Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond, the new VR-only title from Respawn Entertainment, can’t get by on authenticity alone. It has the weaponry and set dressing players have come to expect from a first-person shooter set during WWII. But for a console shooter making the jump to VR, it’s sorely lacking in intimacy — a necessary ingredient for any virtual reality experience.
The environments you’ll visit in the campaign range in size from an attic to the sprawling beaches of Normandy, France, but they rarely feel like real places. Outside of your main objective, there isn’t much else to get distracted by, which is often what I find to be the most fun thing about exploring worlds in VR. I want to turn dials on old radios to listen to music of the time, open drawers, throw folders, and just generally make a mess of everything. Even the most polished detailed locales feel somewhat lifeless to walk around in.
That lack of depth extends to the game’s story and characters. When you aren’t shooting your way through the campaign’s six missions, you’ll be stuck listening to cliched banter. These sections that sandwich the action mostly drag on the momentum. There are more warranted breaks in the action along the way to make room for “Hey, we’re in VR” moments. This could involve having a weapon tossed at you to catch, solving a very simple puzzle, or pushing a button or turning a crank that, for no reason at all, only you are specifically qualified to do. I’ll take these over just standing still, but they feel forced.
Really, the only things you’ll become intimate with are your weapons. Unsurprisingly, given the studio’s pedigree for making games like Apex Legends and Titanfall, this game is at its best when your objective is to simply gun down all of the enemies. The game’s frenetic shooting requires you to become adept at reloading and aiming down sights. Occasionally, the plot will cut you loose to battle in some of the largest VR environments I’ve played in yet, and that’s when all of the game’s movement and shooting mechanics feel like they’re at their best. The enemy AI demands a more aggressive playstyle than I’ve experienced in VR, resulting in some tense action sequences. For instance, enemies will often attempt to kick live grenades back at you if there’s enough time left on the fuse.
Some aspects of the gameplay need some refinement, though. For instance, it’s too hard to accurately throw a grenade right where you want it to land. I can understand there being a learning curve, but it feels like something is off with the tracking. Another problem area is scoped weapons, which are all but necessary to use at times in the story. Using one blacks out everything on the display except for what’s in sight through the scope. That was borderline nauseating, as was moving the reticle on turrets in planes and tanks with my head instead of being delegated to my hands.
The lack of movement options may be a usability issue for some. Teleporting to move around the map isn’t an option at launch, which is something I personally relied on in Half-Life: Alyx. You’ll instead move by tilting the left analog stick as you would in a console first-person shooter, which might trigger nausea with some people in VR. If you want to use the right analog stick to turn the camera instead of physically turning your body, that can only be done with snap turning, which moves the camera in a stilted way with each adjustment.
The campaign features six missions, that are broken up into about 12 smaller sections. Additionally, there’s a single-player horde mode along with several multiplayer modes, though I didn’t get a chance to play those during the review period. This game doesn’t warrant a second playthrough unless you’re someone who loves scouting out collectible items. It feels like it’s meant to be played as an on-rails shooter, moving quickly from one point to the next, like an unintended homage to the PS1-era Medal of Honor. It’s a far cry compared to other VR experiences that offer far richer interactivity with a myriad of objects — pointless as it might seem — to ground you in the game’s world, which is what games like Half-Life: Alyx do so well.
There are some technical hurdles to even play Above and Beyond. At launch, it requires a wired Oculus headset, like the Rift or Rift S, to play. The game is also available on Steam, so any SteamVR-ready headset like the Valve Index or HTC Vive will work, too. Additionally, Respawn recommends a PC with an Intel Core i7-9700K processor (or comparable AMD model), 16GB of DDR4 RAM, an Nvidia RTX 2080 or higher, and a fast NVMe SSD. But regardless of what kind of storage you have, you’ll need to reserve a staggering 180GB to unpack the game’s files on it, which results in a slightly smaller, but still huge 173GB install size.
I ran the game without a hitch on the “high” resolution setting on my PC, which contains an Intel Core i5 9600K processor, 16GB of RAM, Nvidia’s RTX 2070, and a SATA-based SSD. For PCs that aren’t as powerful as mine or the one Respawn suggests you have, you can switch on dynamic resolution to let the game adjust settings on the fly to stay smooth. It even ran fine wirelessly via Virtual Desktop with my Oculus Quest 2, but your results will vary depending on your PC’s power and the quality of your internet connection and router.
Even with all the necessary specs, I wouldn’t call this game a stunner, visually speaking. The main character models are expressive, if cartoony in appearance, though most enemies and secondary characters could pass as something just above low-poly extras in a modern open-world game. Some of the smaller rooms are particularly impressive, though the graphical fidelity and attention to detail expectedly take a hit as the maps grow in size.
1999’s Medal of Honor was the game that helped make wartime first-person shooters popular, though the franchise struggled to distinguish itself from Call of Duty since it launched in 2003. With this VR game’s title, Respawn and EA seem to be bragging that Medal of Honor has finally gone where no Call of Duty game has gone before — “above and beyond” it, in fact. Despite moving into new territory, Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond feels like it’s traveling a well-worn path but doesn’t provide enough reasons to make it worth buying a headset. Even with all of the necessary equipment, this game doesn’t rise to being a must-play experience.