Medal of Honor has a storied past with gamers. The original console version still stands up as one of the best WWII shooters and the PC multiplayer was long a staple of LAN party play. The last few years however have not been kind to this series. When created by EA in the 1990′s, the key selling point was a recreation of the story behind some remarkable men who earned the highest military honor the United State of America offers.
Medal of Honor breaks with this formula. Following the lead of Activision’s Call of Duty series (which was itself a clone of the Medal of Honor formula at first), MoH moves the series into modern warfare, specifically the Taliban conflict in present day Afghanistan. Rather than focusing on the major Army units, the player assumes special status as a group of soldiers known as Tier 1 operators. These covert elites infiltrate, extract and play forward observer for the better known Army Spec Ops teams, often off the books and without direct Army oversight.
The single-player campaign revolves around this team of operators and the covert actions of hunting down Taliban forces through informants, local friendlies and sneaky night operations. While the arid setting of Afghanistan is visually and tactically much more difficult than the fertile crescent of Iraq, it ended up feeling a lot like more of the same to me.
There is a central evolving storyline and you get a good feel for just how embedded the Tier 1 teams are, with tenuous control by Army high command or even Ranger Spec Ops teams. You are the shadow of the US military, sent far ahead of the line and far afield to prepare the way, root out information and take preemptive action against an enemy that is often very hard to identify, let alone define.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen this exact concept play out over the last three years in Call of Duty and Battlefield: Bad Company games. Sure the setting is different and this is not a made-up alternate timeline, placing some emphasis on some of the challenges our deployed soldiers in Afghanistan face today, but for most gamers I’m pretty sure that impact will drill down to “look I’m shooting bad guys in craggy passes!”