The Nazis were terrible and Hitler was a jerk. How do we know that? History books, teachers, video games, and television documentaries reinforce this idea every day. But what is the overall opinion of the war going on in the Middle East? Different countries have different takes and even in our own country there are opposing viewpoints. Before it was even released, EA’s Medal of Honor ran through a media hacksaw, resulting in some enemy name changes, but more importantly, it brought to light the emotional obstacles any form of entertainment has to go through when trying to interpret a conflict that’s still being written. There are many people personally involved in the current war, either indirectly or through loved ones, and through those connections, there is an emotional weight that has proved to be detrimental to the objectives that EA had with Medal of Honor. One of those objectives was to create a modern day shooter set in Afghanistan that would create an engaging experience through its interpretation of real, current day Tier 1 special operations tactics.
The story of Medal of Honor is broken down between different characters whose story arcs will eventually be linked together, creating a somewhat united arc. The type of scenarios that play out with each level — for the most part — tread similar ground that previous games in the same genre have covered, but where EA hoped to differentiate themselves from the pack was through the family-like relationships that the Tier 1 operatives have. In between firefights, there is some personal banter, but beyond that, we never actually get to see the type of personalities that each character has, resulting in bland, machismo filled, predictable, and forgettable moments. While each level is broken up by a cut scene attempting to explain the reasoning behind the mayhem, it actually exemplifies the ignorance and carelessness of government when giving orders. The time allotted to these scenes would have been better spent by expanding on the interactions of each unit that you control, how they complement each other, and why you should care about them at all. Instead, EA has unintentionally blurred the lines between who is the actual villain (the terrorists or our own government).
Villains take on many forms in video games, but frequently in shooters, there is usually an ultimate evil that is awaiting the player at the end. In Medal of Honor (seemingly because the conflict is still ongoing) there isn’t a clear cut villain represented, except the organizations that we label as terrorists or the politicians deciding how lives are spent. Without that villain pushing us to see the plot through to the end, there has to be another hook that will keep the player engaged. The aforementioned comradery that the Tier 1 operatives showcase was supposed to be one of those hooks. If done successfully, we would actually care if someone was in trouble or wonder how the story arc is to be resolved. Other shooters in the genre, most notably the Call of Duty series, have done a good job at keeping the player engaged even without a coherent story, but they established a hook by presenting absurd circumstances for the player to experience.
Call of Duty replaced the villain that we as gamers feel the need to conquer by establishing outrageous set pieces, thus keeping the player engaged by playing on our natural curiosity to see what kind of new chaos is about to ensue, but because Medal of Honor wants to stay true to the operations going on today, they have lost yet another reason to keep us playing. While it can be argued that EA was trying to reach a different audience with this more realistic approach, it doesn’t forgive them from not creating a more memorable experience inside the framework that they have restricted themselves to. While this is broadly defining the whole experience, there are some instances where the tension is ratcheted up and the actual outcome doesn’t seem so scripted, but those scenarios are few and far between. It is a shame that more of these scenes didn’t play out differently than what we have grown accustomed to because they may have created a true differentiation between Medal of Honor and the other games in the genre that they are imitating. Switching between characters was another chance at breaking up the repetitiveness of levels, which could have worked if some levels didn’t feel so rushed.
Each of the characters that you play in Medal of Honor has a different role in the war and with each role there is a chance at creating more of a variety in gameplay. Call of Duty introduced the ugliness and disconnect that a player/soldier experiences when deciding to wipe out large amounts of people at a distance in scenes shot from a high altitude plane. When presented on a filtered screen, people lose some of the characteristics their individuality, their humanity. Medal of Honor makes similar attempts at recreating this awkward distanced feeling, but because of gameplay glitches and overall poor presentation, that recreation is lost. There are many times switching between a normal first-person perspective to one that observes the battlefield from overhead or from afar, tasking you with ordering different types of air raids. Such transition would sometimes be fine, but on multiple occasions, I had to restart from my last checkpoint because portions of the interface “froze”, allowing me to move around but not giving me access to the controls that I needed in order to give commands. In between these missions, there are also some stealth sequences that are very enjoyable, but just like the rest of the game, they are over way too quickly, leaving you wanting more.
Normally, length in a game shouldn’t hinder the product if it is enough time to get the developer’s vision across, but Medal of Honor, for all of its promises, seems to fall too short of such vision. The campaign can easily be beaten in four to five hours, which is even more of a disappointment when you realize that the multiplayer component was handled by a totally separate team. Even with the short amount of time used to flesh out the story, it is still too muddled, getting stuck in normal war clichés seen in too many other games in the genre. The vision is there, but unfortunately, the time given to experiencing the product in single player doesn’t reflect those intentions.
Medal of Honor seems an attempt to grab a part of the huge audience that Call of Duty claims but fails to provide anything substantial enough to do so. The implementation of real world tactics in a more realistic atmosphere could have created some great tension and excitement, but that experience conflicts with creating a compelling interactive experience.