As Call of Duty continues its annual releases, EA’s answer against their competitor’s tactic is by alternating between the Medal of Honor (MoH) and Battlefield series each year. After the sufficient critical and commercial reception of the 2010 MoH reboot, Danger Close heeded the call to make a sequel. Now having control over all aspects of the title and sporting the jaw-dropping Frostbite 2 engine, I was hopeful to see what this developer could bring to the table of an otherwise oversaturated genre. To my disappointment, a foolish jettison from interesting ideas of the past leaves me finding this team’s imagination to be just as banal as the name “Warfighter.”
The game’s story revolves mostly around the returning tier 1 operative named Preacher. His task force, consisting of returning characters like Mother and Voodoo, are tasked with a simple sabotage mission. After accidently setting off a chain reaction that practically obliterates a shipping yard, the team is called to burrow into a terrorist cell’s operations in order to root out them and their stock of a high-grade explosive known as PETN.
There’s no surprises in regards to the plot, terrorist roster included: the religious leader heading the network, the “hands-on” second-in-command, the arms dealer, etc. etc. Despite holding so firmly to familiar action movie/game tropes, it’s dumbfounding to see just how little of the plot can be understood through its abstruse storytelling. Thanks to a flashback structure that provides scarce framework clumsily mixed with epochs of Preacher’s damaged social life, there’s no reason to attempt deciphering how your trips to Somalia, The Philippines, and more have actually been woven together. Constant quick pans to a board filling up with names and jargon-filled dialogue between characters on a phone is how most of this over-arching plot is disinterred to the player.
Breaking from the standard camaraderie impression from its precursor, Warfighter showed promise by trying to dive into Preacher’s rekindling with his estranged wife and daughter. Although the human drama meant to be depicted by these scenes occurs rarely in military shooters, this egregiously thin and artificial drama never breathes any sort of character into this war-torn hero—and supplies more trepidation than warmth because of the creepy CGI designs for his family. Ironically though, the “show, don’t tell” rule seemed to apply much more often to these inconsequential bits than the central military plot.
It can be almost too staggering to grasp all of the inconsistencies presented. A few of the game’s missions don’t even give context about how X, Y, or Z is tied into this terrorist cell’s plan. It didn’t take long for me to hypothesize the purpose behind this: a portion of text at the bottom of the screen listing most missions as being “inspired by actual events." That portion alone elucidates more reasoning of why you will be in X location than the narrative itself. When it’s all said and done, Warfighter gives no reason for anyone to dive into this chauvinistic material or the side story married to it; like when peering at Preacher’s wife and daughter, the closer you try to find anything remotely human here, the more you realize just how cold and distant everything really is.
As hinted at in the beginning, vistas look exceptionally better than MoH (2010) thanks to the Frostbite 2 engine, what powered the praised Battlefield 3. For the 360 version, an extra one-point-seven gigabyte texture pack makes all the well-rendered tidbits great eye-candy that can cause anyone to slow down and take in the scenery. Although there’s less technical hitches this time around (which wasn’t tough to surmount in the first place), it’s easy to sense the game was rushed for an earlier release than its competitors. One of the easiest ways of knowing this is by watching certain cut scenes. Despite fully installing the game, simple moments of exposition would sometimes have stuttering issues. Outside of that, glitches and bugs occurred quite often in earlier levels: from loading environments to enemy AI appearing from thin air. And if you’re planning to jump online, be prepared to install a large patch which fixes a litany of other technical problems. Aside from those complaints, it’s also a shame to see just how limited the amount of in-game destruction can be caused in comparison to its engine-precursor. These faults do seem rather substantial, and to a degree they are, but the imposing amount of august devastation scattered throughout and the near-immaculate CGI cut scenes overshadow these annoyances.
Although often complimented by its great engine, the artistic visuals rarely do anything to branch out from looking like a me-too shooter. Regardless of how wonderful certain destructive moments may look, the unimpressive color palette and plethora of dun settings explored have lost their luster. Even in nighttime levels, the only aspect that shows some form of distinction is the lens flare littered throughout. Credit should be extended to the fantastic look of the driving levels, however. The well-rendered street markets, dirty ghettos, and more are rendered picturesque while blazing through them to catch or avoid enemies.
Danger Close’s strive to authenticity certainly paid off when it comes to sound design for weapons and other military minutiae. When considering all of the unlockable weapons and attachments in multiplayer, there’s a staggering amount of detail dedicated to how these tools of war should sound. Despite the expectation of that aspect being of most importance, it’s a shame that voice acting and the original soundtrack are only the standard fare. Occurring less frequently compared to graphics, audio glitches will occur sporadically during gameplay and cut scenes marred with visual oddities.
As expected—and/or dreaded—by those familiar with modern military shooters, Warfighter’s campaign is a linear experience. To many, that term brings ire towards a notion of a game escorting you along one path to only be interrupted by huge explosions. Regardless of where one stands on this formula, a plethora of similar games are able to feel more subtle and give more emphasis in their approach. So often during the campaign, red indicators light up the next target(s) you need to kill before pressing towards a certain set piece moment. Even one pointless mission based on that popular pirate raid years ago lasts only two minutes: watch a cut scene, snipe one person highlighted for you, and watch another cut scene. At times, it can be rather insulting to see just how far the game goes to play for you. Even more insulting, this time to the developers, is how often these moments go smoothly compared to your less-restrained bouts of shooting enemies. Aside from the uncanny accuracy on higher difficulties, enemy AI is rather dumb; they seem content to move about unnaturally during skirmishes and leave their heads exposed behind many pieces of cover. And it’s nothing short of a miracle to witness friendlies doing anything useful.
Despite the campaign’s structure mirroring that of someone dragging you forward by the hand, the basic shooting mechanics are well-designed and all of your movements have a proper sense of weight. Along with the minute addition of toggling between a scope and iron sights, ancillary abilities like sliding and the peek-n-lean system make their return and feel great to use in online play. The only gunplay design choice that frustrates here is the game’s “Press X to Resupply” feature, allowing comrades to give you full ammo on a whim and destroying any sense of dependency on firearms and ammo laid from fallen enemies; in fact, it feels pointless to even allow for the option to use anything else but the default weapons.
What’s one of the most confusing focuses here has to be the unconscionable amount of door breaches in the campaign. What was an auxiliary gameplay wrinkle in Modern Warfare 2—a three-year old game—is now a crucial feature here. To those not familiar with this technique: breaching involves demolishing a door and activating a bullet time instance to kill combatants on the other side. The one excrescence to break the monotony in this case is HOW you want to break down the door. Beginning only with the ability to kick in the door, players are later awarded new approaches (whether by explosive, tomahawk, etc.) by the number of headshots accumulated when breaching. Since the enemy placements don’t vary with any breaching method, the only reason to experiment is for the achievement points. A bigger gripe I have with the addition is the foul logic behind it. Why would enemies remain in the same spots if I either used just a breach charge or took a few more seconds to tomahawk the door knob off (while hearing them yelling on the other side), kick the door in, toss a flashbang, and enter?
Many ideas for the single player may be dull, but an exception from that are levels not dedicated to shooting. Being developed in conjunction with the Need for Speed franchise developer, these adrenaline-fueled driving missions provide the brightest moments in the campaign. It may be terribly transient in length, but a car stealth section is incredibly enjoyable and possibly the most unique idea this series has had since Airborne.
With one sparkling nuanced concept also comes the disposal of others that at the very least made MoH (2010) an interesting specimen. Something that always held my attention with the reboot was its deliberate nature not to look like an exaggerated war game with grand set pieces every minute. This juxtaposition in turn allowed for something like a simple helicopter crash to make a situation tenser than with the typical shooter and felt honest in portraying the true events that inspired it. In Warfighter, that grounded nature is immediately tossed out the window in order to be another globe-trotting adventure typically capping most important moments off with an explosion. Some may find it reasonable to expect some step forward in blockbuster action, but shifting to be so obsequious to its inspirations, with little distinction between them, drastically harms motivation to move forward. To my chagrin, Warfighter isn’t satisfied with only removing that portion of its precursor’s identity. Rather than seeing the interesting, though slightly flawed, Tier 1 Mode making a comeback, the name has just been reduced to being a mere unlockable difficulty (along with Hardcore) that’s “remarkable” feature is removing the HUD.
When this roughly five-hour (and it barely passes that mark) single player portion is said and done, nothing beyond a few moments will be—and should be—remembered. It’s certainly helped by the satisfying shooting mechanics, but the campaign is less of a cohesive whole made by a dedicated team and more of an invisible list of modern-military features being checked off in design-by-committee fashion, failing to provide tension or any sense of pacing in the process.
Unsurprisingly, Danger Close put forth a much greater effort—meaning actual effort—into the competitive multiplayer. Even though DICE’s foray felt half-hearted, I can’t help but feel this developer’s full attention doesn't muster up much more worth in comparison. The first problem begins even before entering matches thanks to a cluttered menu UI, with trial-and-error being a more productive way to sift through what’s offered then the info boxes (which have to be in size one font). From the moment you enter Origin’s ‘Battlelog’ system, a litany of brightly-lit tabs and pop-ups are thrown all at once at the unsuspecting player wanting to scan through every facet of this social networking/warfighting experience: customizing weapons, the nationality of each class, and so on. It’s rather funny to see just how chaotic one can make the mundane look when good effort is put into it—a truism that extends to the whole game.
The most noteworthy addition to multiplayer would be the Fire Team system. Several teams of two make up Team A and Team B. In each match, players are paired with a fire team buddy who acts as both a spawn point and supplier of health and/or ammunition whenever needed. Sticking close together often leads to both leeching off of each other for more points since revenge, assists, and other bonuses count towards said fire team’s overall score. This wrinkle does present a legitimate psychological influence—even for someone like me, who typically didn't don a headset while playing. Very often, my hold-no-reservation attitude would be quelled if my partner needed to respawn; or, I’d seek revenge against the culprit that led to his/her demise. It’s a minor co-op wrinkle that doesn't stray too far from what’s been seen in Battlefield and elsewhere, but it’s a delightful extra nonetheless.
Warfighter’s class-based system and kill streaks have been greatly expanded upon in comparison to its predecessor. First, the number of classes has been increased to six: Spec Ops, Assault, Sniper, Heavy Gunner, Point Man, and Demolitions. These classes come with the benefits and abilities expected for them, though there are one or two minor surprises, like Spec Ops’ ability to see through walls. Second, the offensive and defensive support actions do a bit more for the team than simply call in UAV’s or guided missiles. Despite these mechanics affording a greater sense of dynamic play and a vast amount of content, further bolstered when considering the glacial pace of unlocking rewards, the irrelevance kicks in quickly because of other series already having these staples.
The depth and overall good design of what you play AS is unfortunately diminished by what you play IN. The objective-based modes are mostly retreads found in other games. Although wrinkles like the no respawn rule in Homerun mode or randomized bomb placement in Hotspot can elicit tactical planning, this is upended by desultory map design. Rather than feeling like believable wholes (they’re advertised as real-world locales), so many dead-ends, chokepoints, and open areas felt adventitiously mashed together. And since most maps feel so confined to begin with, support actions like a Blackhawk helicopter acting like a secondary spawn point in a typically contested spot can feel more like a burden than a boon to the team. Even though many maps in the reboot were also tight, clustered spaces, the amalgam of different thru-ways and more purposeful verticality made them feel suitable for that infantry-based style of gameplay.
The greatest problem Warfighter’s competitive multiplayer has to face is the same as the single player: a lack of identity. Outside of its interesting buddy system and aim for authenticity by accumulating different tier one units across different nationalities—which are mostly irrelevant compliments anyways, what exactly was this striving to do? What’s an even greater shame is how those features could have been implemented to an expanded Tier 1 Mode, to some degree. That harsh question previously mentioned doesn’t mean I had a terrible time—far from it, in fact. It’s just that the end result feels like the epitome of “not bad:” a decent time-waster if you need a new military game but nothing more.
In conclusion, Warfighter simply exists to exist. Not taking a dishonorable discharge by breaking too far from the mold while offering a few genuine thrills. The problem is…the reboot contained ideas that could have elevated this to something much less forgettable. Rather than build upon them, Warfighter tears them down to be something even harder to recognize. In a sea of shooters with similar templates containing more polish or more nuance, this sequel isn’t even worthy of being called mediocre.
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