Okay, before I start talking about the game, I've got to make an important point about the spirit of Medal of Honor.
If you were to speak to any coalition general worth his stars, he'd tell you that counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is an incredibly complex and delicate process, relying heavily of diplomacy and tact, as well as detailed intelligence on the multifarious, ever-changing sects and factions that occupy the country. Historically, every belligerent power who has attempted to subdue Afghanistan since Alexander the Great has failed.
Now, Medal of Honor is a game set specifically in Afghanistan, with specific American military units (some fictional, some not) assault a number of Taliban-held strongpoints. The story is told through a deluge of crackly mil-speak, and the enemy are irredeemably evil videogame bad-guys, counterpoised by the heroic, flag-waving Americans. Each objective in the game is achieved by ventilating a hundredweight of Arabs.
Please don't scream "it's only a game". The story in Medal of Honor is mature and serious. It has a clear beginning, middle and end, decent characterisation of the heroes, and a variety of interesting locales. There is internecine conflict in the form of an out-of-touch general and the friction between him and the colonel in the field. In short, it's a well-told story. If this was Star Wars rebels and stormtroopers, I'd be singing its praises. But it's not. It's a story which takes as its setting young men and women on both sides of a conflict that is barely understood by many of those fighting in it, let alone the media-fed public. It's my personal feeling that Medal of Honor does no justice to the complexity of the Afghanistan conflict, and is irresponsible in its handling of a real-world conflict which is actually happening right now. Playing as a Taliban footsoldier in multiplayer, sniping American soldiers from behind the wreck of an old Russian Hind gunship made me feel weird.
Right. I've got that out of the way. Now we can look at the game itself.
It used to be easy to work FPSes out in the olden days. If you wanted a single-player experience, you'd get Call of Duty, Medal of Honor or Far Cry. If you wanted multiplayer, you'd probably go for Battlefield 1943 or something of the sort. Sure, there were single-player games that could be played multiplayer, and multiplayer games that could be played single player, but there was a clear demarcation between those that were actually built primarily for each purpose.
Nowadays, I've got no idea what's going on. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 had a short, weak single player campaign, and now Medal of Honor has a persistent-character-style multiplayer game mode that seems to take itself as seriously as it takes the single-player campaign. In fact, the single-player campaign feels like it's suffered in development as a result.
But don't get me wrong! There's very little actually wrong with the single-player. The missions are well-structured, with enough surprises to keep you interested and some crazy set-pieces. There are a couple of vehicles to play with for a while, a bunch of sniper scenes, and a gentle sprinkling of stealth too. In fact, all of the necessary elements of a modern shooter are here.
That's it though. A by-the-numbers modern shooter that does everything you'd expect it to, and nothing else. Even on the hardest skill setting, your health recharges pretty quickly over time and all of the bad guys go down with a couple of hits. Your team-mates are pretty useless but seemingly invincible, spitting a mildly irritated comment at you if you ‘accidentally' snipe them in the back of the head. The action feels frantic, though, and the game progresses at a good clip, although as is so often the case with shooters these days, you'll be through it before you know what's going on.
Throughout the story you'll play a series of characters, none of which are particularly different in terms of gameplay (except the obligatory helicopter pilot), and while the crackly radio broadcasts are sometimes a little difficult to follow (particularly in the midst of a raging firefight), there's a feeling of authenticity there, with up-to-date military-style chatter about predator drones, IEDs, and the like. Graphically, the feel of the Afghan backcountry had been captured well (he says, as if he's spent any time there!) and cover and obstacles are well-placed to create thought-provoking shootouts. Nevertheless, the whole thing felt rather easy and straightforward despite the level of polish.
Multiplayer is also a pretty familiar affair, and all of the interesting innovations of other multiplayer shooters have been gleefully cribbed and tacked on. The server search and even the matchmaker failed to work for me, and I could only get into a game by selecting a very specific matchmaker setup - which took me about ten minutes to figure out. So much for ‘Quick Match'. My limited experience of the MP maps was generally favourable, though - cover is abundant and surprise encounters with the enemy are common.
I guess Medal of Honor is a solid if uninspired FPS. I can't see anyone really talking about it - or, for that matter, remembering it at all in about six months' time, except perhaps for its blinkered jingoism.