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Medal of Honour shoots at both worlds. By turns, more considered that Battlefield and brasher than Call of Duty. As a first step for a franchise reborn there is plenty to impress a technical gamer.
Battlefield and Call of Duty appear to be the same game as each other - in direct competition. But scratch beneath the visuals to the technical experience they each deliver and you realise they are very different games - played by very different people.
Call of Duty is a big bad patriarchal shooter while Battlefield is a more considered tactical team based experience. The question is whether there is room for a third player in the shooter cannon, and whether Medal of Honour can carve a distinct niche for itself.
I've been anticipating Medal of Honour with some excitement this year. EA have invested heavily on restarting their franchise and have talked about inventing new ways to play this sort of genre.
Things kick off with an impressive cinema of the Earth from space as the developers names appear like film credits. I am then introduced to the campaign proper. It's based on two groups, the general military and the Tier 1 Operators.
The Tier 1 units are couched in classified information and CIA involvement to ensure we know that these guys are the elites of this world. Working with these valuable resources takes the game play in a more strategic direction. Rather than facing waves of enemies as in Call of Duty, Medal of Honour soon has you scouting cautiously about, edging your way towards an objective and only taking out key enemies.
This makes Medal of Honour feel more considered than even Battlefield's tactical bent. Although at times I could have done with a little more bravado, the slow pace added a realism and weight to proceedings that other games have struggled to capture.
It was fascinating how this design technique made me value not only my own special forces but also the enemy too.
It was fascinating how this design technique made me value not only my own special forces but also the enemy units too. It reminded me of Stinger Bell's appreciation in The Wire (noted in Jump Cut's article The Wire and the World) that going in guns blazing dropping bodies doesn't necessarily get you anywhere. "It's the fight for the territory that brings the bodies and the bodies that bring the police, which forces dealers off the streets, affecting productivity and profits."
While I rose to this approach, I think some players may find things a little slow. There are stretches in the game where you literally don't shoot anyone directly for a good half an hour. This was an exciting way to deal with the action, but I know others may find it odd for a shooter.
When you aren't controlling the Tier 1 elites, you are with the stock in trade US military. This is where we leave Battlefield's tactical game play and head towards Call of Duty territory.
The battles are bigger again, and you work your way through waves of Taliban. It's strange how indiscriminate this feels after the tiptoe precision of the Tier 1 troops. You work your way through a variety of alleys, buildings and villages, round rocky crevices and mountain camps, all the time ready to pull the trigger before your enemy does the same to you.
Unlike Call of Duty's meticulously planned environments, Medal of Honour offers more natural battlegrounds.
There's a great scenario mid way though where you are with a small platoon ambushed at the bottom of some hills, out flanked and outnumbered - it was literally heart stopping. You have to try and survive until back-up arrives as the members of your squad slowly panic and the orchestral soundtrack strikes up in the background. It's a moment that is cleverly designed not just in terms of game play, but this is joined by visuals and audio to engage the emotions in a genuine way.
The whole soundtrack is impressive in fact. Not just in the quality and range of backing on offer, but they way it is intelligently used to complement the in-game action. So much better than Halo Reach's rock opera approach.
Complementing the campaign is an online multiplayer that runs on Battlefield's Frostbyte engine. Because of this it's instantly familiar expect the accommodation of tighter levels and the inability to demolish entire buildings.
The same organic feel to game play perpetuates here from Battlefield. I'm always impressed with a developer who not only sticks to one technique or approach but is able to reach for a range of tools to create a flexible play space. Unlike Call of Duty's meticulously planned environments, Medal of Honour offers more natural battlegrounds which need to be learnt on their own terms rather than gamed for preplanned choke and advantage points.
Although I could have done with more visual variety throughout both campaign and multiplayer, the fact that things stay barren and dusty says as much about Medal of Honour's commitment to realism as anything else. Enemies are believable while not quite getting into the Halo territory. The AI offers plenty of strategies and movement, but never quite feels real in the way that Bungie achieves.
It felt more successful in the slower considered game play.
I would also have liked to see a split-screen local co-op mode for the campaign and the ability to use split screen and linkup for local multiplayer sessions. Although I know it's a technical offering above and beyond what developers will commit to these days, I still miss its absence.
It all adds up to a much more appealing game than I had expected. The clever combination of Tier 1 and everyday military enables Medal of Honour to have a crack at both Battlefield and Call of Duty territory. It felt more successful in the slower considered game play, but both elements are strong enough to enjoy in their own right.
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