding the wave of popularity that surrounded Spielberg’s 1998 classic, Saving Private Ryan. From there, it was a slow and steady downhill slide, contributing in no small part to the industry-wide apathy that now surrounds WWII in general.

Whilst its offspring, most notably Call Of Duty, have managed to make the transition to modern warfare without too much trouble, 2010’s Medal Of Honour reboot was a strange, somewhat confusing affair. Borrowing heavily from EA’s accomplished and established Battlefield universe, MOH didn’t really seem to belong anywhere. OK, it had a slightly better single-player campaign but the multi-player component- arguably the main attraction for any combat fan – felt like the bastard son of Frankenstein.

Because it was.

Developed separately by DICE, creators of Battlefield, it felt like Battlefield-lite. Which was going to appeal to whom, exactly? COD had the twitch-shooter crowd nailed and BF had the strategic-team element covered. What else was there? The whole thing smacked of an obsession with diminishing returns.

EA, however, seemed to think that there was enough fuel in the tank for a sequel; MOH Warfigher followed two years later.

On the plus side, its capable developers, Danger Close, now had full control over both single and multi-player, so the opportunity to produce something unique was there. Only it didn’t happen. Far from it. An incremental update in almost every sense of the word, Warfighter lacked the one essential ingredient that its predecessor had: a sense of nostalgia. Many, including myself, were keen to play a re-imagined MOH game after a five-year hiatus; not so with Warfighter.

What may look generic and uninspired on-screen, was entirely different in the palm of your hands

What may look generic and uninspired on-screen, is entirely different in the palm of your hands

Mauled both critically and commercially, EA retired the entire franchise with near-immediate effect: gaming’s original and most proud cinematic shooter had become its latest casualty.

So why the lengthy reflection on this somewhat sorry affair? Well, Warfighter still had one amazing, game-changing trick up its sleeve: lean.

If you’ve ever been paint-balling or perhaps have even experienced active duty yourself, you”ll appreciate that when you’re under real fire, you adopt a good many more shades of grey than stand, crouch and prone. You don’t simply move your entire body left or right, either, exposing yourself unnecessarily. You twist, bob, strain and contort yourself into all manner of positions so as to protect as much of your body as possible whilst attempting to target the opposition. It sounds painfully obvious, really, and yet it’s a fact that the FPS genre seems unwilling to embrace. Third-person shooters gave birth to the cover mechanic, but even this feels forced and formulaic at times. A handful of FPS titles, most notably Killzone, have attempted cover-mechanics but, again, the experience feels somewhat unnatural.

To my knowledge, the only FPS franchise to have completely nailed lean mechanics is MOH. And boy, does it nail it.

Run, slide, crouch, lean, shoot, lean, shoot, reload, run: the rhythm that you soon adopt in Warfighter is tense and engaging. Once you’re absorbed in its sense of precision, control and realism, switching back to a traditional affair such as COD feels plain dated. The left bumper activates the lean mechanic, forcing you down the ironsights, and from there the left thumbstick offers a stunning amount of precision as you lean left, right, up and down. Coupled with the camera control on the right stick, you’re weaving in and out of cover rapidly and intuitively. The crouch/prone button can still be used to make major height adjustments but from the crouch position, with lean enabled, you can move from fully upright to belly-down at the flick of a thumb and back again. It’s quite simply a revelation with the stunning graphics and pounding audio completing the sense of total immersion. It even manages to more than make up for the average AI and tired level design, which is saying something.

Warfighter features the most exhilarating and realistic vehicle section that's ever been seen in an FPS

Warfighter features the most exhilarating and realistic vehicle section that’s ever been seen in an FPS. In-car only: not without a sense of irony.

The closest comparison I can think of is the in-car-camera in driving games. Although it has its roots as far back as the first Test Drive in 1987, it wasn’t really until this generation of consoles that it became an essential ingredient in any title wishing to flex its credentials. Some people do still prefer the relative comfort and advantage that bumper or external cameras bring, but once you embrace in-car, complete with muffled audio and blind-spots, there’s simply no going back. It’s fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants stuff, which is surely what driving at speed should be about?

MOH’s lean mechanic is the in-car-camera of the FPS genre, which makes the death of the franchise somewhat worrying: is lean to be buried alongside it, or will someone resurrect this brilliant concept?

To me, it’s one of the more significant developments of recent years in a genre that prides itself on a sense of realism and immersion. Yes, it demands a slower pace of play if everyone is ducking in-and-out of cover to such slight degrees but, well, that’s modern warfare, isn’t it? Aren’t we always crying out for more realism?

Warfighter was derided for a good many things, its uninspired name being one. I personally think it’s a perfect, unpretentious name that gets straight to the point of describing what the game is best at simulating.

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2 Comments

  1. I would love to know where the MOH might have ended up without the influence of COD

    • Simon Burns Me too. The more I play this, the more I’m drawn to its slower, more measured pace. On Hard, you really have to take your time and popping in and out of cover is brilliant. You really feel as though you’re under real fire as opposed to COD, which just feels like randomly generated bullet storm. Multiplayer has lean too – which is rare as rocking horse shit! Given that the previous game’s MP was made by DICE, it was left out. The character modelling in the cutscenes is pretty special too and the plot almost holds itself together – another first for a modern warfare game.

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