When you develop a title that's eager to take a chunk out of the gaming leviathan that is Call of Duty, you'd better be damned sure you do it with some balls. However, after spending time with EA's attempted answer to today's modern warfare classics, it's obvious that Medal of Honor still needs to grow a pair.
It's a game of two halves, with EA'S Danger Close studio developing the single-player mode, and Battlefield's DICE conscripted in for multiplayer. The former is competent but rarely inspiring. Yet there are some decent moments - a few quality mechanics that, when they gel, push this title outside the safety of a textbook military shooter.
The latter is more impressive - unsurprising given DICE's experience in the field - sitting almost comfortably between Call of Duty and the developer's own work, but feeling like a bastardisation of both.
The plot thins
Aside from the obvious headlines dedicated to the inclusion of the Taliban, there's very little here to ruffle the feathers of the nation's tabloids. They are neither demonised nor humanised, serving only as bullet fodder. MoH keeps a safe distance from a clear-eyed pronouncement of current events, and instead focuses on a small number of engagements over 48 hours across three different groups of Allied forces and their interconnecting trials.
That does mean a deal of variety - the game hot-swapping between different soldiers and their own perspectives as a narrative device. In one mission you'll be infiltrating villages on quad bikes, in another later you'll take part in an air strike along a ridgeline, and you'll find yourself slipping behind a sniper's goggles to bullseye mortar teams from across a valley.
Yet the thrills and intensity all feel laboured - an over-familiarity with similar situations bleeding the game of any conviction. A slo-mo room entry to stop an execution, calling artillery fire to clear a path through a heavily armed enemy position, and even the rescue of captured comrades all feel like retreads.
Certain gameplay mechanics are solid. Sliding to cover after a sprint feels natural and gives a good rhythm to advancing or flanking entrenched forces. Equally, the duck and lean, locking your position with LB and moving the camera with the left stick, is a logical extension to the FPS that forgoes the third-person covering system.
You do feel like part of a closely-knit squad, as EA makes sure your NPC comrades call the shots at all times. Ordering you to lay down covering fire as they advance on a bunker nicely reverses your usual heroic charge in proceedings, and they offer genuine help in calling out enemy positions when you're travelling through tightly-packed villages or dusty mountain paths. There is the occasional misfire, though, as they can get stuck on scenery, or linger in cover when rooms have been cleared and you need to move on.
Dicing with design
Multiplayer is familiar (Bad) company as Danger Close leaves coding duties to Battlefield developer DICE. The Swedish studio has etched out a different beast in Medal of Honor's name, and it is this that the title will hang its longevity hat on.
Know the developer's lineage and you'll understand what to expect here. An experience-graded tier system that's split across different classes, upgradeable equipment, and comprehensive modes that swing towards teamwork. Most match modes finish swiftly, weighing in at around five minutes apiece. Much longer, and the highlight of multiplayer, is Combat Mission. This has defenders protecting multiple points on sprawling maps from the invading force. Dedicated players will get the most from this, with working as team being essential to success.