For everything I loved about Medal of Honor Above and Beyond, there was always something to be heartbroken by.
I loved Respawn Entertainment’s bold return to the franchise since Medal of Honor Warfighter released in 2012. I was excited by their dedication for a VR exclusive sequel. The household first-person shooter series would skip a console generation, but have an opportunity to hit a grand-slam for a niche platform in2020. Putting Medal of Honor Above and Beyond in WWII was the most appropriate way to bring the series back from the dead, despite dividing players who wanted a traditional console-based game. But despite Respawn’s hot-streak and versatility with shooters, they’re out of their element with VR. Medal of Honor Above and Beyond checks all the boxes for a competent shooter and definitive WWII game for headsets. Sadly, questionable decisions in controls, writing and technical bugs overtake the excitement for what could have been an addicting gem to have in the Oculus library.
It’s worth noting that future patches would take away many of the problems which plague this ambitious sequel. But Medal of Honor Above and Beyond loses much of its first impressions from a clunky delivery. Many of the campaign’s exciting moments are ruined with shoddy controls which actually broke my game in hilarious ways. Other faults come from overall controls not reaching a bar left by VR landmarks including Half-Life Alyx when it should have. Further technical bugs come from low quality performances over the Oculus Link with PCVR. This gives the overall world a muddy feeling which shouldn’t be there, despite Respawn’s high PC requirements. As the campaign leaves a semi-bitter taste, its Multiplayer saves the day with a masterfully crafted serving of maps and engaging modes. Additional Survival modes and authentic museum content help Medal of Honor Above and Beyond to truly shine, Respawn should continue refining their mechanics to meet expectations. As far as it goes, VR’s much-needed WWII game (and legendary franchise) deserved much better.
Respawn deserves some credit for bringing Medal of Honor back to its roots with a good old-fashioned WWII romp. The setting is a bit out of time (every pun intended). In a first, the studio puts down their mechs, wall-running and lightsabers in favour of grounded combat. Obviously, the WWII setting is based on history’s deadliest conflict as the U.S. pushed towards Europe against the Nazi threat. It’s been a tried and true formula which dominated the 2000’s, while Respawn manages to replicate the series with tight adherence to source material. Following the original PlayStation game, Medal of Honor Above and Beyond puts you in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in a variety of saboteur missions. What’s cool is that the campaign doesn’t tell you it’s set in the series universe (duh). The six missions feature French resistance fighter Manon Batiste, first introduced in Medal of Honor Underground. She also supports players sometime during the events of that game, while overlapping Allied Assault and Heroes 2 with Operation Overlord (D-Day). Yes, it was interesting living through those events in VR. No, it wasn’t my favourite level.
The game does an incredible job of capturing what made Medal of Honor special by making players an OSS spy. It’s not until later games that players spent more time on the front lines as infantry in traditional WWII game fashion. Respawn has a clear understanding of this formula; something which gives players the best of both worlds. I especially loved the equilibrium of OSS levels which put players in a disguise before going into an all-out assault. These spy levels are deeper in plot, until it’s campaign makes up for substance with some mindless trigger-happy sequences. By trigger-happy, I meant having more than enough action in every level. Medal of Honor Above and Beyond is chock-full of enemies which are brain-dead in AI, but put up enough of a challenge in numbers as the story picks up. Recent installments including Call of Duty WWII fell short on this balance of gameplay and cinematics. But it’s safe to say Medal of Honor has more shooting than idle moments across it’s surprising eight to nine hour length. In hanging out with the French Resistance, there are opportunities to wear disguises and make your way through some incredibly fortified Nazi strongholds. From a U-boat to the Gestapo HQ and base in the Swiss Alps, these missions are chock-full of intricate level design. Somehow, these slower levels plenty of room for action as plans finally go sideways and players have to fight their way out. The campaign gets better with an equal helping of soldiering, which puts players next to U.S. allied troops in big battles. Together, it’s six missions are nothing short of a globe-trotting ride through WWII.
But the length could only work if Medal of Honor Above and Beyond was an enjoyable experience throughout. I dreaded the final missions after hours of enduring cheesy characters which ruined the story. Of course, players in the OSS are supported by a ragtag crew of agents in the field. Things really start to go wrong with each character, who feel completely tone-deaf in a serious conflict. The series has been known for adding some humor and campy fun, but Respawn takes it overboard through characters like Sarge, Juliette and Ollie. More specifically, every character has a cheery energy that makes Medal of Honor feel like a Saturday morning cartoon. What excited me the most was a gritty take of WWII in VR, but it’s just not there in Respawn’s title. Instead, players can feel like they’re surrounded by a cast of childish amateurs with exaggerated stereotypes. The worst was being stuck with a 16-year-old recruit, who happily smiles after mowing down fascists with an MP40 inside a sinking submarine. Another scene saw the entire cast rejoice like a children’s birthday party after I murdered my way through a war-torn France as it’s only Allied survivor. Because the characters were so unlikeable, I had zero emotions to give when they were affected in serious life or death moments. It doesn’t help that they constantly broke the fourth wall to prompt me across the entire campaign; something which made me empty bullets into them out of pure detachment during cutscenes. Strangely, I’m also shorter than everyone else during these dialogue moments while it was incredibly weird to have the entire cast stare down at me in silence before the script started.
Things get especially weird when certain characters drop f-bombs in an attempt to bring the Saturday morning cartoon campiness down a notch. These moments show a clear divide in tone, while Respawn should have kept a no-nonsense flair from other games like Titanfall and Jedi Fallen Order. It’s also the game’s biggest fumble and Above and Beyond misses its chance to give VR players a gut wrenching WWII simulation. Respawn also drops longer levels in favour of short scenes. This threw me off as certain parts could vary from 20-minute action sequences to 30-second long cutscenes. These transitions were weirder with an annoying victory screen, though a patch has since removed it. Because the game constantly jumps in between cutscenes, they’ll also be plagued with large loading screens. Players frequently stand in place as characters stare at them blankly for a good ten seconds before they talk. Like actors forgetting their cues, these cutscenes unfold in hilariously bad ways. Sub par motion capture or a lack thereof make the campaign’s cinematic moments feel artificial and less immersive. A lack of character development also gave me less of a reason to care about the characters except for Manon, who outshines the rest of the ragtag bunch.
Medal of Honor Above and Beyond does have its moments in giving players some pretty cool campaign moments. Apart from gunfights, players can find themselves inside full-sized replicas of a B-17 Bomber and Sherman tank. These bring back the vehicle-based levels from traditional games and VR makes it incredibly cool to see the sheer level of detail inside. Respawn has went out of their way to making Medal of Honor Above and Beyond feel like a war museum in most parts, with almost every object being scanned from real-life artifacts. These objects, from teacups, telephones, typewriters and gas masks are replicas which make the overall setting feel like an authentic one. Certain spots including a soldier’s quarters were impressive to explore while their desks and beds were littered with some authentic belongings. My favourite level included raiding a Nazi-occupied intelligence base, but I spent way more time exploring every office and picking up whatever details I could interact with. Respawn has done incredibly great work with taking players back in time during the 1940’s and dazzles by surrounding them with living exhibits. In being stuck at home, Medal of Honor scratches the itch of wanting to visit a war museum. Another highlight comes from being in and out of military planes while every corner could be explored in 1:1 detail. Getting to use the turrets and studying the small workstations makes these segments memorable. The sheer amount of detail is easily Medal of Honor‘s greatest asset, especially when it brings the motion-based nostalgia back since Heroes 2 came out in 2007.
Unfortunately, the campaign’s flair is lost with some serious technical glitches and issues which can break levels. The game’s highlight includes skiing and shooting Nazis over the Swiss Alps. But it’s ruined with awkward head-turning controls that made the level unplayable. Luckily, my body was trapped under the mountain and I floated to the bottom as if nothing else happened. There are more glitched moments like these which can even stop levels in their tracks. From doors which don’t open to characters freezing in cutscenes, Medal of Honor is in need of some fixes in every level. Even the game’s most powerful sequences with vehicles can be a headache. Players literally aim and fire tanks and plane turrets by turning their heads, making for a creative but awkward way to win the war effort. I was especially looking forward to climbing and shooting, until a few loopholes ruined the entire sequence. As of now, players can’t draw their sidearms or reload while climbing. What’s baffling are Respawn’s incredibly high standards to run the game. Even with an i9-9900k and RTX 2060 Super, Medal of Honor Above and Beyond looked like a mobile game on high settings. For some reason, its graphics would be lower through a stubborn dynamic resolution scaling which actually made my picture fuzzy and pixelated at times. The campaign also suffered from major stuttering and occasional freezes from rendering gigantic Nazi war machines. This doesn’t help when as players struggle to keep their patience through an already-flawed campaign.
Many of the better or worse details translate through combat. Of course, players are taking on the Nazis with a small arsenal of authentic WWII weapons. But as nice as it was to reunite with a Thompson, M1 Garand or STG-44, these all lack fine-tuning and weight. The underlying problem comes from Respawn creating barely-serviceable VR gunplay without physics. Its weapon handling feels miles behind existing shooters, which have already cracked the formula for guns with extreme weight and punch. Sadly, it’s just not there in Medal of Honor. Most weapons are held with two hands, but have absolutely no acceleration or deep adjustments. As a result, guns just feel like lifeless extensions and can even affect aim in all the wrong ways. One case in point came from aiming a Tommy Gun at unsuspecting Nazis, until my sights rumbled without stability. It was enough for me to waste many shots over the campaign and run dry of ammo. LMGs including the BAR or MG42 have tripods, but can unintentionally drop and stick to surfaces during reloads. There are also a lack of mechanics in reloading, as fresh magazines aren’t actually inserted in guns. Instead, they’re virtually loaded by without any handling. It gives players a sleight of hand for fast reloading, but sets the gunplay back from most VR shooters and gun sims in the market.
Guns are still competent, while each offer high damage according to play style. It was nice to get an auto-loading shotgun and one-handed pumps. A grin drew on my face when I made a quick reload and eliminated three enemies with one SMG burst. Snipers are incredibly painful to use as the scopes are basically unusable. Instead, players get a blacked-out image for a crosshair which doesn’t even zoom into enemies. Once players can tolerate the guns, Medal of Honor still offers engaging gameplay with some support items to help. Grenades from the Stielhandgranate, Pineapple and Bouncing Betty feel great to use and toss with some practice. They are surprisingly easy to catch in the air and satisfying to volley back at enemies. Other times, the game’s stutters can cause grenades to drop and kill players. It’s no surprise Medal of Honor‘s technical setbacks can interrupt interactivity, to the point where players can start to feel frustrated during intense moments. But at least throwing knives and pans are fun to chuck at Nazis for one-hit kills.
Despite the campaign’s downfalls, many of the problems are lifted in Multiplayer. Respawn has a knact for creating fun online experiences with Titanfall and Apex Legends. That same charm is seen in Medal of Honor Above and Beyond, as players can engage in a definitive WWII multiplayer shooter. Here, the gameplay feels top-notch without the campaign’s baggage. It’s a pure enjoyment which calls back to older games in the series, particularly the Wii versions which sported similar motion controls. But in VR, there’s a pure reaction for spotting other players and quickly gunning them down. It’s oddly satisfying for enemies to go down with a few shots as they should, giving weapons real impact for damage and velocity. Strangely, every gun shares the same range and some fine-tuning is needed to keep the MP40 from becoming a full-auto sniper (because WWII was not that advanced). The maps are also bombastic and capture the campaign’s best spots in seamless design. Each map features wide open areas for all-out gunfights with narrow corridors to play cat-and-mouse. Respawn’s talent shines with some creative maps that aren’t limited to a Navy ship, military airfield and war-torn church. These have intricate paths for players to weave through as they complete objectives.
Speaking of objectives, the game has a big saving grace in Multiplayer variety. Apart from its incredibly fun Team Deathmatch and Free-For-All modes, Above and Beyond takes notes from console experiences. A Domination mode pits teams against each other for capturing control points. This works especially well in VR, as sight lines and cover make securing each spot authentic. It’s fun to duck behind cover while blind firing at other enemies as my team holds them off. The more intricate “King of the Hill” mode is inspired by Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch in which players escort a bomb to the end of a map. Blast Radius is a free for all deathmatch, but points are boosted by killing enemies in a certain spot. I was taken back by how enjoyable each mode was over after a bittersweet campaign, giving the game a highly-replayable breath of fresh air. But some extra creativity came from the Mad Bomber mode, where players plant explosives across the map and defuse other ones set by enemies. It was an incredibly fast-paced mode which had me take down teammates and race towards hidden bombs in the hopes of gaining points. A real thrill came from a successful detonation before doing it again. Respawn’s multiplayer suite easily blows the campaign out of the water in terms of stability and quality, while it’s bound to improve through content support. Of course, the mode comes with its own barebones progression system which grants players new characters to become. But the game’s small arsenal only gives players a handful of SMGs and rifles to use without any other chances in unlocking more. This limits the mode to its gameplay without giving players a real reward after every match. Matchmaking can be a pain without some real players populating the servers. But Respawn makes up for this with AI balancing. In the slowest hours, I would be winning multiplayer matches by a landslide against the game’s clueless bots roaming the map in search of human blood.
Medal of Honor Above and Beyond continues making up for its flaws with some highly replayable features. The campaign’s short bite-sized pieces can be accessed per scene and players can basically revisit their favourite parts from anywhere they choose. This is a rare feature in today’s single player narratives, but a welcome one. More credits can be given for a Survival mode tucked away in the main menu. Players can jump into a few of the campaign’s set pieces and fight waves of Nazis with limited weapons. To maximize the fun, players could also activate cheats or enemy buffs and shake things up with a challenge. It’s a great time-waster when the other modes start to seem bland, but even Survival can seem like an endless slog without real progression, bosses or enemy types. Another real highlight came from its Gallery, featuring bonus videos with real WWII veterans. They tell some pretty fascinating stories which are knitted together with plenty of footage and interesting details. I admit that Gallery was compelling enough for me to eventually grab a chair and watch nearly every documentary. This brought out Respawn’s attention to detail and showed off the team’s process in creating highly-authentic levels. To really seal in the game’s history, players could also explore a recreated war museum with text descriptions and special exhibits. There are also real 360-degree scenes captured from the battlefield and derelict bunkers which were a treat to see.
Respawn Entertainment makes a valiant effort in reviving Medal of Honor after a long sleep, but gives VR users a rude awakening. An overwhelming amount of bugs and glitches plague the early build while ruining much of its bombastic story. The characters bring Above and Beyond‘s world to life in the wrong ways through confusing shifts in tone, but quickly become forgettable in some enjoyable trigger-happy gunfights. Much of the fun is scaled up across Multiplayer and Survival through fast-paced combat. Unfortunately, not even a satisfying M1 Garand ping can save the game from terrible gun controls. The weapons which glued Medal of Honor Above and Beyond together are lifeless without real weight (like the rest of its overall elements). Ultimately, my heart sank from seeing Respawn Entertainment make its first misfire with a platform that was beyond their tried-and-true formula for shooters.