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Medal of Honor: Warfighter (PC) review: Medal of Honor: Warfighter (PC)

Off the battlefield, you meet Preacher's wife and daughter, who suffer from the effects of the uncanny valley by way of their sort-of-lifelike, sort-of-not character models, but nonetheless deliver some civilian levity between explosions. The gentler side of Warfighter's story is a wasted opportunity, however, since every character is a stand-in for an idea (the neglected but stalwart wife, the loyal and conflicted warrior) rather than a defined individual. Yet while they are simple plot constructs, actors deliver their lines with conviction, and the manipulative soundtrack swells in properly melodramatic ways, softening your heart for a few moments before the ensuing action hardens it once again.

A storm's a-brewin'.

There's a moment near the end of the campaign, however, that has you confronting the consequences of war, allowing you to witness terrible deaths in ways you never can while shooting down combatants. And it's here that Warfighter almost achieves something special. You witness more vulnerability here, and can appreciate the operatives' sacrifices in these final throes. The military fantasy becomes dark reality for a brief moment, and there's no joy in your final shots. Here, you see one more way in which Medal of Honor may yet make its mark, if only this conclusion weren't so removed from the remainder of the game, which otherwise treats levels as interchangeable building blocks that needn't fit into a larger picture.

Of course, if a military shooter is a means for you to shoot fools online and insult their skills (and mothers), the campaign may be a secondary concern, and it's just as well, since the multiplayer is much more satisfying than the campaign, though not without its flaws. Warfighter doesn't have the weight of, say, Killzone 3, but it doesn't shoot for the zippiness of Modern Warfare either, instead finding a more-or-less comfortable place between the two. The leaning mechanic in the campaign finds a place here, and while gameplay doesn't hinge on successfully using it, it's nonetheless a boon, allowing you to quickly establish a line of sight, take some potshots, and lean back into cover.

A storm's a-brewin'.

More important is Warfighter's fire team system, in which you are paired with another team member, and the two of you leech off of each other's successes. Your buddy is both protector and spawn point, and you earn a few experience points for his headshots and kills, presuming you're in close proximity. You earn various bonuses for sticking with your buddy, so you quickly develop a camaraderie of necessity. This isn't a wholly new mechanic in games, but there is a palpable psychological component to it: when your buddy is waiting to spawn, you stay out of harm's way so that your friend might arrive in relative safety, and there's joy in getting revenge on the opponent that gunned down your buddy just moments before. It's a good feeling to know someone's got your back.

A traditional class system glues matches together, though you need to sort through the game's improbably convoluted and busy interface to make sense of it. Everyone starts out as an assaulter, but it isn't long before you've unlocked every class and are well on your way toward earning medals (Congratulations! You've killed 30 players with primary weapons!) and various weapon modifications: barrels, paint jobs, optics, and so on. You also unlock variations of the classes, each associated with a particular nation, and within matches, you can perform offensive or defensive support actions (fly an Apache!) should you string together enough kills. There's a healthy progression system here that keeps the rewards coming.

A storm's a-brewin'.

A metagame goes only so far if the core action and modes don't hold up, but Warfighter is a decent multiplayer shooter with a number of ways to play, held back mainly by its confined maps, some of which are more collections of winding exterior corridors than organic spaces. You never run out of players to kill, at least, within the five modes on offer. The matchmaking options also include playlists that pair up two different modes, and one of these playlists minimizes the interface and turns on friendly fire, inspiring a more cautious experience. On the other end of the spectrum is Home Run mode, a vicious 10-round mode that combines capture the flag with Counter-Strike's tight assault-and-defend dynamic. The maps are small and you don't respawn when you die; all you can do is wait for the next round. Home Run sports a livelier tug-of-war than the other modes, and after the initial learning curve (knowing the map is key), combat can get intense.

Danger Close didn't tie up some necessary loose ends before the game's release: you might spawn outside of the map and into freefall, spawn into some environmental anomaly and struggle to unstick yourself, or even bang into an invisible obstacle. In the single-player campaign, enemies might clip right through walls when they aren't busy being generally dumb. Yet Medal of Honor: Warfighter's greatest handicap isn't bugs, but that its building blocks are snapped together into a shapeless hunk rather than an identifiable monolith with form and purpose. Still, you shouldn't dismiss the game as wholly unworthy: online multiplayer is good fun, and the campaign shows signs of life, occasionally letting you see past the me-too warfare and appreciate a brief flash of imagination. But on the whole, Warfighter leaves you thinking, "Yep, that's a military shooter, all right." Its heroes strive for greatness; the game they star in is merely serviceable.

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