Medal of Honor: Above And Beyond VR Review

Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond is an exciting and often epic VR shooter that brings the thrilling set pieces of WWII to VR, but suffers from inconsistent pacing and a lack of depth. Read and watch our full Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond review here.

Medal of Honor: Above And Beyond Review – Campaign

Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond – The Facts

What is it?: First-person WWII shooter with a 10+ hour campaign, online multiplayer, wave-based survival mode, and hours of archival Gallery footage
Platforms: SteamVR (specifically Rift/Quest, Vive, and Index) and Oculus Home for PC
Release Date: December 11th
Price: $59.99

Medal of Honor has always been about war, obviously. Most notably, World War II, dating all the way back to the first game taking heavy inspiration from Saving Private Ryan before debuting on the original PlayStation. But even beyond that, it’s a franchise that is often at war with itself.

Over the years Medal of Honor has fallen out of the spotlight and has sat, covered in dust, on EA’s shelf for over eight years now following the lackluster launch of 2012’s Medal of Honor: Warfighter. Now, Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond aims to bring the series back once again, this time exclusively in VR, but it’s such a mixed bag it’s hard to reconcile what exactly Respawn was going for here.

On the one hand, Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond packs a 10+ hour campaign full of thrilling set pieces, iconic locations, and glorious attention to detail. It doesn’t take long to realize why it requires nearly 200GB of space on your PC after a full installation is completed. But then on the other hand, it’s abundantly clear this is Respawn’s first VR game. From ugly floating rectangle menus, frequent tedious load screens, and an utter lack of cohesiveness between the game’s 54 “scenes” it comes off as more of a montage of moments than an actual narrative.

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The entire game is made up of loosely connected scenes that are each bookended by often lengthy loading screens. For example, you may find yourself standing around a table listening to a group of French resistance fighters discussing their plan to derail a German train, followed by a fade to black, an awkward “Victory!” poster and little jingle sound effect, and eventually a loading screen. Then your vision has returned and you’re in the back of a jeep getting transported to a battlefield. After a few more minutes of conversation, fade to black again, and then you’re about to ambush a group of soldiers. Rinse and repeat.

The “Victory!” posters are inexplicably peppered into the loading screen after every single level segment even if it was just an NPC conversation. It makes no sense.

The entire game is just like this. You act out short bursts of content, wait for it to load, and are then transported somewhere else. It’s a bit like you took a typical mission from a game such as Call of Duty, chopped it up into pieces, and spaced it out with load screens. Part of this problem is fixed eventually — as the game goes on the level segments tend to get longer and more complex, such as intense dogfights in the air or infiltrating bases through multiple corridors — but the problem is still there lingering along.

It’s honestly frustrating because at times Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond exhibits an unrivaled mastery of delivering hyper-concentrated moments of sheer excitement in a way that only a massive AAA game can. Clearly, the talent is here, just not the execution.

For example, I absolutely love the pump-action combat shotgun in Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond. Respawn struck an excellent balance between accessibility and realism with most of the weapons and the shotgun is a great example. After each shot you pump your non-dominant hand down to rack a new shell, aim, fire, and repeat. It feels fantastic and the kickback is just enough to really make it seem like you’re firing a real weapon — or at least as much as current VR haptics will allow.

The clever thing they’ve done here is instead of requiring you to reload individual shells, the shells just automatically reload for you, as if by magic. At first it’s a bit immersion breaking to see the shells floating from your belt into the shotgun, but the trade-off is so worth it. I can focus on the cool part (aiming, shooting, and pumping) without fiddling with the part that is never as easy as it should be given occasional controller tracking and occlusion woes.

The same goes for most of the other weapons as well. The MP40 magazine drops right out at the push of the A button, I grab a new one from my belt, slam it in, pull back to load the chamber, and I’m good to go. Everything is carefully considered in this way for the right balance between realistic immersion and streamlined accessibility. Which makes the dissonance in its pacing and segmentation all the more confounding.

 

Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond – Comfort

Comfort options in Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond are actually quite extensive. Not only can you adjust your snap rotation speed, there is a seated mode too, as well as the ability to turn on or off screen shake effects for things like damage and explosives. There is no teleport options or smooth turn option at the time of this writing. Personally, I played on Quest 2 using Virtual Desktop primarily so I was fully wireless and just turned my body physically. If you’re sensitive to smooth movement games though, this one does tend to get pretty intense at times so take it slow if you can.

If you’re able, Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond really soars as an active VR game. I always had the most fun when I did more than just stand in one spot and flick the sticks to move around.

Crouching down behind a window, ducking in cover, poking my head out to take shots around corners, etc really helped enhance the experience. It’s not technically a cover shooter, but it can be played like one and it makes the firefights a lot more intense.

I just wish the NPC AI was consistent. Sometimes my allies would literally just stand there, in the open field, and get shot without moving at all. Occasionally enemies would just, stand up, pause, and then start shooting at me as if to give me a chance to kill them first.

Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond – Hardware Requirements and Performance

Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond has absolutely crazy hardware requirements. The game necessitates at least about 200GB of free space, mentions an SSD is preferred, and then the recommended spec asks for an “RTX 2080 or higher” with an i9-9700k. That’s extremely high-end, even for VR, and is a bit unreasonable in my opinion. My i5-9600k with an RTX 2060 Super isn’t the absolute cutting-edge, but it should allow me to play new games in 2020 without variable resolution and stuttering frames. Medal of Honor defaults to ‘variable’ resolution which knocks it down to pixelized quality if your system is struggling, but the criteria for when that happens is arbitrary. Instead, I set it to high and just dealt with ocassional stutters. It’s fine, but something is off here and it seems less optimized than expected.

But then I’d have the other times that, a group of Nazis 100 yards away on the other side of a field behind a rock are lasering me like crazy, landing every shot, making it impossible for me to move. More than once I found enemies in prime position to immediately murder me as soon as I respawned back into a level after dying. It’s definitely frustrating.

Eventually things get more interesting though. The bright side of seeing so many load screens chunking the game into so many segments is that each and every scene truly is unique. I don’t think very many assets are re-used, if at all, in this game and many of the levels feel and look quite open. Not many VR games of this scope take place outside in real world environments and the amount of work that went into recreating locations is absolutely commendable. It just didn’t add up to a well-paced game with a cohesive narrative at the end of the day.

 

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Medal of Honor: Above And Beyond Review – Multiplayer

Multiplayer in Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond is extremely fun. I’m still undecided on which of the big online VR shooters I prefer as my absolute favorite (Firewall Zero Hour, Population: One, Onward, Contractors, Pavlov, Solaris, and a few others are way up there too) but Medal of Honor might be at the top of the pile.

The reasoning here is that the multiplayer offering for Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond has got all of the same excellent gun mechanics from the campaign mode, which feel like an extremely fair balance between accessible and realistic, but since you’re playing online it totally sidesteps all of the concerns regarding pacing, tone, and load times. Once the match begins you might need to wait to respawn for a few seconds, but even then you’re still able to look around and tweak your loadout between lives.

Whereas in the campaign I’d often feel a sense of dissonance between the source material and attention to detail in the setting versus the semi-slapstick dialogue and tone, that feeling is gone when playing multiplayer. It’s so fast and frantic you only have time to appreciate the spurts of blood momentarily before taking cover again and aiming back down the sights.

It’s a shame there isn’t more depth to the online mode, though. There are no progression mechanics in place and other than unlocking character skins in the single-player campaign you don’t earn anything for the time you spend playing. While it’s refreshing to have a shooter that really adheres to that old-school design philosophy of putting entertaining and challenging gameplay first, I really think you can do that while still offering some sort of progression path or reward structure for time spent.

Gun variety leaves a bit to be desired as well. Of the eight weapons two are the same gun, just one has a scope, both SMGs feel very similar, and the lever-action rifle and M1 Garand awfully similar from my perspective as well. Game modes are lacking too — they’re basically just four variations on deathmatch, plus domination tacked on for a fifth option. Blast Radius is fun, as it awards bonus points for getting kills in the designated circle, but ultimately it’s still just deathmatch.

The maps on the other hand are quite superb. All 10 feel distinct and unique with some really impressive environmental effects, like the thin fog on the snowy train crash level or all of the detailed debris surrounding the crashed plane at the Church level. Like modern Call of Duty games, these maps all feature callbacks to key campaign moments, so there is a sense of cohesion there.

Above all else though, multiplayer is just a blast to play. I only got to try out a few matches across a couple of days pre-release before writing this review, but I had a good experience despite feeling like it was a tad shallow. Ultimately the quality of the mechanics and sheer intensity of the fun factor more than makes up for it.

Luckily, you can also queue up solo and just play with bots or invite friends into a private party to play co-op against bots or in smaller team sizes if you’d prefer. The AI isn’t that bright, but it’s better than no bot options at all.

While crossplay is active between the two store fronts you cannot invite people into your party from a different platform. Multiplayer parties are either Oculus Home only or Steam only, whereas the public lobbies themselves will have players from both.

 

Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond Review – The Gallery and Survival

The final two pieces of the Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond puzzle are The Gallery, or the real-life footage archive that’s full of hyper-detailed interviews, footage captured on-location, and more that chronicles stories and locales from WWII. It’s one of the best and most authentic digital resources of information regarding WWII.

Honestly, they should spin it off as a free educational release for schools and non-gamers to access, because locking it behind the paywall of a video game seems like a shame. Especially when you consider the tone of the game is far less serious than this footage. Even if you’re not a history buff (I know I’m not) it’s worth checking out; there’s multiple hours’ worth of content in there.

Then there’s the survival mode. It’s exactly what it sounds like. You’ll fight off waves of Nazis as they pour into maps and force you to defend yourself. It’s very basic, but at least gives you a quick and simple way to dive directly into combat without having to plod through a storyline first. Co-op support could have really helped elevate it, though.

 

Medal of Honor: Above And Beyond Review Final Verdict

Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond can be both frustrating and captivating at the exact same time, but underneath it all is a fun and engaging VR shooter that nails several facets of being a successful AAA game. It’s not quite enough to solidify the experience as a must-play, but there are plenty of bright spots. If you’re eager to dive into a VR version of WWII with exciting set piece moments, authentic historical footage, and an addictively fun online multiplayer mode, then you should come away satisfied. But if you were looking for an immersive narrative wrapped up in a cutting-edge evolution of VR game design with expert pacing — don’t hold your breath.

Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond releases December 11th for PC VR on the Oculus Home PC store and SteamVR with support for Rift/Quest, Vive, and Index at a price of $59.99 on both storefronts. 

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