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Medal of Honor: Warfighter (Xbox 360) artwork

Medal of Honor: Warfighter (Xbox 360) review

"The plot isnít the only thing that jumps around a lot, though. Gameplay style also varies to a surprising degree, and I was somewhat startled by the realization that many of my favorite scenes were those that feel the least like they belong in an FPS title."

As I prepared to review Medal of Honor: Warfighter, I was briefly tempted to begin by opening a browser window and finding someone elseís review, then changing a few words around and posting it as my own. I wouldnít actually do that, of course, and yet the approach almost seemed appropriate because Warfighter resembles the product that might result if someone took a similar approach to game design.

The source of inspiration in this particular case appears to be Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. If youíve already read my review for that other title, you know that I liked it a lot. However, I also came away feeling that it lacked a certain creative spark. It was a polished package, refined to a point where it practically gleamed, but that only meant that it worked well enough to earn a recommendation. Flair aside, Modern Warfare 3 didnít offer much that might appeal to those who hadnít already fallen in love with the genre, and it didnít push its franchise forward meaningfully. Instead, it represented a tentative step in the wrong direction for a series that until that point had never been content to do things by half measure.

Warfighter seems to have taken more confident steps along that wrong path that Modern Warfare 3 tread ahead of it, Iím sorry to say. Though part of me admires its resolve, the game too often lacks the polish that allowed its apparent inspiration to fake its way to a strong finish. As much as I dislike the sense of oppressive familiarity that defines the Warfighter experience, though, what bugs me even more is its lack of focus. The developers seem to have had trouble settling on the story they wanted to tell, on the game they wanted to make. That difficulty likely doomed their efforts from the very start.

I mentioned story, so perhaps I should start my analysis by explaining how that aspect of the game fell apart. Warfighter begins with some soldiers rising out of dark water and surveying a warehouse district ahead of them. I know a country is named in the text that appears somewhere on the screen (I want to say Pakistan), but those letters donít matter much because the game eventually jumps all over the globe--mostly making stops in Muslim countries--and the settings arenít ever particularly relevant except as window dressing. What youíre supposed to worry about is the heroes and their struggles to deal with the cost of war as they put their lives on the line to secure the worldís safety.

Iím checking my notes now, and I see that the names of those brave fictional men are Preacher, Mother, Stump and Voodoo. By the time I made my way through most of the game, I had given up on remembering who was who unless I wrote it all down somewhere, because unfortunately the characters do very little thatís interesting. Preacher, who has what you might call the starring role, is only interesting when heís talking to his wife on the phone or in a diner or elsewhere, and youíre never actually controlling the interactions during those scenes. The other characters are even less memorable, aside from a few lines of dialogue that may or may not make you chuckle as you duck for cover in the middle of a stealth mission. Iím not sure why they are so chatty while trying to get the drop on terrorist soldiers, but I guess itís their right.

The plot starts big (at least when you measure it by the number of bullets fired and by the volume of explosions) and it doesnít often settle down from there. However, the cutscenes jump around the timeline more than feels prudent. One scene takes place 8 months ago, then the next one is in the present, and then youíll go back in time once more and itíll be a few weeks ago, and then ďpresentĒ plays out and maybe a few months pass--or maybe not--and what once was present feels like a distant memory. Thereís text you can consult in the likely event that you get lost somewhere along the way. Plot progression is a mess until nearly the end, though, and the overarching arc is comprised of the predictable sort of stuff youíd probably dream up within 30 seconds if someone asked you to concoct the plot for a war game: some bad guy hates Americans and is gathering weapons so he can blow them all to smithereens.

The plot isnít the only thing that jumps around a lot, though. Gameplay style also varies to a surprising degree, and I was somewhat startled by the realization that many of my favorite scenes were those that feel the least like they belong in an FPS title. In a couple of missions, youíre essentially playing a racing game with one fixed viewpoint (inside the car). The second of those missions finds you dodging enemy vehicles and pulling into alleyways to hide from patrolling forces as you progress toward the exit point in a zone. Itís fairly intense mission. In an unrelated scene, youíre escaping with hostages in a boat and the city around you is half submerged. Buildings are toppling to either side of you and sparking power lines lash in gusts of wind. Sheets of rain drive against you as you dodge enemies and return fire. Itís arguably one of the most engrossing scenes yet depicted in a military shooter (one that deserves to be part of a great overall game), and itís brought to life by the Frostbyte 2 engine that also powered Battlefield 3. EA clearly provided the tech that enabled the development of a very pretty shooter.

Unfortunately, the actual shooting bits donít play as well as they look like they should. One early mission finds you suddenly tasked with sniping enemies that are crawling all over buildings like ants on caffeine. Youíll fail the mission if you donít take out the targets quickly enough, but youíre lying on a table positioned in a building across the street from your foes. Youíll take out a few goons and then perhaps youíll have trouble picking off the last target. He seems to be invincible--or maybe heís just really, really good at dodging--until you learn that youíre supposed to adjust for distance and bullet drop. Thereís no reference to that anywhere else in the game, or on any load screens that I could see. I might still be fruitlessly shooting at the guy and just barely missing if I hadnít headed to Twitter to vent my frustration.

Standard shooting segments make up the remainder of the game, and those also prove disappointing because they are awkwardly executed. When youíre not inching through claustrophobic corridors with a handful of armed guards waiting around each twist and turn, youíre advancing through more open spaces littered with crates and bunkers. They look almost as if theyíve just been tossed from a Yahtzee cup, and youíll have to dash between them in short sprints because remaining in the open for long is certain suicide. Then you get to take potshots at your enemies while they return fire. Youíll repeat that process for a bit while your squad members take up point, and then no one will advance even after the path forward has apparently been cleared. Youíll find yourself staring at a building ahead of you and all your guys will just stand around, or maybe theyíll fire at a building and not even come close to hitting anything. So youíll finally start forward--just to lure out some enemies so you can shoot them and get things moving again--and instead someone will take you out with a single shot, or you wonít be able to step back in time to avoid going down in a hail of gunfire because one of your squad members will get in the way. In some cases, Iíve even had squad mates push me out from behind cover and into the path of bullets. Elsewhere, Iíve been standing near cover and I tried to go into a prone position (because I needed to avoid bullets) and nothing would happen until I took a step to the side and the game then arbitrarily decided that I was good to duck.

While the game technically works just fine a lot of the time, especially once you adapt to its regrettable quirks, thereís a difference between merely working and actually providing a worthwhile experience. Warfighter settles for the former, both in its single-player campaign and in the multiplayer modes (which are on a separate disc that youíll see first when you open up the case). As I played online, I would find the corpses of slain allies and enemies floating in the air, or Iíd try to head down a trail and find that I wasnít allowed to because apparently what looked like an open pathway was actually an obstacle. Even the presentation is just confusing enough that you really have to pay attention to even figure out how the different classes work, or how to assign upgrades to guns, or what upgrades you might aim for as your character progresses. I gave up on trying to make heads or tails of it rather quickly. Iím more into single-player stuff, anyway.

In the end, Medal of Honor: Warfighter simply doesnít feel like a product that was ready to ship. There are some good ideas here, and I think that with more time a team of capable developers--and I include the folks at Danger Close in that number--would possibly have allowed the concept to morph into a more worthwhile game. As-is, the title feels like a copy-paste job gone bad. You could certainly do worse than to give it a shot, but you also have enough superior options right now that your time is better spent elsewhere.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 29, 2012)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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Masters posted October 30, 2012:

Jason, this is a well written review as always, but I find myself disagreeing with, well... nearly everything.

One of your complaints is the arbitrary 'jump around the globe' storytelling style, which I agree, has become quite tiresome on the whole. But this is something that literally every such game does, and some in more ridiculous fashion than demonstrated here.

You mention that the gameís inspiration is Modern Warfare 3; I would have thought that a more obvious inspiration was the preceding game in this same series. I see little inspiration from MW3 at all. In Warfighter, thereís nothing akin to the preposterous, cataclysmic scope of the goings-on in Infinity Wardís title. Weíre simply tasked with a handful of black ops missions to complete in the shadows. Thatís nothing close to Russia blowing up all of Europe.

The complaint about the sniping level might have been the strangest one of all. I think the character who lies down beside you and spots for you actually tells you about adjusting your trajectory for drop off. The sequence begins with enemies who are in the foreground, and challenges you to shoot guys farther and farther away. The idea is that you have to become better at dropping shots as you get closer to finishing the mission. That things get tense and time sensitive toward the end is an improvement over samey sniper sequences in most games where enemies can be dispatched at our leisure since weíre safely camping.

Finally, you suggest that the characters are not memorable; Iíd say that they are the most memorable group Iíve encountered in a long time in an FPS. They talk tough and joke aroundÖ Iím not sure if that was derision? Ghost of MW2 fame managed quite a following based on, wellÖ how cool his balaclava is. I wonít pretend that Warfighter delves deep into the real lives of the operators; but that it delves at all is a step up from nearly every other such game. Do we know more about Roach? Or MacTavish?

I apologize for the confrontational style of this feedback; Iím wondering though, if youíre just tired of FPS games and found difficulty putting into words actual, valid criticisms to justify your current ennui.
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honestgamer posted October 30, 2012:

The globe hopping didn't contribute to a cohesive whole. With the Modern Warfare games, there was a narrative that was easier to follow. The bits between missions gave context and it felt like it was headed somewhere. That wasn't the case in Warfighter.

With the sniping, it really was an issue in that scene. The men would shout out comments about where the shot went wrong--left, higher, right--but there was no "Make sure to adjust for bullet drop" and while most of my shots hit, the last few shots never did unless I shot above the guy's head. I was aiming directly at the men's heads or necks--so that at least the chest would register a hit and wound the guy if nothing else--and my shots were all totally missing. Then I aimed a little bit above the head and suddenly I was getting "grape shots" every time out the gate.

As far as memorable characters go, these characters just didn't click with me, and the issue is that they needed to because the game was written in such a way that character development was clearly an intended focus. You're right that the characters in Modern Warfare developed a fanbase they didn't entirely deserve, but that was because the games did so many other things right that players developed a natural interest in them. Warfighter didn't do enough things right to make that happen, and so the weak characters were an issue. I literally had difficulty remembering names beyond Preacher's name.

Finally, ennui may indeed be setting in, but I guess time will tell. I do plan to play Black Ops II and that will maybe tell me something on that count. I am hopeful that Battlefield 4 will be awesome, when it finally comes. Warfighter just didn't work as well as it should have, I felt, but I'll admit that I am abnormally sensitive to clunky design.
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Masters posted October 30, 2012:

Honestly, the stories in MW2/3 and BO were all over the map. Convoluted and ridiculous. I won't speak anymore to your troubles with the sniper sequence; suffice to say that I didn't have the same troubles.

As far as the notion that the characters NEEDED to be strong due to the way 'the game was written' - I don't buy it. If Warfighter is more of the same, it can't also require more fleshed out characters than other games (though its characters are anyway).

I feel we are at a point where we expect less of the big name franchises, and shit on the little guys for not reinventing the wheel. After all, I can play the same game: I can't remember a single guy's name in MW3. Wait... Sandstorm?
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honestgamer posted October 30, 2012:

I wouldn't likely have remarked on the forgettable characters, except that characters were one area where the developers actually made an effort to do something a little different. They didn't have to, but they did... and it didn't work (for me). If they hadn't made a point of including some of the scenes they did to try and flesh out the characters, I'm not sure I would have said anything about the characterization at all.

In any event, I'm hardly picking on the little guy. Danger Close is a large and capable team, as I alluded to in my review, with resources and the technology to make a game that rivals Call of Duty. That just didn't happen this time around--though it was clearly the intent--and I'm merely rating the game based on what appears to have been attempted (and what I personally felt failed). That's all we can really do as critics.

Edit: By the way, a belated "thanks for reading" goes out to you. I appreciate your feedback and your differing thoughts on the game, even though you don't agree with the conclusions I reached in my review.
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Suskie posted October 30, 2012:

Medal of Honor: Warfighter is the 14th installment in a well-regarded, 13-year-old series. It was developed by a team that was founded almost two decades ago and overseen by the third-largest video game publisher in the world, who themselves confidently predicted that their rebooted franchise would outsell Call of Duty in a few years.

Little guys? Say what?
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Masters posted October 31, 2012:

Low hanging fruit... yup, re units moved, everyone else is a little guy.

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