3 out of 5
Medal of Honor: Warfighter is a modern-military-themed first-person shooter with snap-to aiming, a short, globe-trotting campaign and a level-based multiplayer mode. You're instructed to go "weapons free" a lot. I feel compelled to speak about the game as dryly and matter-of-factly as the game seems to regard itself, because if you're reading this review, you're painfully familiar with the sort of game Warfighter is. It does all the things that sort of game is supposed to do, but not with the flair or invention that would make it possible to care again about playing something you remember having played so many times before. In such a crowded and competitive category, there's not much about this game that stands out, and that assumes you're looking for more of this type of thing in the first place. For a lot of people in 2012, that's a big assumption.
Warfighter's campaign gives you five or six hours of flying around the world to shoot at enemies every time they pop out from behind cover, breaking up the bulk of your time in the Middle East with the occasional interlude in places like Somalia and... the Philippines? While there may be legitimate real-world reasons that terrorist cells would be operating in such areas, the way you hop disjointedly from a hostage crisis in one country to a hunt for explosive contraband in another to kidnapping a shifty banker in a third--all largely without context and starring different sets of characters who don't clearly relate to one another--just made me think the game was looking for excuses to make sure not all of your enemies are wearing turbans.
The game admirably makes an attempt to at least humanize one side of the conflict, depicting the American soldiers' families and the effect their duty-bound determination-bordering-on-obsession has on their home lives. But these scenes aren't dramatically interesting in themselves (and plunge deep into the uncanny valley), and they're peppered so haphazardly throughout the already flat story of special-ops intrigue that it all just runs together into so much noise. There are no strong, memorable characters. I wish I'd had an easier time telling Preacher from Stump from Mother from Voodoo from Dusty, but they all look the same and talk the same and act the same to such an extent that at some point it all degenerates into a sea of beards.
The campaign is intensely scripted and almost perfectly linear. That's probably not a surprise, but it doesn't make it any less underwhelming that every checkpoint plays out the same no matter how many times you restart it, that you need to do exactly what the game wants you to in every instance in order to trigger the next sequence, that you can never run any direction except forward. Once in a while the scripting breaks, as when the game failed to spawn in two key enemies so I could move forward until they spawned right behind me, or when I tried to stab the wrong enemy in the back during a stilted stealth sequence when I was clearly meant to stab the other guy instead. There aren't many moments when it doesn't work, but all the other moments are just boring, with the exception of the two driving levels. The first, where you chase a car through a crowded third-world marketplace, is simple but actually kind of exhilarating. The second is a stealth driving sequence (yes) that devolves into a vehicular version of Pac-Man. The driving and a couple of boilerplate rail-shooting levels don't do much to uplift what is otherwise as standard a shooter campaign as can be.
There is of course also the requisite multiplayer mode, which on the Xbox is split off onto a totally separate disc. As expected, everything you do online feeds into a persistent ranking system, though at least it feels like there are more ways than headshots and a solid KDR to rank up. You're put into a random two-man fireteam in most multiplayer matches, and you can earn a decent amount of unlock points by assisting your buddy with ammo and healing. The fireteam system is handled intelligently in general, allowing you to spawn on your ally in the field and even spawning you in with the same posture he's currently using. Points have a way of piling up further after matches, when various team- and mode-based ribbons unlock based on overall match performance. The game types here all fall into the standard buckets of capture-and-hold, team deathmatch, and so on. If I had to choose a favorite, it'd be combat mission, which tasks you with attacking or defending three points on the map and constrains your team not based on a time limit but a common number of respawns. There's nothing out of the ordinary about the online gameplay, but I'll admit it's still possible to feel that particular last-minute thrill when you barely eke out a win at the end of a taut match.
Multiplayer features a sprawling array of player unlocks that range from cosmetic stuff like camo to support abilities like mortar strikes and ancillary weapons like grenade launchers. The most impressive part of the whole construction is an extensive weapon-customization system that lets you swap out stocks, muzzles, sights, receivers, and magazines for each individual firearm. Filing all of that under a section labeled "My Gun" feels just a bit perverse, though, and you'd have to be really into the gameplay here to spend the time unlocking it all. The game plays well enough when the pressure is on, but the performance isn't nearly as smooth as the annual Call of Duty offering and there's not nearly as much depth and scale as Battlefield. So there's not much here to explicitly recommend over the competition.
Warfighter has no real reason to exist, but it's not surprising that it does exist. The last Medal of Honor did surprisingly well in the marketplace, and Battlefield 3 must have sold significantly better. So I suppose you can't fault a publicly traded company for taking its annual stab at cashing in on the military-shooter craze that still inexplicably shows no signs of abating. If we're going to get so many of these games, though, it's a shame a few of them don't aim higher than a mark that's been squarely hit so many times before.