Way back in the early 2000s, Medal of Honor was the pre-eminent military shooter franchise beloved by fans and critics alike, despite controversies over its use of real life events for the purposes of entertainment. Over time, though, it was eclipsed by Call of Duty and effectively replaced at EA by its stablemate Battlefield. It was therefore a surprise when Titanfall and Apex Legends developers Respawn Entertainment were announced to be working on a new entry in the series, even more so when it was revealed to be a VR exclusive.
Through the build up to the game’s release, Respawn were keen to highlight the inclusion of a Gallery that features some moving and inspirational interviews with World War II veterans. This is clearly a project stemming from respect and gratitude and you’d have to have a hard heart not to be emotionally affected by footage of soldiers returning to the sites of their youth and reliving harrowing memories. The problem with this approach, though, is that it runs the risk of undermining the game itself, especially if that game doesn’t share the mature tone.
First impressions of the game come from an installation process that is a saga in and of itself. The download is a frankly ridiculous 170GB and the minimum specs are listed as needing an RTX 2080 or equivalent. While VR enthusiasts will likely have powerful systems this would effectively closes the game off for everyone bar the very top few percent of PC owners. I can happily report that the actual requirements are far more achievable, with my RTX 2060 being entirely capable of playing the game at High settings (albeit with a few tweaks to Steam VR’s super sampling settings). I was unable to test on an SSD as I simply didn’t have room for the install but, aside from some long load times between levels, it performed well on a HDD as well.
With those recommended specs and the install size, you’d be forgiven for expecting the game to set new standards in VR graphical fidelity, so it comes as a surprise that it actually employs an almost cartoon aesthetic. I suspect that a large portion of the install size comes from the VR video footage contained in the Gallery rather than the game itself.
Above and Beyond can be a stunning looking game at times, but it is inconsistent. There are moments of breathtaking scale and beauty but these are mixed in with some blurry textures, repetitive interior environments and unconvincing facial models. At its best it can compete with VR standouts, but the overall effect pales in comparison with a title like Half Life: Alyx. Audio is generally of a very high standard, with some good voice acting (although it can feel a little Allo Allo at times) and a stirring score that reminded me of John Williams. The gunfire also sound great, although I cannot personally vouch for their authenticity.
The narrative sees you play as a Lieutenant injured on the battlefield in Tunisia, only to be patched up and recruited into the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA) and sent on crucial missions to undermine the Nazis. This narrative allows for some thrilling set pieces and also explains why your character is able to jump around from location to location rather than being stationed in one place or go through a single campaign. The result is that your adventure sees you go from storming the beaches at Normandy to being a gunner on a bombing run, to sabotaging a U Boat. This provides some good variety in location and gameplay styles and is worth the possible hit to any idea of realism.
The inital VR experience at release was a little underwhelming with some glaring omissions such as smooth turning and advanced graphical settings. Fortunately, these have now been added in the latest patches and the result is a far more immersive and enjoyable game. There still isn’t a dedicated crouch button, which is an odd decision given there is a seated gameplay option under Accessibility. This means that playing seated is a frustrating experience on anything other than Easy as you will struggle to avoid being picked off at a distance. Yes, full movement is a part of VR, but other titles enable less mobile players to have a comparable experience so I hope that this will be added soon as well.
In terms of pure gameplay, Above and Beyond offers a lengthy and varied campaign with a good blend of shooting and exploration. There’s a good and satisfying weight to the weapons of the era, with all the intuitive control that VR gunplay offers. Later levels such as the U Boat section are real VR highlights and make this a great FPS title.
Multiplayer is good too, although it leans heavily on AI bots to fill out lobbies – I’m not sure there is much of a community at present. All of the usual game modes are present and the bots do at least ensure that you don’t spend too long waiting for a match, which is particularly important when you are ensconced in your headset. There are also some entertaining achievements to attempt, including ones that require you to defeat Nazis with surprising environmental objects.