Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond attempts to return to the series’ roots with a VR twist. It’s also storied Titanfall 2 developer Respawn Entertainment’s first step into VR and one of the first major World War 2-themed shooters to land in the medium. While it largely succeeds with frantic Nazi-killing action that brings you into the chaos of the second World War in locations like Omaha Beach and Peenemünde, its inconsistent tone and quality makes for a shooter campaign that drags on past its welcome. Next to that, though, is the truly impressive documentary dedicated to shedding light on the true stories of those who fought and served. Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond itself, however, pales in comparison, not only to the legendary legacy that it attempts to draw from, but also in comparison to other recent VR shooters.
Before you can jump into this Oculus exclusive (which I played on an Oculus Rift S), you have to get past Medal of Honor’s shockingly high system specs that warn of performance issues on anything less than an RTX 2080 or equivalent — and you need a spectacular 340GB of storage space to even launch the installer in the first place before it settles into a mere 180GB. That’s right: Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond is almost as big as Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. But for all that, we do get a diverse number of wonderfully detailed scenes throughout, including the gorgeous French countryside and the Norwegian Telemark. That said, NPCs rarely manage to cross the uncanny valley in VR, making their stiff and overly drawn-out performances all the more difficult to sit through when you just want to get back into the action.
There’s a pretty good amount of content, at least. Between a lengthy Campaign mode, online multiplayer, a versatile Survival mode, and the wonderful Gallery mode filled with interviews with living World War 2 veterans, there’s plenty to see and do here. However, if you came expecting the VR equivalent of Respawn’s conventional shooters like Apex Legends and Titanfall 2, the slow pace of the campaign is going to be a disappointment. Instead, the often low-key missions take about nine hours to clear from start to finish across six acts set in the European Theater.
There’s something enthralling about standing atop frozen mountains in Norway or commanding an M4 Sherman tank into battle that you just can’t replicate outside of VR. Likewise, there’s no equivalent to landing on the shores of Omaha Beach and using your hands to physically plant dynamite on hedgehog blockades while taking enemy fire from all sides. The problem is that these high points are buffered by long corridors of repetitive shooting and lukewarm, exposition-riddled dialogue that slows the whole thing down at the worst moments. There’s a solid half of this campaign that isn’t all that memorable, and by the end it feels like it’s dragged on too long.
Again, there are peaks and valleys in this landscape. Some of the most interesting challenges in the campaign have you searching for mines, planting bombs, and clambering your way out of a rapidly flooding Nazi U-Boat before paddling your way up to the ocean surface. Each of these makes pretty good use of the motion controllers, though because all of it is so scripted, none would feel out of place on a traditional keyboard-and-mouse shooter. Further, it’s a shame that there’s only a few limited physics-based interactions throughout the campaign. In the same year when we’ve played Half-Life: Alyx and even The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, both of which use physics to cleverly present unique scenarios that would never work outside of VR, this minimal level of interactivity feels primitive.
Medal of Honor presents its vignettes with the exuberance of a high school history teacher. It wants to hurriedly explain what happened before rapidly switching to the next scene, rather than letting you bask in the emotional impact that these events might have had. This is fine for a game so focused on big moments and intense combat. However, while it seems like it’s trying to evoke those deeper emotions through its dialogue, the execution and the timing never lands quite right in VR, where the cold, dead eyes of characters you’re meant to be familiar with have more of an unsettling effect than an affirming one.
6 Fantastic VR Games to Play After Half-Life: Alyx
And then you’re back in the action. And while it’s often exciting, it keeps getting bogged down in battles with the annoyingly bullet-sponge enemy AI. After a while, that makes the whole thing repetitive. Combat is already much slower and more grounded in VR than in run-and-gun games like Call of Duty, but it’s disappointing that enemies rarely provide much challenge; most spawn and immediately rush toward you instead of working together to try and flank you.
The silver lining is that Medal of Honor’s satisfyingly punchy weapons handle very nicely in VR, giving appropriate feedback both on-screen and in the controllers’ haptic motors. There are also a lot of them to pick up when you’re fighting through the Campaign and in Survival mode: OG weapons like the M1 Garand and MP40 produce a lovely kickback, as does the Combat Shotgun. It’s also nifty that you can pull grenade pins out with either your “teeth” or your hands before lobbing them, depending on your preference. That said, it’s disappointing that the number of weapons you can find in multiplayer is thinned down to about eight or nine total, which makes that mode feel less fleshed-out.
Comfort also seems behind the times. There is no option to teleport here, and your character moves rather quickly when in full sprint mode. I don’t personally have an issue with this, but Above and Beyond is clearly designed for larger maps instead of smaller and more intimate ones, which is potentially nauseating for those who do suffer from motion sickness. Strafing is a useful way of navigating tight combat encounters, but it feels completely unnatural in VR, as if you’re sliding around on a skateboard rather than moving from side to side with your legs. On the other hand, there are some cool immersion effects here. For instance, if you toggle it on, you can see a “threat level” meter that appears over enemies’ heads so you can assess how to engage them in battle. You can also toggle camera shake and hit markers that boost the intensity of combat. These are great – if you can stomach them.
Medal of Honor’s multiplayer modes are split up into the Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Domination, Mad Bomber, and Blast Radius modes. They all have their subtle charms, but except for the territory-control Domination mode, they each basically break down to killing the most enemy players in order to get the most points, and there’s little more to it than that. Given the tiny number of available maps, no mod support or meta-progression system, and with physics almost completely turned off except for grenades, these battles end up feeling tacked on and certainly feel inferior to established multiplayer VR shooters like Pavlov and Contractors. One cool thing, however, is that lobbies will automatically populate with AI players when not enough real ones join the match. But as you’d expect, these bots are target practice at best; they don’t put up much of a fight.
Survival mode is a little different and more interesting. It’s a set of challenges where you’ve got to hold out against an onslaught of Nazis for five minutes without dying. That’s not terribly novel on its own, but you can mix things up by adding harder modifiers in exchange for a higher score multiplier, or you can sacrifice your score multiplier in exchange for boons like more powerful weapons and abundant healing syringes. You can also mix and match these things, setting up interesting scenarios against the AI whenever you feel like it.
Again, though, the true prize of Above and Beyond is the Gallery, which is dedicated to telling the stories of real World War 2 veterans. It’s both a comprehensive showcase of interviews and of breathtaking 360-degree footage from inside important locations most of us may never get to visit, like real overgrown battlefields, bombed-out Nazi bunkers, and U-Boat manufacturing facilities. It’s unexpectedly immersive and affecting, and every part of it is an absolute must-see. But in a sense, it’s as if Medal of Honor takes its fabulous and historically critical Gallery hostage behind the tremendous storage space and performance demands needed to run the less appealing game attached to it.