Upon completing Medal of Honor: Warfighter's campaign, you are met with a heartfelt dedication impressing upon you the heroism of the men in uniform the game depicts. The attempt at sincere emotion is commendable--but it rings hollow, coming as it does at the end of a bog-standard military shooter that celebrates the killing of hundreds. The battlefield fantasy itself offers a few surprises, but they're crowded out of your psyche by the indifferent hours of shooting and military chatter that surround them.
"Linear." The word is commonly used to identify any number of shooters that usher you along a narrow path, interrupting your progress with a bit of sniping, the shooting of a turret, or an explosion-heavy cutscene. Warfighter's issue isn't that it fits this common modern-day shooter template, but that developer Danger Close doesn't use the linearity to the game's benefit. By directing the experience so tightly, a developer can build momentum, giving the action an arc that develops tension and ultimately reaches a zenith. When a game intends to be a playable action film, as so many do, managing that arc is key to delivering a memorable experience.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter doesn't craft such an arc, and thus feels more like a pastiche of shooter tropes than a self-contained experience with its own identity. Yet there's something worthy here--the glimmer of a Medal of Honor that might yet hew its own path if the right elements are cultivated. The basic shooting and movement models are a good start, not because the guns are that remarkable, but because there's a sense of weight to your sprints and your leaps. You're given the ability to take cover and lean or peek before taking aim, lest you get pelted with lead; at times, this encourages you to consider your surroundings and preserve your own well-being rather than rush forward, spraying the room with bullets.
The shooting is occasionally put to good use, too, such as in a noisy showdown during a raging rainstorm, the palm trees waving and bending in response to the heaving winds. Other levels are just as visually impressive, like an on-rails boat shootout during which fires rage and floating debris threatens to ram you. Elsewhere, you use the blazing shine of your enemies' flashlights as beacons for your violence in various locales. The Frostbite 2 engine that gave
If only the gameplay could consistently uphold the promise of the most atmospheric levels. To Warfighter's benefit, it's not as much of a turkey shoot as its 2010 predecessor, though enemies still pop up in the most predictable places, inviting you to gun them down. The excitement is also undercut by your AI teammates' unlimited supply of ammo; there's never any need to scrounge the ground for enemy weapons, which diminishes the sense that you are in imminent danger. (A little improvisational spirit could have gone a long way.) But it's the moments you most expect to deliver the brightest sparks that are most devoid of them. The aforementioned boat chase requires no skill, neither from a driving nor from a shooting perspective. Ditto for the obligatory helicopter gunner segment, in which you mow down nameless grunts from above. Without challenge, there needs to be something else to keep excitement levels high--but there aren't enough foes to shoot or other sources of thrills to compensate.
Warfighter checks other paradigms off its list, too. There are the parts where you sneak up on enemies from behind and gruesomely stab them, and the parts where you snipe the baddies lurking in distant windows. There are the parts where you call in airstrikes to annihilate entire buildings, and there's the bit where you shoot down a helicopter with a rocket launcher. There are seemingly endless door breaches, in which time slows to a crawl while you and your AI teammates charge into a room and litter the floor with corpses. Things explode real nice, but these sequences are all segmented sharply from the surrounding gameplay. The game signals "hey, here's the part with the sniper rifle," and you dutifully perform the necessary actions so you can continue.
There are several scripted set-piece sections that stand above the rest, however--and in fact, stand above the campaign in general. All of them involve vehicles. Some of these driving sections are ridiculous and entertaining, directing you to incite crashes, and then showcasing the destruction in slow motion, Burnout-style. The camera that so lovingly caresses the chaos flies in the face of Warfighter's meager attempts to identify the drivers as everyday heroes, but the tension of avoiding oncoming traffic and the joy of watching your four-wheeled victims flip with abandon are both guilty pleasures. The game's most surprising turn of events is a vehicular stealth sequence in which you must slip into designated safe spots to avoid prowling enemy drivers. It's a neat idea, executed well, that generates tension and has you fearing your possible discovery. It's not difficult to succeed, but even so, this portion is elegant and imaginative.
Less elegant are Warfighter's nods to the effects war can have not just on its participants, but on their loved ones. Your role alternates between different operatives, with Preacher (returning from 2010's Medal of Honor) fulfilling the role of main protagonist. The central story comes by way of the jargon-filled military chatter you're used to in such games, in which you know who the bad guy is, not because wrongdoing is demonstrated, but because the characters say he's the bad guy. The globe-hopping narrative, like the gameplay, is chopped into cutscenes and key events without regard for exposition or transition. There's plenty of plot, but little storytelling--and there are important distinctions between the two.