At Oculus Connect 6 (OC6) Facebook finally revealed what Respawn Entertainment has been working on alongside Oculus and it’s called Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond. This is the first new game in the series in over seven years.
During the event we learned a lot about the game even though it’s not coming out until sometime in 2020. The demo was split across three levels, spanned about 45-minutes, and showed off lots of different guns and various mission types. We still have a lot of unanswered questions, but we did at least get to spend a good chunk of time with it ahead of the announcement.
For more on my thoughts, you can watch my impressions below or read my thorough hands-on preview here.
At the event we got the chance to also attended a presentation and spoke with Peter Hirschmann, Game Director on Medal of Honor VR.
“We’re trying to make an authentic game, not necessarily a realistic one,” says Hirschmann. “If it’s fun, it goes in. Fun always wins. For us authenticity is defined by if it feels real, but we always try to be pro-player entertainment. For example, when switching weapons you just let go and it flies back to its slot.”
Other than the reloading example, you can see that sentiment carried through in the art style as well. It doesn’t feature photo-realistic character models or overly dark environments and it’s not very gory either. But at the same time it certainly has the mechanics, sound design, and general production values to feel more polished than most VR games.
“What defines Medal of Honor for us, going back to World War II, is that it’s all about analog warfare,” says Hirschmann. “It’s about the tactical relationship between you as the player and that bad guy. I really like Sid Meier’s definition of a game, in its purest form, is a series of interesting decisions. Medal of Honor is at its best when it’s you versus one, or two, or maybe three or four, bad guys with tactical decisions in real time about who to take out, analyze what weapons they have, taking an easier shot to wound them or trying to take them out and eliminate them completely. It’s about being up close and personal. Bullets matter, health matters.”
A lot of the intricate aspects of the gameplay and the intensity of hunkering down in an intense firefight I just didn’t see in my demo at all. All of the combat encounters I had were very straight forward and sometimes highlighted sub-par AI, but there is still a lot of time to work on that before release. If they can nail a smart, tactical feel without sacrificing the accessible pick-up-and-play design, that would be fantastic.
Most VR shooters right now are heavily focused on multiplayer. While it does require a healthy player-base, it means not having to design missions, creating a narrative, building AI, recording voice over, and all of the other things needed for a high-quality campaign story. But a developer of Respawn’s pedigree is of course tackling that challenge head on.
“We are contractually obligated to deliver a 10-12 hour long experience to our friends at Oculus, but we are well over that,” says Hirschmann. “When we kicked this off a couple of years ago we weren’t sure of what we’d be able to achieve…We realized what the platform was capable of, we loved to work with Oculus, so we decided to expand the scope and make it a bigger game. Usually you’re scoping down but we decided to scope up.”
According to Hirschmann Medal of Honor VR will include over 50 mission segments across three acts. Basically the way it was described to me is that each Act has a series of missions in it and each mission is split into segments, or levels. There are over 50 of those individual segments in total.
“We tried not to repeat ourselves,” says Hirschmann. “In those 50+ segments there are only a few times where we repeat a piece of geography and it’s usually only after battle damage.”
Obviously the most iconic moment from World War II, a moment that has been replicated in films, TV, and video games multiple times, is the landing on Omaha Beach at Normandy, often referred to as D-Day. I had to know if that would be included at all.
“We are doing Omaha Beach, but it’s different,” says Hirschmann. “Playing Allied Assault but in VR would have been cool on its own, but we have a rule for ourselves that we never revisit a Medal of Honor location just to do it in VR, we want to do something different. So in Above and Beyond you’re playing a Combat Engineer who is recruited into the OSS. The Combat Engineers were the first ones on the beach. They have a job, it wasn’t just to get to the top, it was to clear all those obstacles along the way…So you are planting explosives and clearing the way for the armor on the shore which was crucial to getting a foothold. It’s very scary because you’re blowing up the things that are providing you cover…Some of that actually comes from one of the veterans we interviewed. He said that getting to port before he left was some of the loneliest, quietest times he has ever had as a human being, so we wanted to capture that, not just immediately starting on the beach but building up to it.”
All things considered Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond certainly has the ingredients to be something truly special and impactful for VR, but now it’s just whether or not they can execute on that recipe. A big factor will be the quality of the actual narrative (which we haven’t experienced yet) and how deep the multiplayer components will be. All we know is that they’re included, but the team isn’t willing to share details just yet.
Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond releases exclusively for Oculus Rift platforms via Oculus Home for PC in 2020. Stay tuned to learn more in the coming weeks and months!