Friday, October 15, 2010

Medal of Honor Review

This is perhaps the most difficult review I've had to write during my tenure at Gamerology. I had high expectations for this series reboot. That isn’t to say that Medal of Honor didn’t meet some of them. In fact, that’s what makes it so difficult. Medal of Honor excels in some respects and feels antiquated in others. In hindsight, the pressure on development teams Danger Close and DICE was immense. DICE known for their stand-out Bad Company series, and Danger Close a small studio within EA Los Angeles tasked with breathing new and much needed life into the series single player campaign. The mission was clear. Take down Call of Duty. It’s no secret that EA is desperate to get a piece of the Shooter pie. Unfortunately, the likelihood of Medal of Honor meeting the lofty expectations of the gaming community and becoming a “Call of Duty killer” is nominal at best. This isn’t to say that the series isn’t on the right track. The new setting and focus are certainly a step in the right direction.

Medal of Honor takes place in the mountains of Afghanistan and portrays a conflict still very much a reality for the thousands of U.S. servicemen on the other side of the globe. Danger Close Studios has been very vocal about the U.S. military's involvement in the development of Medal of Honor. Direct input was provided from several tier one operators from the Special Operations community. Trailers were even created depicting the real life operators discussing their experiences. I can assure you that as far as authenticity is concerned, Danger Close has honored these warriors and their sacrifice. It's obvious that Executive Producer Greg Goodrich and his team are adamant admirers of the U.S. military and its Special Forces veterans. Definite care has been taken in attention to detail. The in game chatter between soldiers is spot on and specific to that branch of armed forces. So much so that players unfamiliar with military banter will often wonder what the hell everyone is talking about.

"Realism" is an increasingly debatable design choice in the FPS genre. Having a game present a plausible scenario filled with real world detail helps to ground the player and develop an emotional connection for the player. It's not enough to carry a game however. The majority of Medal of Honor is unfortunately run of the mill. There are a few points of high tension and intensity, but ultimately Danger didn’t pace the game accordingly. Games certainly need high and low points to create climaxes, but you should never be left feeling bored with what’s happening on screen. Modern Warfare 2 is certainly not a perfect game, but it did set the bar quite high for seat of your pants action. In reality, Operators aren’t in combat every moment they are in conflict. Countless hours are spent on reconnaissance and observation. That being said, I am not a Delta Operator, I’m an out of shape gamer from Long Island. The stealth portions of the game are numerous and feel contrived. You never feel at any moment like your cover will be blown. Throughout the entire campaign, you are paired with a fellow Operator that leads you around like a child. You rarely feel like you are in command of the situation. There are memorable moments on occasion. Shootouts will often have you wondering if you are going to make it out alive. You are always outnumbered 20 to 1 and your enemy is surprisingly accurate with their weapons. I can’t tell you how many times I was clipped with a single round headshot. However, even these moments become monotonous after awhile as it's the only real action scenario you encounter. You'll hunker down and defend a position against waves of enemies until you escape or are extracted. Playing on the PC version is easy enough as you can simply lean out from cover and pick off enemies as they pop out from cover. The sheer number of enemies can occasionally begin to overwhelm, but most experienced gamers won’t feel the heat unless on the hardest difficulty setting.

The development team is painfully aware of the success of Modern Warfare 2. So much so that Medal of Honor feels like a checklist of Call of Duty’s greatest moments. There is rarely a moment that hasn’t been done in some capacity and in many instances better by the well established franchise. Danger Close is so intent on following the Call of Duty formula they even opted to create a painfully short experience that clocks in at no more than 4 hours. If it takes you longer, you are either brand spanking new to shooters or you have no thumbs.
Medal of Honor features a limited HUD that is effective for immersion purposes, but often leaves you wondering where the hell you are supposed to go and what you are supposed to do when you get there. Visually, Medal of Honor is a mixed bag. The single player portion is running on a “heavily modified” version of the Unreal 3 engine. What that means, I can’t tell you. Despite modification the Unreal 3 engine is still apparent every time you switch between weapons and the texture loads a moment later. Character models aren't bad and most of the scenery is highly detailed and clean, but largely uninteresting and repetitive. I realize this is largely due to the Afghan mountain setting. However, many locales don’t feel fully realized with plenty of empty rooms and closed doors. There are rooms within Bagram Airbase that are not only completely unoccupied, but filled with darkness to cover up the fact. Detail is only applied to the route you must traverse during the extremely linear level progression. Some aspects of the game were given a great deal of attention and polish while others feel neglected and unfinished. That being said, areas of note include the stellar animations and realistic particle effects. The sound design inpercticular is praise worthy. The gun sound effects are by far the most believable I’ve ever heard. The team headed to an Army base and recorded the majority of the games sounds direct from the source. They even went so far as to record the weapon systems from varying distances to capture the uncanny crack a sniper rifle makes from a mile away.

The multiplayer portion of the game is actually the weaker of the two. It was developed by DICE. The gameplay feels like an unholy spawn of Call of Duty and Bad Company 2. The result is a game that has no identity. There are scarcely any maps at launch and even worse bugs will often result in players battling on the same map time and again without interruption. The classes are largely unbalanced and Snipers rule the battlefield. It’s a one hit kill pretty much regardless of where the round hits, and the effective range is limitless once high powered scopes are unlocked. DICE attempted to combat this by giving the Assault Rifle class an unrealistic effective range with nearly no recoil. Even sub machine guns are capable of sniper like accuracy. Close quarter combat is non-existent as players take turns trying to pick off tiny heads in the distance. Cover is deceiving as well. You are given the impression that you are completely safe with your entire body secure; meanwhile your opponent is viewing half your body hanging out begging to be targeted. Medal of Honor’s multiplayer will merely provide a distraction to those waiting for Black Ops release this November.

Medal of Honor isn’t a bad game. It just wasn’t able to meet the industry’s expectations and high standards. The shooter genre is a very crowded market and re-launching a franchise requires an exceptional offering in order to turn heads. It’s a step in the right direction, but major improvements to narrative, gameplay and pacing are going to be necessary to become king of the hill.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Digital Vine - 7/20/10

Welcome back to another edition of The Digital Vine! We've got a lot to cover this week so let's dive right in.

Dragon Age Origins and it's companion piece Awakening are getting major face lifts. A new patch is on the way that will correct a slew of issues. Behold the official patch notes!

General Fixes

• Daggers will now properly assign the dexterity-based damage bonus.

• Achievement images and messages will now display properly.

• Resolved some authorization issues with downloadable content.

• Blood talents from the Grey Warden Base premium downloadable content will now work properly in Awakening.

• Fixed an issue where installing new downloadable content would occasionally leave the "Other Campaigns" selection greyed-out without a restart of the game.

• Multiple transitions in and out of Fade areas will no longer multiply the number of visual effects running and slow down gameplay.

• Floating numbers no longer appears over players' heads.

• Damage statistics will now be updated properly on the Inventory screen when weapons were unequipped.

• Importing a character to a new module from a savegame that did not have the hero in the party caused the game to crash.

• If a character is imported into Dragon Age: Awakening and is stripped of their incompatible gear from DLC, they will be equipped with default equipment.

• Names with accents and special characters will now show up correctly in the Story So Far load hints.

• Switching between Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age: Awakening will no longer reset options to default settings.

• Fixed a number of memory leaks that were increasing the number of crashes.

• Audio drivers were causing a number of audio-related crashes. As such, audio drivers have been updated.

• Fixed issues that were preventing portraits from being uploaded to the BioWare social site.

•Game saves on Xbox 360 were being corrupted if you sold too many items to the same merchant. Saves will no longer be corrupted if you do this.

• Screenshots are no longer automatically uploaded on the PC by default on new installations.

• Fixed pick-pocketing. Characters were successfully stealing, but not receiving any items.

Dragon Age: Origins Fixes

• Fixed an issue that would cause incorrect characters to occasionally appear in Morrigan's ritual.

• Players who rescued their party members in the Fade of the Broken Circle plot were still forced to fight the sloth demon alone. This has been resolved.

• It is no longer possible for the player to get blocked during gameplay by pursuing both candidates' quests in the Orzammar plot line.

Dragon Age: Awakening Fixes

• A variety of bugs were preventing personal quests from triggering and causing issues with party member approval have been fixed.

• Lillith will no longer repeatedly thank the player at Vigil's Keep after being rescued.

• During the Assault on Amaranthine, a bug would occasionally make some enemies invincible, which impeded game progress. This no longer happens.

• Imported rogue characters will now properly detect traps.

• The message, "Legacy tattoo asset do not use!" will no longer appear on the faces of imported characters.

• Masterpiece and paragon silverite runes are now weapon runes instead of armor runes.

• The masterpiece slow rune is now available for purchase from merchant stores.

• Players may now receive notes of appreciation from their Origins love interests.

Famed Metal Gear Solid creator, Hideo Kojima, is working on an adventure game. Nothing is known as of yet however Kojima stated via Twitter that he will "challenge a certain type of taboo." He went on to say "If I mess up, I'll probably have to leave the industry." I have faith in Hideo Kojima and whatever he's working on will no doubt captivate fans. On the other hand, maybe he's ripe for a bomb after all these years.

Tim Schafer recently sat down with and had a few choice words for Activision head Bobby Kotick. "His obligation is to his shareholders. Well, he doesn't have to be as much of a dick about it, does he? I think there is a way he can do it without being a total prick. It seems like it would be possible. It's not something he's interested in." Schafer went on to say, "Well, he makes a big deal about not liking games, and I just don't think that attitude is good for games in general. I don't think we're an industry of widgets. I don't think we can approach it like we approach bars of soap, where you're just trying to make the cheapest bar of soap." I'm glad someone finally said it. Unfortunately Tim retracted his statement soon after and offered an apology. I'm guessing Mr. Kotick's lawyers made a few phone calls.