If, like me, you enjoyed EA’s new Medal of Honor Warfighter, but understand various criticisms thrown its way, you’re probably wondering why reviewers across the board are slamming it to hell. 

What they wanted was Call of Duty, but what they didn’t want was a Call of Duty clone. Spot the problem.

GameStar – “Warfighter is well-made, has been set elaborately staged and looks good enough to eat in places. However, I constantly feel we have been through the whole spectacle in three dozen other shooters.”

IGN - “This isn’t just an upsetting sequel or me-too military shooter – Warfighter is disrespectful of your time and unwilling or unable to adapt to what’s been done better elsewhere.”

GameSpy – “Warfighter was clearly rushed out the door to get the jump on Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and suffers for it.”

G4 TV – “The biggest disappointment is that the most cohesive and entertaining portion of the campaign isn’t experienced until the last three chapters. In a game that spans 13 chapters, the “just wait, it gets better” excuse just doesn’t cut it. It’s also worth mentioning that an earlier chapter is designed to take less than a minute to beat.”

What we can extrapolate from most of the reception of the game are two things: firstly, EA don’t give review code, so anyone tasked with reviewing the game has to do it in about a day, or maybe three if they’re really cutting it short. Secondly, the general consensus is that Medal of Honor Warfighter is taking the bullet for all the other modern military first person shooters.

These two problems highlight a serious issue with modern games journalism: bored journalists.

Take my word for it, I myself had to review Medal of Honor Warfighter from release day within only a couple of days, and I did it, and you can read it here. I completed the campaign in the standard 7 or so hours it takes, and played around 4-5 hours of multiplayer after mulling over my final thoughts and heading off to write about it. What did I say?

PCGMedia – “Medal of Honor Warfighter surpasses its predecessor in almost every way other than game-play, which is a shame. Instead of nurturing their 2010 child, EA have tried to appeal to those who didn’t like 2010′s reboot, rather than those who did.” (My final score was a 4/5 complementing multiplayer and the driving sequences in the campaign – it was overall positive.)

What I want you to focus on is how my comments represent the game in relation to its previous installment. I’m not blaming Warfighter for not revolutionizing the first person shooter genre, and why should I? Why should it? What I’m interested in is how it plays as a part of the sub-genre – in relation to the sub-genre – and in relation to its previous installment. That’s all that matters. Not my tedium, not my head-ache, not my shitty “oh god, not another one of these games” attitude. They’re not tired of the genre, they’re simply not looking deep enough into what Medal of Honor is in relation to the other games within the genre.

How can I be so sure? Well, let’s look at the PC scores for annual Call of Duty games. Modern Warfare 2, 86; 3, 78; Black Ops, 81.

It’s interesting to me how Call of Duty can be so consistently well received, when it is unarguably more on-rails than Medal of Honor, its primary cause of concern, and certainly much uglier, with objectively worse sound. Every year it manages to score around 80 or above, and every year we hear things like:

IGN – “Single-player is as exhaustingly fast-paced as ever with large set pieces that try to take the attention off of the lackluster AI of both friends and enemies. That withstanding, the story is the best I’ve ever seen from a Call of Duty game.”

Warfighter never stood a chance with journalists

So let’s use IGN for our example of how oh-so-bored  journalists are of this sub-genre. “Exhaustingly fast-paced as ever”. As ever? You mean, you expected and had hoped for it? IGN gave Black Ops an 85/100 score, citing the trends and mechanics of the modern military first person shooter (in this case as opposed to World War 2) as plus points. When it comes to Medal of Honor Warfighter, it is “unwilling or unable to adapt to what’s been done better elsewhere.” This is an interesting comment since Warfighter, in my stated opinion, sold itself short exactly for “adapting” to what’s been done elsewhere.

What this tells me is that a sort of circular logic is ruining the reception of a game that merely wants to fit comfortably within an accepted sub-genre: Warfighter doesn’t do things as well as Call of Duty, therefore it’s not as good as Call of Duty, but it’s trying to be like Call of Duty, but it doesn’t do things as well as Call of Duty, therefore it’s… 

In that vein, Warfighter never stood a chance with journalists. Those tasked with reviewing the game had tarnished their opinions with preconceptions; preconceptions which outlined exactly what they wanted, and exactly what they didn’t want. What they wanted was Call of Duty, but what they didn’t want was a Call of Duty clone. Spot the problem.

The modern military shooter as a sub-genre

It is a sub-genre. What’s a sub-genre? A sub-genre is a set of rules a game must follow in order to represent prior recurrent trends from other games. They invent themselves based on player feed-back, how well they sell, and

What many of the reviewers covering Medal of Honor have done have merely shown disdain for the sub-genre

thus how far they replicate, etc. So what does the MMS entail? Generally, a pseudo-authentic campaign in which something vaguely topical and believable happens, which sets in motion a turn of events that requires an exacerbated intervention through mimicry of real life military representation. It takes you through a story, through the direction of the developers, that offers you maximum authenticity with very streamlined, very controlled interactivity. In order to increase polish, developers minimize the potential for breaking the beaten track by using invisible walls (sometimes instakills) in order to keep the player going through their set motions.

That sounds like an on rails shooter! I hear you cry. Well, that’s because it is. They all are.

What many of the reviewers covering Medal of Honor have done have merely shown disdain for the sub-genre, something that Medal of Honor, and Warfighter in particular, have certainly perpetuated, but haven’t created. It’s not a reviewers job to rant about their views on a particular genre of game, only how that game functions within its set parameters. 

That’s a pretty big difference when it comes to playing each game, and it’s one that basically no one bothered to talk about. 

Let me give you an example. I’m sick to death of Zombies in games, and whilst ‘zombies being in games’ hasn’t become a genre, it’s certainly a feature of many games, certainly ones that focus on zombies, and it’s something that can cause great bias in a reviewer. If I was given a zombie game to review at this stage, I would almost certainly go into it not expecting to enjoy it. Because of this, it’d have to do something really special to suck me in give me a good time – as opposed to someone who absolutely loves zombies, and will play any game that even has a whiff of them. Zombies, for many people, are becoming as tedious as the MMS sub-genre, but would you accept a review that denounced a game for having zombies in it if it were, say, a Zombie survival game? Is War Z a bad game because there are a lot of zombie games on the market? Or would you expect a reviewer to discuss War Z in relation to the other games in its own genre, and how fun it is on its own.

Is Medal of Honor a bad Modern Military Shooter? Seriously? When our only other options are the Battlefield 3 campaign and annual Call of Duty releases, can you really say that Medal of Honor Warfighter is comparably bad?

What they’re missing

Here’s the deal. Medal of Honor and Warfighter are both cover based shooters with guns that perform brutally, and with high recoil. If you pop out of cover for a brief moment, you’re dead. Call of Duty is decidedly not a cover

Tell me again how Medal of Honor doesn’t do things as well as the competition? What are these writers smoking?

based shooter, and players have a lot of health. Guns have little to no recoil, and AI often spawn in front of you – not around you – and do not use cover. In Medal of Honor, enemies pop their heads, limbs and arms out of cover, and switch cover, using it tactically. That’s a pretty big difference when it comes to playing each game, and it’s one that basically no one bothered to talk about. 

The way in which you play the two games are totally different, and actually, they both consequently have their own demographics. Medal of Honor’s Battlefield 3 style sound and shooting mechanics are much more satisfying, and ooze authenticity much more so than Call of Duty. Second to that, the much newer Frostbite 2 engine and full DirectX 11 support offers fantastic, immersive visuals that actually do take the first person shooter to a new technical level of brilliance. So, we’ve got both game-play shooting mechanical improvements, and 100% technically correct and objective technical improvements. Tell me again how Medal of Honor doesn’t do things as well as the competition? What are these writers smoking?

Multiplayer

Danger Close have basically fixed the problem with generic first person shooting in multiplayer

This is another issue I have with the reception of the game, and this isn’t just me saying “oh, your opinion doesn’t match mine, how dare you.” The multiplayer was often called generic, yet it actually features one of the most unique mechanics in a first person shooter of any genre – the forced use of the buddy up ‘fire-team’ system that breaks squads into 5 teams of two, whereby forcing two players to make much more tangible decisions when it comes to support. Looking out for your buddy is much easier than looking out for an entire team, and with teams split up this way, everyone is accounted for. This means that there’s never an “ugly duckling” of the group, left to his own devices. Your buddy being a rambo? No problem. Support that rambo. Spot for him; heal him. Stay safe, let the rambo spawn on you. Your buddy timid and shy? Scared to get into the nitty gritty? No problem, sit back with him, pick things off together, support each-other - complement each-others gameplay. Danger Close have basically fixed the problem with generic first person shooting in multiplayer, and guaranteed that your actions will always be watched and appreciated by someone else. They’ve essentially created a seating arrangement, like bloody school teachers, that maximize the efficiency of the… class. It was a subtle and genius move that sets Warfighter apart from the other MMS’. Aside from that, there’s no ridiculous IR scopes that make enemies glow bright green, and no dogs or heart-beat sensors that destroy any element of skill. It’s subtle, well crafted, well created back to basics. Did anyone bother to look at this properly? No.

So whilst I’m not trying to convince you that Medal of Honor Warfighter is the best game since sliced bread – it’s not – I hope that you as the reader can at least get a glimpse of where I’m coming from. There’s a trend in videogame reviewing that is really grinding on my patience – and it stems from the unwillingness of reviewers to over come their expectations. For me, take each game as they come. It simply isn’t good enough to go “everyone else is going to hate this game, so I wouldn’t bother looking at it properly.” You never know, it might surprise you.