Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond Review – James Bond Goes to WW2
Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond has a few faults; however, the excellent campaign more than makes up for it with over-the-top scenes galore.
Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond sees the return of an excellent shooter series from the 2000s. The original series hit big out of the gates but quickly dipped in quality before EA dropped it completely after 2012’s Medal of Honor: Warfighter. Now, the series is on the comeback trail thanks to the team at Respawn. This time around, they’re taking things to VR.
Of course, shooters in VR aren’t really anything new. However, it’s worth noting that Respawn is packing a ton of content into this package. I mean, the file size comes in at a whopping 170+ gigs. That’s a hefty chunk of space, especially if you have a data cap.
You can break the game down into three separate categories. In a lot of ways, they even feel like three completely different products. The single-player campaign is a jam-packed romp through the second World War, while the multiplayer shows promise, but likely won’t have the audience to sustain itself. And the Gallery is a collection of great documentary shorts that gives players perspective on the real-world stories of the people that lived through that era.
I suppose it makes sense to start with the latter. After all, those docs are exceptional, especially the one about a French resistance member. I really hope they break these out and let players who don’t own VR have an easy way to watch them. You’ll lose the 360º views of monuments, but these stories are worth seeing by everyone, regardless of your viewing medium.
That said, it’s worth pointing out how odd it is to go from playing at war to watching actual veterans talk about the real-life horror they went through. I’ve never been one to get bent out of shape by the dreaded ludonarrative dissonance, but when we’re unlocking the ability to watch real-world tales of tragedy and hardship, I can’t help but feel a little weird.
While those docs are, without question, worth seeing, the single-player campaign is the star of the show for me. As a VR game, it does have the interactivity of something like Half-Life: Alyx. It’s also at times buggy and the narrative is all over the place. That said, the sheer level of spectacle is staggering. You could probably tell this from the headline, but this feels like the best James Bond game we’ve had in decades. Except it takes place in the middle of World War 2 and there’s no womanizing.
There are just so many wild moments waiting for you in Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond. One minute you’re skiing through Norway as you pop shots at Nazis. The next you’re climbing up the deck of a sinking ship like a mountain face while shooting Nazis. Then, you’re engaging in a tank-based chess match against Nazi Panzers.
The pace at which all of these come at you is blistering. Outside of the gunplay, you don’t ever do the same thing twice. The game just constantly asks you to engage in all kinds of ridiculous new stunts. And almost all of them work. Multiple times, my jaw hit the floor at the scenes I was seeing.
Now, it’s important to note that I don’t play many shooters. So, take what I’m about to say about the guns with a grain of salt. That said, there isn’t a better gun in the world than the M1 Garand. I’ve thought that since I first played Medal of Honor: Frontline on the PS2 in 2002 and time hasn’t changed my opinion. The Doom shotgun is up there, but the M1 is my favorite gun.
Fortunately, all the guns handle pretty well in Above and Beyond. It continues to feel awesome to physically use iron sights to aim in VR. That physicality adds another dimension that’s impossible to replicate in a normal shooter. Obviously, it doesn’t feel as smooth as something like a Bungie shooter, but the novelty of feeling like you’re shooting a real gun never wore off.
However, it would be a disservice to not talk about how buggy the game can be. Personally, I go into every VR game expecting a little bit of jank. If you’re fine with that, I don’t think it’ll affect you that much. But it’s there. You’ll see guns just stick in the environment, enemies skate into position before they start firing at you, and more. I didn’t hit anything game-breaking, but I’ve heard that’s out there. Hopefully, most of that can get fixed down the line.
That said, I had a blast. I can think back on tons of moments, but one that really stood out for me is the D-Day invasion. You’ve seen it before. I was riding in on the boats as explosions rocked the water around me. Being a giant Animorphs nerd, I was daydreaming about that time the crew followed Visser 4 back to Normandy and almost killed Hitler. Once we landed, I was jolted out of that and into action.
I stormed the beach as a one-man wrecking ball. Mowing through Nazis, I single-handedly captured several forts and seemingly won the battle. Now, if you’re looking to play an “authentic” World War 2 game, this ain’t it. But if you just want to embrace your inner Arnold Schwarzenegger in VR, you can totally do that.
The romp isn’t quite as fun in multiplayer, but I still enjoyed my time. The map design seems solid from the perspective of a novice shooter fan. I’m particularly hot on the one in the vinery, it’s so tightly packed that it just feels like a perfect ball of chaos. Especially in the Mad Bomber game mode.
As you might expect, Medal of Honor has several standard multiplayer modes like Team Deathmatch and Domination. However, the standout mode for me is Mad Bomber. Here, you’re given a bomb that you can strap almost anywhere. You score points by killing enemies with your bomb and defusing theirs. In smaller maps, it can get hectic very fast, which results in a mode that is, quite literally, a blast.
Unfortunately, it does feel like it could be even better. As mentioned above, you want to place your bomb somewhere that will make your enemies explode while also keeping it hidden. Sadly, I always felt a little constricted by where I could place it. This is VR. I should be able to put that bad boy anywhere, but it just doesn’t work like that. It’s not a huge knock, but it does make you realize that this game isn’t as interactive as you might like.
The big problem for multiplayer is that this is a VR title that lists a 2080 in its minimum specs. That’s kind of like making your game a niche within a niche. I just can’t see it getting an audience that will sustain itself. Hopefully, I’m wrong, but it would not be a surprise to see this mode essentially dead in a few months.
All told, Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond is a product filled with promise offset by small problems. The single-player was so much fun to play through. And smartly, Respawn breaks each mission into easily digestible chunks. That means new VR users can ease themselves into things as they need to. Which is yet another selling point for the game’s campaign.
Multiplayer has some great maps but probably won’t have legs. Even while the mode is alive, I can’t help but feel like the best modes are hamstrung by less than ideal interactivity. And the Gallery is absolutely worth a watch. I just almost wish it was separated from the main game considering how different it feels from what you’re playing.
At the end of the day, Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond is absolutely a game worth checking out if you already have VR. However, I definitely wouldn’t be buying a headset just to check this one out. It’s very solid, but far from a system-seller.