‘Medal Of Honor: Above And Beyond’ review: a disappointing attempt at AAA VR

Respawn’s first VR title fails to excel in any area, despite its bombastic premise

As virtual reality begins to enter its pre-teen phase, we’re finally getting games that feel like full-blown AAA experiences rather than repetitive – but very fun – prototype gimmicks.

Half-Life: Alyx certainly raised the bar for the entire medium earlier this year, giving virtual reality its first killer app, and leading other developers to take a chance on VR. Respawn Entertainment, try as they might, are trying to offer something similar to Alyx in scope and detail with Medal Of Honor: Above And Beyond.

After eight years without a Medal Of Honor game, Above And Beyond takes the military shooter franchise back to its World War II campaign roots. You play as an agent of the Office of Strategic Services, a wartime precursor to the CIA, and you’ll spend most of your time shooting Nazis, foiling plots and getting into covert hi-jinks.

It’s a pretty safe ride and something most gamers will be familiar with – war played for laughs, with comic relief and quips aplenty. You’ve got your guns during the cutscenes and you can shoot people’s hats off, and you hold grenades to your mouth to “pull the pin out with your teeth”.

Because of the above, I didn’t really take the game too seriously until it literally hurled a train car at my face during the climax of the first mission, which felt so real that it made me physically cower in fear. At that point, I felt it was time to really consider the narrative and its characters.

You’ve got your plucky, dorky, technically too young for the army sidekick, a gruff no-nonsense military man and a witty French spy. There’s even an unsuspecting old man who’s way into explosions. Isn’t that such a crazy trait? What a quaint and original cast of characters…

Medal Of Honor: Above And Beyond
Medal Of Honor: Above And Beyond. Credit: Respawn Entertainment

It’s nothing special honestly, but the polished textures and animations at least let it play out in front of your eyes in gorgeous detail. I was playing on an Oculus Quest 2, first via the link cable and then Virtual Desktop, which let me stream the game from my Nvidia 2080 rig in higher detail, at 90hz, wireless.

Then came my hands – the combat is somewhat nifty. It doesn’t have the intricacy of Pavlov VR but it’s decently refined, if not ultimately monotonous. The guns feel good to shoot within this silly World War II adventure, and the melee – you’ll crack Nazi skulls with statue busts – feels decent too.

But every time you get into a big firefight the conclusion is the same. If you dare to peek you just get riddled with holes, and there isn’t much cover on offer, so you kind of have to play in a very tiresome, aggressive fashion that doesn’t feel rewarding.

The campaign is the main chunk of this predictable package, as you saunter between set piece after inconsistent set piece. Will you be loading boxes onto a truck or shooting down airplanes? Who knows, it’s a lottery! There’s multiplayer and a survival mode too, but they aren’t worth a look, honestly. In both cases, they’re executed far better in more focused VR games. In Above And Beyond, they feel thrown in to justify the steep £59.99 price tag.

I’d prefer if I could cut them off and pick up the campaign on its own, if only to save on storage space. Above And Beyond demands a whopping 177GB, so say goodbye to one of your SSDs.

Medal Of Honor: Above And Beyond
Medal Of Honor: Above And Beyond. Credit: Respawn Entertainment

If you haven’t been spoiled by Alyx or Pavlov, or many of the other top-tier VR shooting games, I bet it’ll feel quite novel. The environments are gigantic and often well-detailed, even if there’s no urgency to explore them. Most of the time you’re just plonked into a shooting gallery and told to survive. The best bits arrive when the game asks you to do anything else, naturally, like prod piano keys to solve puzzles. If only Above And Beyond wasn’t holding your hand with map markers and highlighted objects every step of the way.

I feel lucky in that I have not had the widespread weapon pick-up or reloading glitches experienced by many, nor have I had too much trouble running it as my rig did meet the steep requirements. That’s not to say these reported problems don’t matter – your individual mileage may vary, so definitely have a look at the Steam reviews and Reddit clips to see if you can stomach what could be waiting for you when you buy this game for full price.

Most annoying about it is probably the lack of proper graphical settings or smooth turning. Another mind-boggling design choice is the fact that the six missions are split into level vignettes that last around five minutes and always end with this really annoying ‘Victory’ fanfare screen that arrives regardless of whether a grave cliffhanger or a hard-fought victory has occurred.

Medal Of Honor: Above And Beyond
Medal Of Honor: Above And Beyond. Credit: Respawn Entertainment

But here’s the thing: every victory screen unlocks a documentary clip – and this is where things get complicated for Medal Of Honor: Above And Beyond. You see, beyond the light-hearted jingoistic campaign, Respawn has put in a valiant effort to package in a set of poetic, big-budget documentaries featuring real twilight generation World War II veterans.

The shorts are harrowing at times and uplifting in others, but always very moving and powerful. This facet of the game has been crafted and implemented with such care and compassion for the heroic subjects, which is why it feels like such a strange thing to tack on to the rest of the game. The tonal whiplash is absolutely neck-breaking.

Why not send those who purchase Above And Beyond to a streaming site to watch or download the documentaries, if they want to? It just feels like such a strange disconnect from the very silly, jokey take on war that the campaign provides. I imagine this is what has caused the game to have a near-200 GB file size too. Surely Respawn knew that wasn’t going to go down well. I have a relatively good internet connection and it still took me the good part of a day to download the game.

Medal Of Honor: Above And Beyond is now available for PC.

Our Verdict:

Medal Of Honor: Above And Beyond is a strange attempt at the AAA virtual reality genre. Puzzling design choices litter this otherwise safe, bland and campy campaign shooter. The environments are meticulously detailed and the combat does have its moments, but ultimately it just doesn’t do any one thing very well. With tacked-on modes and a documentary sidecar that delivers a terminal case of tonal whiplash, it’s hard to recommend this game at full price. I didn’t experience the bugs and performance issues suffered by many, but that’s something to take into account too – your mileage may vary!

Pros

  • Guns feel good — the combat has its moments
  • It looks incredible and the environments are large and detailed

Cons

  • The story is bland and predictable
  • The Documentaries feel out of place
  • Absurd file size and system requirements
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