Respawn’s Medal of Honor VR WWII game is a lot of fun and seriously serious

Medal of Honor: Above and Beyondthe latest in a series dating back to 1999, is a game that breaks with itself.

Developer Respawn Entertainment has created a state-of-the-art virtual reality experience in Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond, with an excellent shooter and an exceptional multiplayer mode. It is associated with a series of documentaries featuring a diverse collection of World War II veterans dealing with past trauma and its impact on history. These vignettes are moving and extremely well done. But they contrast sharply with the game itself, which comes off as campy. While the gameplay is solid overall, the end result is a very mixed message.

Electronic Arts and Respawn have provided media access to Above and beyond last week, and I found the core gameplay a lot of fun. Like other VR shooters, I had weapons taped all over my virtual body – a pistol on my hip, two long guns strapped to my back, and a bandolier of grenades on my chest. The challenge is to feed the various weapons with ammunition through complex hand movements, including inserting magazines and pulling the charging handle before you can fire. Hitting the target is a breeze, with excellent aiming picture available on every weapon and plenty of tracers to walk around in circles. Even the rifles – traditionally a challenge in VR as they require two hands to steady themselves – were surprisingly easy to use.

Image: Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts

The multiplayer in particular was a real treat. The closest comparison to the game’s frenetic close-combat action is Rare’s classic shooter GoldenEye 007. Game types include classics like Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, as well as new, never-before-seen modes, like Mad Bomber, which allows players to plant explosives all over the map. Stumbling upon a time bomb under fire, rushing to find it as bullets whizz past your head, is a thrill.

My only complaint was that the guns themselves didn’t allow combat reloads, allowing you to drop a partially full magazine and replace it while keeping a bullet chambered in the gun. This meant that each reload required an additional action – pulling the charging handle – which tended to slow me down, especially in multiplayer.

The single-player campaign is long – I’d estimate between five and eight hours in all, although I haven’t finished it yet. There are a total of five missions scattered throughout the western front of WWII. As a member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency, I began my career by traveling to Normandy to join the French Resistance. This is where I was introduced to the main characters, who have more or less likability.

There’s Manon, the female freedom fighter who’s featured prominently in previous games. Ollie is a young British volunteer who lied about his age to join the army and get revenge on the Nazis for killing his entire family. Juliette is a blonde bombshell who works for the Germans, but is secretly a spy working for the Resistance. She ends up being the damsel in distress during the game’s second mission.

The heaviest character is Sarge, a grizzled army veteran who is your constant companion for much of the game’s second mission. He’s responsible for delivering most of the game’s jokes, which invariably land with a thump. . The voice acting is done with flair and grace, but the actors work with such hokey material that it’s hard not to roll your eyes on occasion – especially when everyone’s gathered around a sand table or ‘a map, chewing the landscape while their legs are firmly locked in place.

Image: Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts

A highlight for me came at the start of the second mission, which placed me in the bowels of a B-17 bomber. Getting around inside the historic warplane is something I’ve had the pleasure of doing in real life, and Respawn has absolutely nailed the claustrophobic feeling of the plane. Immersion broke, however, once I had to take up arms and defend myself against the Messerschmitt Bf 109s, which sped into my line of sight like aliens in space invaders.

The pace of the game, which is delivered in chunks of around eight to 12 minutes, feels more like a series of mini-games than a more traditional first-person shooter.

There are two reasons for the piecemeal approach. First, these massive, detailed environments require enormous power to render in real time. Once you leave a 12-car luxury train or an underground German bunker, Above and beyond needs time to reload the next area before it can continue. But also, the game is very physically demanding – and I’m not talking about stooping and moving around in VR.

I had to play the first few levels and all of the game’s multiplayer content in a single weekend. Sitting here on a Monday morning, after a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, I still get motion sickness. It’s like the room I’m sitting in keeps spinning every time I move my head or blink my eyes. Even with the comfort settings enabled – which include a seated mode, fast spinning, and a black-rimmed “tunneling” effect while running – Respawn still recommends players step away every eight to 12 minutes to remove the headset. VR and rest.

I have a lot of VR experience under my belt, but even I wish I could have taken their advice.

Just like the first Medal of Honor for the original PlayStation, Above and beyond comes with a gallery of historical documentaries. Rather than relying on stock footage, the development team produced them as full-fledged TV-quality shows that you can collect by completing the game. They include interviews with veterans of the both sides of the conflict and from all walks of life. Subjects include a Native American man who participated in the D-Day landings in Normandy, a black Marine who served in the Pacific, a German who fought for the Wermacht, and a female member of the French Resistance.

The most moving sequence for me was when an 80-year-old man returned to the Netherlands for the first time since the 1940s to visit the very spot where his best friend died. On a cloudy day in a recently felled field, he kneels down to show the cameraman how he found his pal’s lifeless body, posing with his head down and his arms limp. Later, he lays a picture of the man’s family on his grave.

Placed alongside the sometimes comedic main campaign and over-the-top violent multiplayer modes, the seriousness of these documentaries struck me as incredibly shocking. Respawn wants to have its fun and often irreverent action game and celebrate the greatest generation at the same time, but it’s hard to get those dual visions to fit into the same VR game. I’m curious to see how this contrast fades once I finish the main campaign.

Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond will be released on December 11 via the Oculus Rift platform and on Steam.

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