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Sunday 17 December 2017

Fighting to survive

Title: Medal of Honor n Format: Xbox 360 PS3, PC n Rating: 18+ n Price: from €45

But the series has declined in popularity in recent years, partly due to several lacklustre titles and a growing audience fatigue with action games set in the same familiar landscapes of World War II. Then rival series Call of Duty stole the limelight with its blockbusting fourth game, Modern Warfare, and next-gen console gamers started to forget there ever was a Medal of Honor series. Until now.

Medal of Honor 2010 is a massive reboot for the venerable first-person shooter (FPS) series. Firstly and most obviously, it focuses on an all new timeline -- rocketing forward almost six decades to 2002. It also puts a new focus on multiplayer, with the development duties shared between Danger Close for single player and DICE (makers of the acclaimed Battlefield) for multiplayer. Both are brave decisions but it's impossible not to see them as direct reactions to the threat solidified by the success of last year's Modern Warfare 2.

So how does it fare in comparison with Infinity Ward's admittedly rather terrific shooter? On first impressions -- pretty well. Medal of Honor takes players to the current conflict in Afghanistan and into the sturdy boots of two main characters: Specialist Dante Adams, a member of the Army Rangers, and Rabbit, a Tier One Operator on the ground in the war-torn country. The presence of the Tier One Operators is key to the existence of this new Medal of Honor as the producers secured the involvement of real military personnel throughout development, ensuring unprecedented accuracy from people who are still operating in the field.

The focus on Tier 1 Operators certainly adds a unique slant to Medal of Honor, and you'll spend the majority of your time as part of a four-man team of bushy-bearded killing machines, interspersed with more frenetic army action and a hyper-violent on-the-rails helicopter interlude.

For the most part, it's solid stuff -- the weapons are meaty and gunfights are often tactical and while you'll sometimes have a stealthy option, you can always start a firefight just for the fun of it. The sound design is particularly good; everything from the radio chatter to the bass growl of your weapons and some stirring music cues from Ramin Djawadi. You'll rarely go more than a few minutes without a setpiece, some of which are genuinely memorable.

The game certainly has its moments but sadly they're marred by its startling linearity. I wasn't expecting a free-form, open-world adventure but Medal of Honor is a corridor shooter with better scenery. The levels look fantastic and expansive but there is literally only a single correct path, complete with invisible walls, impenetrable shrubbery and numerous areas which can only be traversed in the prone position -- seemingly invented to allow your character to compete in losing races with shell-carrying invertebrates.

This shackling of the player is pretty aggravating, and it's not helped by overt player gating which sees uncounted doors or tiny hillocks remaining insurmountable until your companions have finished their current piece of exposition. The same problems apply to the combat; enemy positions will spew out endless lemming-like foes unless you make forward progress.

The shooting is certainly fun but if you possess the FPS competence of the average simian you can easily finish the campaign mode in four short hours and there's little incentive to return.

At least DICE has done a better job with the multiplayer. Essentially, what you'll find is that it plays like a cross between Battlefield and Modern Warfare 2. As in the former, maps tend to be on the large size, catering for the 24-player roster, and there are some vehicles and environmental destruction, though it's mostly cosmetic. But the pace is faster than Battlefield, in line with MW2 and gung ho players can survive for a time, while support actions operate in a similar way to perks.

There are four game modes; Team Assault (deathmatch), Objective Raid (attack/defend objective), Sector Control (domination) and Combat Mission (rolling objectives). Each game type forces you to think tactically and stay together to survive.

Naturally, Medal of Honor has a fully featured levelling system with a massive number of possible upgrades. It's not an easy road. New players will find those first few levels a hard grind but it makes your progress all the more rewarding.

This reboot of the Medal of Honor series is a mixed bag; the multiplayer is solid if overly familiar, while the inflexible single player is slick but frustrating. It's easy to see why the decision was made to move it to a contemporary conflict. But the game lacks the globally significant battles which could be drawn from the World War II setting while also opting for a more subtle story arc than the enjoyable histrionics of Modern Warfare 2. Score: 7/10

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