It turns out there’s some irony to the controversy that erupted last summer around Electronic Arts’ Medal of Honor reboot.
When media and politicians learned that players would be able to take on the role of the Taliban in the game’s online multiplayer modes (the word “Taliban” has since been scrubbed and replaced with the less offensive nomenclature “OpFor,” or Opposing Force) they criticized the game and its developers for showing disrespect toward military personnel engaged in an ongoing war.
The rub is that now that the game has been released it’s clear that few other first-person shooters paint America’s fighting forces in such flattering hues.
Medal of Honor is an unabashed ode to the courage of U.S. troops – specifically SEALs, Tier 1 Operatives, and Rangers – fighting in Afghanistan. From its patent leave-no-man-behind-no-matter-the-cost message to its closing, glowing dedication to enlisted men and women, no one who plays the campaign mode could tenably argue that that the game is anything but a love song to America’s currently serving military and fallen troops – a thoroughly foul-mouthed but unquestionably honourable and principled bunch of professional warriors, according to what we see.
What’s more, developer Danger Close cautiously skirts anything that could be considered even remotely controversial in the game’s story. Rather than tell a tale about a frustratingly fruitless search for a terrorist mastermind, or explicate the difficulties of determining peaceful Afghans from warlike Taliban – and illustrate the consequent civilian death toll – they have instead focused on a fight for a patch of barren rocky land that has no more apparent worth than Hamburger Hill. In fact, simply by invoking that notorious Vietnam War battle I have offered more political commentary on the current conflict in Afghanistan than have the makers of this game.
Of course, one can’t blame Danger Close for this approach. To try anything more daring would be to invite a level of public backlash that would make last summer’s media storm seem like a mild drizzle. Still, proponents of games as a medium for the expression of progressive thought will be disappointed.
- The Goods Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (reviewed), Windows PC Publisher: Electronic Arts Developers: Danger Close, DICE ESRB: Mature The Good: Many rousing and immersive single-player missions. The harsh Afghan countryside in the campaign is beautiful. Multiplayer amalgamates several familiar and appealing elements from other games. The Bad: Deliberate avoidance of controversial narrative elements is plainly evident. Campaign bugs lift players out of the experience. Online play could prove difficult and frustrating for new players. Multiplayer maps lack the arresting visual flair of campaign missions. The Verdict: Fun manages to outweigh frustration in this flawed and controversial modern military shooter.
Gamers expecting one of the great military shooters of 2010 might be let down, too.
Though the campaign has many stirring moments – desperate retreats, last-second rescues, all-out rushes on enemy lines – that will fail to rouse only the most jaded video game combatants, something about it feels just a little bit off.
Some of this has to do with the predictability of our enemies. They seem to have two modes of action, either rushing headlong toward the player with no regard for personal safety or holing up behind cover, taking turns popping their heads out above or beside whatever box, rock, or barrier they happen to be using for protection.
It doesn’t help that there are far too many obvious bugs for a triple-A title. Weapons with muzzles that flash without actually being fired, paper-thin rocks that you can walk into and which offer no cover, allies who block your way from exiting a building until you throw a grenade at them to make them leap away – these are all issues that suck the player out of the experience, killing any sense of immersion or momentum they might have had.
Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun. The best parts of the campaign are those that wander slightly outside the well-defined box of your average shooter. Like a long-range sniping sequence across a valley that sees a lengthy delay between pulling the trigger and bullet impact. Trying to take a bead on targets as they desperately attempt to hone in on your position proves a thrilling experience, and reminded me of tense sniper sequences in movies like The Hurt Locker and Enemy at the Gates.