This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond.
Again, January's looking about as lively as a wrap party at an EA acquisition, so again, this provides a lovely opportunity to put a certain device on my head and escape to a wonderful land far from the troubles of reality. No, I'm not talking about hanging myself, but checking in on the world of VR. How's life in the tech nerd ivory tower? You plumbed in the bidets yet? The latest addition to AAA dabblings in the VR space is Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond, a fantastical alternate history game about how Germany somehow gets taken over by a fascist government, and a coalition of Western powers form an ideological alliance to stop their aggressive expansion across Europe. Cuh, what imagination those fellas at Respawn Entertainment have! Imagine a first-world power actually engaging in war for ideological reasons, and not because they can use it to divert money to some of their cunt friends.
Yeah, it's a World War II shooter, which would normally interest me as much as an envelope-licking simulator, but hey, VR probably could make an envelope-licking simulator interesting if it could somehow conjure up a tongue-based control system that wasn't completely horrifying. My interest was raised further when I went to install the game, and it was 130 EFFING GIG! That's, like, three Last of Us IIs! That surprises me, Medal of Honor: Abbott and Costello, because I'm looking at your trailers and screenshots, and your graphics kind of look like last-gen dogshit. So if you have filled your game with 130 gigs worth of that dogshit, why, you must have rendered a playing space the size of the fucking Death Star!
But then I took another look and noticed that the blurb mentions short documentary films made especially for the game, because if there's one thing there isn't enough of yet, it's documentaries about World War II. So that's probably why the file's so big; they've stuck a load of uncompressed video in there. Someone didn't learn the lesson Quantum Break taught us: that if your core gameplay loop isn't very interesting, then the solution is to find a better gameplay loop, not to try to distract us from it with movie nights.
Anyway, the plot is, you're in World War II; that about sums it up. You're Generic Nonspeaking Soldier Man who gets caught up in the usual sightseeing tour: hanging with the French Resistance in wine country, sunbathing on Omaha Beach, all while hanging out with characters so generic, they might as well have been wearing mascot costumes. I get the logic - VR automatically adds a new dimension of immersion, so might as well just do the bare minimum in terms of creativity and gameplay innovation - but that logic hinges on being able to maintain that immersion, and Medal of Honor: Apples and Pears fucks that up at every turn.
The graphics are, as a great man very recently said, dogshit; at one point, I was looking down at Omaha Beach from a recently liberated pillbox and thinking, "Hmm, I'm no historian, but I'm pretty sure there's supposed to be some soldiers running up that thing right about now." The guns are going for the historical accuracy that World War II shooter fans are weirdly insistent on - so remember every mission to switch to the MP 40 first chance you get, 'cos those Nazis might not have known much about race relations, but they jolly well knew how to design a machine gun, by jingo - but they're always covered in distracting, immersion-breaking glowy lines, showing you which bit to hold and where to put the ammo and unicorn stickers. And it bothers me that the gunplay is largely based around two-handed guns, 'cos as I said, two-handed guns in VR are kind of a lost cause, 'cos aiming the imaginary barrel is like trying to play snooker when both your arms are asleep.
The handling of things feels very dodgy; with the Index, at least, there seems to be an occasional delay on registering changes in finger position, so I'd be trying to let go of a gun and end up having to shake it off like a piece of snot. At other times, the grab range for objects seems a bit overgenerous, and I keep accidentally drawing my pistol when I'm trying to grab something on the floor or adjust my underpants, although that might partly be due to my stubborn insistence on sitting down while playing VR. I know; where do we complaining spine-havers get off, trying to couch-potato our way through the tech revolution? It's almost like people want to be comfortable when they're trying to relax and unwind with a piece of entertainment media. Normally, a VR game would be courteous enough to provide a "Crouch" button for people like me who don't want to physically squat, because it takes several minutes of breathing exercises to psych myself up to standing up again, but Medal of Honor: And Another Thing... doesn't seem to have one, despite the importance of taking cover in a firefight, so I'm left tottering gormlessly up Omaha Beach like a glow-in-the-dark mouse in an owl sanctuary.
So all the "immersive" qualities of VR are canceled out by un-immersive glitches, visuals, and the story campaign's infuriating habit of nailing your feet to the floor every five minutes for unskippable dialogues, and all that remains is an incredibly lazily designed World War II shooter, where every level has, like, one minute-long loop of generic heroic music that plays constantly whether you're in a gunfight or very heroically pausing to wipe bogeys onto a Nazi commandant's office chair, and where the gameplay consists largely of moving to the next room and shooting another handful of newly-spawned Nazis, who all have A.I. granting them the self-preservation instincts of moths in a pizza oven.
There's one level set on a train that's the absolute epitome of this: shoot two guys, move to the next carriage, shoot two guys, move to the next carriage. Christ, this is retroactively sucking the fun out of every good train level I've ever played! Hey, why is the chef in the dining car trying to shoot me? I ask because, at the start of the level, I was specifically told not to shoot the train driver 'cos he was a conscripted civvie. Bit inconsistent; are you telling me the Nazi Party made sure to win over the fucking patisseries before the essential transport workers?
The room-by-room shooting is broken up by gimmicky setpieces, mostly turret sections or vehicle sections with a turret on them, and either this means having to tackle an incredibly awkward gun that I can't look down the sights of 'cos it's fixed and I can't duck, or the turret just aims wherever I'm looking and it's about as challenging as trying to spit through a ladder. There's one decent bit early on where you have to position a couple of shooters in preparation for an ambush that might fool you into thinking the game's going to have some fucking strategic depth, but no; it's just another one-time gimmick, another oversized hat to briefly wear and then discard like an overworked Disneyland actor.
In summary, Medal of Honor: Tea and Biscuits, get the fuck out of my glorious world of tomorrow with this PS3-era bullshit! VR isn't the place for your hacked-out middle-of-the-road war shooters; it's about exciting new concepts, and immersive spectacles, and staggeringly uncomfortable porn!
- Good moaning: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- And after all that we've still got sodding Nazis around in the modern age and they're not even well dressed anymore
- Vee haff vays of making Vee Arr