I loved the Medal of Honor series. Truly loved it. I played Allied Assault and its expansions on the PC, Frontline and Rising Son on the PS2 repeatedly. Hell, I even enjoyed Airborne as a simple (and buggy) walk down memory lane.
At the time, I felt as though they gave me a simulated sense of participating in the liberation of Europe from the Nazi yoke. I could play them in whatever style suited me on the day. Slow and steady with an emphasis on conservative fire-play and accuracy, or run and gun speed play. Nobody told me what to shoot or when. Nobody told me a tank was going to come around the corner of a provincial French street and blow the crap out of me. It just happened the first time and I learned to deal with it by reloading to my last save point and developing a strategy. Yes, the whole WW2 setting was done to death, but I still miss it (thank you Company of Heroes).
Distilled to the simplest elements, a game has three characteristics: innovation, storyline and gameplay. Masterpieces excel in all three, while great games do one element really well. Warfighter on the other hand, doesn’t do any very well at all.
We all know the setting because we’ve seen it in every AAA military game since Modern Warfare’s inception. US infidels, equipped with every technical do-dad raining fire down on near-third world peasants, armed with Russian made AK-47s and an unyielding desire to die for their cause.
Don’t get me wrong, Modern Warfare worked in this sense because it put you in control of military technology you’d never had at your disposal in a game before. Calling in an A10 Warthog to “bring the rain” felt overwhelming powerful. Sadly, manning a remote control car does not, and I’ve played the obligatory sniper event too many times now. These cliches have been done to death and it is time to move on. To where, I don’t know, but I don’t have a multi-million dollar game development budget at my disposal so it isn’t my problem.
So the game lacks innovation. But hey, plenty of great games don’t break the mold, right? Narrative can be just as powerful. Well then, to the writers of Warfighter: if you’re going to drive me through a tightly scripted series of events, you better make sure it is interesting. I should love my squad mates. Sorry Stumpy, but offering your middle finger as a gift to your ex-wife should you “not make it back” doesn’t make you endearing.
Liberating Europe gave me a sense of purpose that was noble. I’ll avoid the politics as much as possible, but calling in artillery and air strikes against woefully under-equipped enemies to support squad mates I barely know or like just makes me feel like a bully. And though I say “calling in” air strikes often happen without my involvement at all.
If you’re a fan of the Professor Layton series on the DS then you’re going to love Warfighter’s gameplay elements. The game is smattered with a collection of lame mini games interspersed with very short run-and-gun sequences someone like me could actually enjoy, if they weren’t so short. Unfortunately, I actually want to have some control. I want to make choices that affect the outcome. I don’t want a test of skill. I want to employ strategy and choice. I guess you could argue that multi-player is where that comes in and you’d probably be right, if it managed to surpass any of its competitors; which it doesn’t.
Visually, the game uses a bit more colour which is a pleasant change amongst modern games’ tendency to paint the entire Middle East as a desert filled with destroyed buildings and mud huts.
But still Warfighter slipped up. Movement between light and shadow was so extreme to the point of pumping the contrast right up. I don’t know if this was deliberate or poor design. Either way, breaching from a well-lit area into a darkened room felt like shooting in the dark. While this all sounds incredibly harsh, the truth is that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with Warfighter. It just struggles to stand out amongst a genre chock full of quality.