FBT earns his Medal of Honor; by doing what he’s told
Every generation makes a choice; The Stones or the Beatles, Blur or Oasis, Beethoven or Salieri, Coke or Pepsi, Marmite or … not. In gaming, it was Medal of Honor or Call of Duty. For me, it was the MoH series. Unfortunately, that didn’t last. MoH got more outlandish as the series tried to keep up with CoD and when they went all modern in 2007, MoH followed with this 2010 contemporary reimagining – did it overtake CoD or chase it over a cliff?
Immediately calling CoD to mind, MoH 2010 has three different characters we bounce between; "Rabbit", an ‘operator’ collecting intelligence; “Deuce” a Delta Force commando disrupting enemy movements and “Adams” an Army Ranger, part of the US’s invasion of Afghanistan; those guys directly and indirectly affect each other as they carry out missions in the months following 9/11.
Split across two days, MoH aims for a serious and realistic look at the war on terror and it seems like an epic story; the Operators discover a Taliban force the Rangers are on-route to mop up, has been grossly under-estimated. The power-that-be demand some good old-fashioned American Shock & Awe and force the unprepared Rangers into a shooting gallery. Thrilling stuff, as we cut between the Deltas disrupting Al Qaeda while the Operators thin out the Taliban and Adams and his team get cut to ribbons except … that doesn’t really happen.
Every game ever has objectives, mission markers and parameters, but in Medal of Honor you’re so locked down to specific orders and actions you never feel like it gets past tutorial stage; ‘move over there’, ‘shoot him’, ‘do that’ - constantly nagged by your teammates, you’re just their assistant; ‘snipe that guy then go get me a latté.’ I’m the sidekick? But HoM is also flat because the three characters have no character; they’re silent heroes of course, but based on the way they’re barked orders at, I’m guessing they can’t be trusted to do anything.
That might be realistic, wars aren’t won by Duke Nukem-types, it’s teamwork and precise objectives, but some investment in what’s unravelling around them, some personality, grit, ingenuity ... excitement would go a long way. It's a war-sim game. Rabbit’s missions tend to be close-quarter fights and Deuce’s are sniper and stealth based, but they are interchangeable and if it wasn’t for the NCPs round you, you’d never tell which squad you’re in. Adams’ missions are much more exciting, since he’s been deployed directly into FUBAR but it’s just agonising to never be let off the leash.
There are some great set-pieces, trying to secure an airfield (ending on the quote from Generation Kill; “that was pretty fucking Ninja”), Adams’ overrun and out of ammo moment, and a running firefight towards a Chinook that’s about to leave, but you’re never free – even running for your life is tightly controlled. Adding to that frustration, there’s moments where no one moves until you perform an action. Sometimes it’s easy to miss under the gunfire or because you’ve tuned-out the nagging, but often the game just doesn’t trigger the next action. They just keep telling you to do the thing you’re doing. So its restart at the checkpoint time and hope it works. Great, more nagging. As a shooter it’s unforgiving and realistic once the bullets start flying but it takes a lot of orders to get there.
The game does try to maintain some consistency, to show it’s all happening at once; there’s a great sequence with Adams’ team suddenly saved by an Apache Helicopter; we switch to the chopper’s gunner (since we’re not the pilot we don’t even get to choose where we go, literally a Rail-Shooter). After the chopper has cut through some enemy lines, it’s saved from AA guns by a sniper – Deuce, of course, and we slide into his mission. That’s cool, and although we see the effects of what each team is doing, since we have to complete a mission objective before it moves on, it's not like we can fail or exceed and make this better or worst for the next lot.
Our on-the-ground CO is forced by a back-in-Washington General to get ‘boots on the ground’ and that should be our cue to get to work, Deuce and Rabbit desperately trying to even the odds while the clock ticks down to Adams’ deployment - even make it Non-Linear; if it had cut between Adams’ mission, then back to Deuce or Rabbit’s impact on it earlier in the day making it about what it took to get him there it could have been incredible; make Adams’ missions easier or harder depending on how well we did as the support teams. In fact, we don't really get to play any hero - it’s actually Dusty, Deuce’s nagger on the box art and he, along with Adams and Rabbit's bosses are the heroes. We just do what they tell us to.
Nagging and script trigger-issues aside, MoH does have some great moments - rushing out of a chopper into blinding sun and sand unable to see anything is an unnerving moment as is a cut-scene inside a crashing Chinook where Adams’ team goes zero-g as it spins out. Those aren’t just good game moments, those are throwbacks to prime MoH; perfectly balanced gamer experience with true depictions of war.
In the end, the three characters do converge, with Deuce providing one final support act as the Operators draw away Al Qaeda and Adams’ winds up helping them recover a captured Operator; but it’s misjudged to end on a personal mission, a ‘we never leave a man behind’ finale undoes much of what came before. Until now, it was about how small actions have huge consequences elsewhere, now everyone’s up for saving that guy no one knows? It should have stuck to its original promise, ended with Deuce and Rabbit, the unknown soldiers, watching from afar as the Rangers take the hill then report for their next assignments, our actions forever unknown and disavowed.
It’s not that MoH couldn’t step out of CoD:MW’s atomic shadow, but it didn’t want to. MoH seems to invite comparison to Modern Warfare; there are the multiple characters, the satellite images during load screens, the occasional extra character to play, taking control of drones, directing air-strikes and slow-mo kill-shots. Most of those are necessary in a military shooter, and would be fine if there was more to it; what’s maddening is MoH 2010 is dedicated to not sensationalising or trivialising war but it’s so flat and unfinished, like a beta-test. And you can’t help but feel it’s all about the Multiplayer - and that caused a ruckus because you could play as the Taliban. Cue lots of point-scoring politicians and media outrage that a game lets you ‘shoot our brave boys’. It does seem like EA was inviting controversy; they tried to argue ‘someone has to be the cops and someone has to be the robbers’ but that doesn’t ring true as half the time you’re fighting Chechen mercenaries; and reducing the war on terror to school playtime is insulting and as an explanation of the multiplayer it undermines the tone of the story-mission; does anyone in EA’s marketing team game?
EA followed MoH with Warfighter, which was so bad it caused the cancellation of the franchise. Which is a shame. I have very fond memories of arguing MoH was better than CoD (It is. Was.) Playing the D-Day mission it struck me that this really happened, and the game was respectful about it. My opinion of military shooters was forever influenced by Allied Assault, and MoH 2010 had the opportunity to do the same, pitting us against Al-Qaeda but it seems to get caught up in its own politics and by refusing to sensationalise the events, it ironically ends up hollow; maybe there is something to said for CoD’s bombastic heroics. Yet it does come close to commentating on the War on Terror; towards the end, Rabbit’s team happens across a village they’d captured the previous day, only to see it full of Taliban again. That’s the War on Terror in a microcosm; shame we don’t get to play in it.
2010| Developers; Danger Close / DICE | Publisher; Electronic Arts Platform Win, PS3, X360