'Medal of Honor: Warfighter' Review - Powerful and Unapologetically Patriotic
Medal of Honor: Warfighter delivers a harrowing and unflinching story of American Special Forces soldiers racing to thwart a new terrorist threat while providing a deep and balanced multi-player suite for online players.
Warfighter, developed by Danger Close Games and published by Electronic Arts, is the latest title in EA’s long-running Medal of Honor franchise; it is the second game released since the series was rebooted in 2010 to focus on America’s elite Tier 1 Operators (members of Special Mission Units under the direction of the Joint Special Operations Command) and their role in the War on Terror. While 2010’s Medal of Honor was based on the events of Operation Anaconda in the War in Afghanistan, Warfighter tells an original story penned by several retired and active duty US Special Forces soldiers and based on actual events.
Players assume the roles of two US Navy SEALs, designated by the callsigns “Preacher” and “Stump”, as they work to track and dismantle a network of jihadists planning to launch attacks against targets within the United States using PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate). PETN is the same explosive used in real life by al Qaeda in several planned and executed attacks, such as the 2009 Christmas Day “Underwear Bomber” plot and an October 2010 attempt to blow up cargo planes bound for the US with PETN-filled printer cartridges. The game also examines the personal toll that the life of a Tier 1 Operator takes on these men’s families and friends.
The single-player campaign takes between seven to ten hours to complete and deploys players on missions in a number of real-world hotspots, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Bosnia, and the Philippines. Level design is varied; players will find themselves cautiously moving through the IED-laden streets of a bombed-out Bosnian city while avoiding ambush by snipers in the ruined buildings surrounding them in one level, then frantically attempting to elude pursuers while uploading intelligence from a high-value target’s laptop on the streets of Dubai in another.
Regardless of the location, the action is uniformly intense but smartly avoids the bombastic overload experienced in many other military first-person shooters through dynamic, excellent pacing. Tension builds throughout missions as the player and his teammates stealthily evade and neutralize enemies until it’s time to “go loud” in moments of jarring violence and intense firefights against overwhelming enemy numbers.
Where Warfighter’s campaign shines is in the authenticity of its writing and the performances of the voice actors behind the game’s characters. While competitors shy away from real-world scenarios concerning the War on Terror and instead use fictionalized analogues of Middle Eastern nations or even resurgent Russian nationalists as their antagonists, Medal of Honor makes the politically incorrect choice to pit players against Islamic terrorists hell-bent on attacking American civilians (a decision no doubt the result of the pedigree of the game’s writers). Your enemies are jihadists, true believers who are brutal in their methods and unrepentant in the wake of their atrocities.
By the same token, the game’s protagonists and their allies are hard men who operate in a world full of harsh realities that most Americans are never exposed to. These men are fiercely loyal to each other and their personalities and character are displayed through the deep fraternal bond they have for their squad members, but they are also elite killers who will do whatever is necessary to complete their mission and ensure the safety of their friends and countrymen.
The dialogue is realistic and snappy, filled with military jargon and delivered in believable performances by the game’s voice cast. Absent are the clichéd, gruff, order-barking officer or wise-cracking comic-relief character so often found in military films and video games. The characters feel real, human, and even vulnerable, thanks to the actors portraying them. Two performances stand out in particular: Jeffrey Pierce, who plays “Mother”, the older, soft-spoken leader accompanying Preacher throughout the game, and Chris Fries as “Dusty”, a disabled Tier 1 Operator who serves as the JSOC handler for the player character’s units, are exceptional.
Rounding out the performances are brief but strong turns by actresses portraying Preacher’s and Mother’s wives. Told in flashbacks, the game shows the emotional toll taken on the women who love these men who give so fully of themselves for their country.
Danger Close should also be commended for their visual and audio work in the game. Warfighter is certainly one of the graphically impressive games available today, thanks in no small part to the technology behind it. Powered by Swedish-developer DICE’s Frostbite 2 game engine, it features exquisitely detailed level environments and character models. Excellent lighting, water, fire, and particle effects round out the game’s strong presentation.
The audio design is also fantastic, both in the sound effect work and the musical score. Weapon sounds are loud, crisp, and realistic, and the foley work is further enhanced by excellent audio mixing that immerses the player in a game world that sounds frighteningly real. The original score, written by Ramin Djawadi (Iron Man, Game of Thrones) with additional work by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, ranges from muted and understated to swelling and intense, depending on circumstances in the game.
In addition to the excellent single-player campaign, Warfighter features a number of online multi-player game modes for players to enjoy. Fans of other military shooters will find familiar offerings here, with modes like Team Deathmatch, Sector Control (in which teams attempt to capture and control strategic areas around the map), and Combat Mission (where one team takes the role of attackers tasked with destroying a series of targets while the other team must defend them). The entire package feels refreshingly new, however, due to the two unique elements of Medal of Honor’s multi-player: the Fire Team and Global Warfighter systems.
The Fire Team mechanic automatically pairs the player with another member of their team when they join a game. Fire Team buddies can see their respective partners wherever they are on the map thanks to a green outline that surrounds their teammate and is visible through walls. Buddies can respawn on each other’s locations whenever one dies, share ammunition, and heal each other when wounded, promoting teamwork and coordination between you and your partner. If your partner is killed by an opposing player, their assailant will be similarly outlined in red for a short period of time, allowing you the chance to find them and avenge your fallen comrade. If you find and defeat your partner’s killer in the allotted time, your teammate can instantly respawn at your location, skipping the five to ten seconds they would normally have to wait between lives.
When Medal of Honor was released in 2010, it attracted some controversy for having players assume either the roles of US Army Rangers or Taliban mujahidin in the game’s team-based multiplayer modes. Danger Close and EA changed the Taliban team's designation to the more generic "Op-For" after the issue was brought to light and apologized to any military personnel and their families who may have been offended.
For Warfighter, Danger Close has avoided the issue by introducing the Global Warfighter system. Players can unlock and play as soldiers of 12 different Special Forces/Counter-Terrorism organizations from countries around the globe. Each soldier from these different nations falls within one of six different classifications: Sniper, Assaulter, Demolitions, Heavy Gunner, Pointman, and Spec Ops. Each nation’s soldiers have a unique visual design and weapons to reflect their country of origin, and each class has a different special ability. Classes also have different equipment and point-streak rewards that can be earned through killing enemies, achieving objectives, or assisting teammates.
There are 72 different soldiers to unlock in total, each of them granting access to new guns and weapon customization options that can be mixed and matched between soldiers, allowing players a huge breadth of options to find a soldier that fits their play style and make their character unique on the battlefield. When combined with the Fire Team system, the game opens up a wide range of tactical options for players to experiment with by combining different classes of soldiers, weapons, and equipment between themselves and their partner. Thankfully, Danger Close has done an excellent job balancing all of these options so that no particular character set-up feels either overly or under powered. It all comes down to player preference.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter provides players with an authentic, intense, and emotional single-player story along with a seriously deep multiplayer component that will keep you interested for a long time. Fans of modern military shooters will definitely find something to love here.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter is available now for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC.
Photo credit: Electronic Arts, Inc.