Another one bites the dust. Game off the mantelpiece that is. I had to resist the temptation to spell honor correctly for this entire post. For the record, it is H.O.N.O.U.R.
Back in 1999 I had my mind blown by a FPS on the Playstation. That’s right, the Playstation. Not the Nintendo 64. Not the XBOX. And definitely not the PC. The humble ‘bad for First Person Shooters’ Playstation 1. That game was Medal of Honor, a World War II shooter full of nazis and guns and mission objectives, and it was fine.
Fast forward 13 years and World War II is old and boring and those new fan-dangled middle eastern wars are all the rage. Convenient then, that EA decided to move the focus of its ‘becoming irrelevant’ series from the doldrums of ‘not exciting anymore World War II Europe’ to the ‘not at all overused middle east’. If you sensed sarcasm in my written voice, then you’re absolutely right. I am not at all enamoured by the sand, stone villages and ice-capped rocky terrain of the games that are seeking to be topical by setting themselves in afghan/iraq type environments full of terrorists and soldiers with cloth headwear.
So imagine my surprise when I loved the reboot of Medal of Honor.
Shooting nondescript people spouting out an undistinguishable dialect was more fun than it has been in any other ‘modern warfare’ title I’ve played. The feel of the weapons was great, the set pieces were breathtaking yet still grounded in some sort of realism, and the game had enough variety to keep it interesting enough despite the admittedly same-y locales. It sounds like a modern Call of Duty game, right?
Wrong. And it’s the differences that for mine made Medal of Honor a better, more well-rounded and more gritty experience than any of the recent Call of Duty games. Unlike Call of Duty, Medal of Honor isn’t out to create a Michael Bay (Armageddon) moment, all explosions and guns and nukes and buildings toppling and cities falling. That’s not to say that it’s trying to create Kathryn Bigelow (Hurt Locker) either. The truth is it is striving to create something in the middle. The explosions are as ferocious as those in Modern Warfare or Battlefield, but its the lulls between firefights that really make Medal of Honor an experience to remember.
One mission has you playing a downed and injured soldier trying to stay out of sight of the enemy long enough to rendezvous with your scattered team members after jumping out of a helicopter that came under heavy ground fire. Sure, you’re still killing guys, but there is a sense of vulnerability that I haven’t seen in a game of this type outside of the infamous death scene in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. As one of your squad mates asks you to decide late in the game “Bullets or broken bones? Bones Heal.” But this is exactly what I would imagine the sentiment of a soldier becomes when you’re facing death, and this is what Medal of Honor does better than most – create a sense of real and imminent danger. From the realistic clouds of dust and rock that are thrown impressively into the air with every explosion to the whiz of bullets and grenades flying past your head, not a moment passes where you feel safe, comfortable. It feels like an organic war zone where each and every soldier on both sides is willing to give his (and they’re all male) life for the cause, and for that reason it is a ferocious and tense experience.
The developers have taken a ‘no holds barred’ approach to delivering a tale of modern soldiers in a modern guerrilla war. Medal of Honor isn’t a simulation of war – it doesn’t set out to be. But it certainly doesn’t glorify it either. Medal of Honor is fun, sure, but it’s certainly not going to have potential soldiers lining up to go to the frontline. Which to me, means developer Danger Close has achieved something special in a genre full of machismo-fuelled depictions of war zones.