War Torn: EA Shouldn’t Have Cancelled Medal Of Honor

By John Walker on January 31st, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

This morning’s news that EA has canned the revived Medal Of Honor strikes me as a pretty sad one. Not because the last two games earned any merit – they certainly didn’t. They were truly horrible games. Not just because of their gung-ho, one-dimensional, army-recruitment-writ-large approach to current conflicts, nor just because of the both underlying and overlying racism to be found within, but also simply because they were poorly made. Massive explosions and enormous set pieces fail to carry any gravitas, as you’re dragged by your nose through its shoulder-width corridors. I certainly don’t want another one of those. But I do want another Medal Of Honor.

EA supremo Peter Moore’s words on the matter, as pointed out by Nathan, really smack of a troubling lack of perspicuity, and a mite too much hubris.

“We struggled with two challenges: the slowdown that impacted the entire sector and poor critical and commercial reception for Medal of Honor Warfighter. Medal of Honor was an obvious miss. The game was solid, but the focus on combat authenticity did not resonate with consumers. Critics were polarized and gave the game scores which were, frankly, lower than it deserved.”

It was indeed an obvious miss. But it wasn’t despite the game being solid, nor indeed was it the audience’s failure to understand the game. Lordy. The notion that the games contain even a quarter-teaspoonful of “combat authenticity” is instantly ludicrous. Unless combat is usually fought by one man spraying bullets over a large live-action target practice zone for infinity, until he realises he was supposed to step forward to make the nearby building fall over. I’ve not been in the army, I admit, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion that it’s not quite like that.

Critics absolutely weren’t polarised – that’s when a game gets a mad mix of 9s and 3s. Warfighter’s scores sat plump in the 4 to 7 range, with not a single reviewer going over 75% on any machine (even IGN broke the bottom of their own thermometer and gave it a 4!). And where too many gaming sites see 7/10 as their punishing score, there’s no ambiguity over the general reception of this one. Moore simply made that up. And why was it so bad. The simplest thing to do is link my review.

And then “frankly, lower than it deserved”. Well, sure, everyone thinks their own baby is beautiful, no matter how much of a troll it may be. But at a certain point, after a certain number of near-unanimous reviews, one probably should stop and wonder. However, I really don’t think the response to all this is to drown that baby in a river.

Just a couple of days ago, while chatting with some of the fine folks at Eurogamer, I joked that EA should demand I put my money where my mouth is, and get me to write a third game in the rebooted series. And then realised how much I would have loved to do that. Because in Medal Of Honor, even ignoring the occasionally decent editions of its WW2 incarnation (most of all the splendid Airborne), there’s so much potential.

It would be far too simple to take Medal Of Honor and make it into an anti-war rhetoric. Indeed, the result would likely be something far too clumsy like Spec Op’s hammering home of its point. And indeed to do so would be massively oversimplifying the enormous complexities of the role of international intervention when there is terrible human suffering. Frankly, having made one’s mind up about such a broad, intricate subject is, in itself, somewhat suspicious. And that’s why I believe the franchise is bursting with such potential – potential to explore these enormously difficult subjects.

A core element of Medal Of Honor was telling a number of stories from a number of perspectives, and it’s in this that there’s so much room to ask multiple questions about the state of contemporary warfare, to represent a number of viewpoints, to pit thesis against antithesis. For the last two games, MoH has opted for a one-track, un-introspective series of “WAR IS JUST BLOODY GREAT!” blundering, peppered with outright hatred toward enemy troops. This “shoot the brown ones” motif is extremely uncomfortable, and in Warfighter even those who’ve blithely ignored it in so many other shooters (of course including the Call Of Duty games) finally seemed to snap and say: just no. (Warfighter certainly deserved the kicking it received – it’s just, so did a number of games before it.)

But at the same time, Warfighter was extraordinarily egregious in itself. It’s opening moment, that wretched scene in which you’ve a reticule fixed on the back of a stranger’s head, with no ability to move your gun, nor your feet, and only the instruction to execute this man in the back of his skull for no given reason – at the time you wonder if it’s a powerful staetment, but minutes later you realise it was just setting the tone.

Imagine a Medal Of Honor that explores this. A number of viewpoints, a representation of different attitudes, with no informing the player of which is the “correct” perspective. A game that sees soldiers challenged in their previous convictions, whether they were blind patriotism or borderline pacifism. And equally a game that challenges the player of whatever their preconceptions might be. No moralising, no bold statements, no take-home message – instead questions, provoking scenes, and doubt.

I think there’s definitely room for a game to provide the opposing anti-war thoughts that would directly respond to the extreme pro- nature of so many shooters. But I don’t think Medal Of Honor would be the right place to do such a thing. I’m not sure that I’d want to play such a thing any more than its counterpart. And while I’d also love to see gaming create the far more sophisticated and ambiguous tone of its own All Quiet On The Western Front, I think the Medal Of Honor series would be the perfect place for something not neutral, but balanced in its opposing views.

And it certainly wouldn’t need to do this through its cutscenes. Warfighter’s ghastly scenes presented a moronic and sycophantic view of a soldier’s family life, patronising both its characters and its viewers, making the game feel only more stupid and offensive. But the early MoH and CoD games demonstrated that no cutscenes were necessary to portray the experience of soldiers. Simply letting you at least hold the illusion of choice made such a massive difference, letting you feel as if you were experiencing it, rather than angrily forcing you along its rails.

I wonder if one element of the significant shift in quality for both CoD and MoH since their early incarnations comes with the change in timezones, because of a loss of perspective. Those early games were often made after team members had spent time interviewing WW2 vets about their experiences. As market-driven as those games might have been, there was no doubt that at least some of the teams felt they owed it to those elderly soldiers to honour them in their creation. But when making a contemporary war game (and indeed far further when making a future war game), that’s not nearly as simple a task. Those still in active duty are in a difficult position to reflect on experiences, and indeed unlikely to be able to talk openly. In fact, it’s more likely that the problematic tone of Medal Of Honor would only be further influenced by the necessary rhetoric of those involved in current combat.

That’s a complicated thought. In fact, a game that honestly represented the perspectives of active soldiers would be entirely unlike the war-profiteering Medal Of Honor, which of course further underlines the nonsense of Moore’s claim of “combat authenticity”. The issue is certainly the combination of the idiotic super-soldier-target-practice-on-train-tracks along with the complete lack of cognisance. But the opportunity to address both – wow, what a thing that would be. The chance to have a team that talented, and explore an enormous subject with pellucidity.

What a massive shame it is that the series should be scrapped, instead of rescued. It needs new direction, not shelving until the next inevitable reboot in five years time, once Battlefield has run entirely aground.

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216 Comments »

  1. Eclipse says:

    It’s not like they were any worse than BF3 single player anyway, that game single mode totally sucks balls. I could say the same for the various CoDs but I didn’t even tried the last ones. MW2 sucked hard too anyway. Horrible, horrible stuff… Dear Esther with guns

  2. thecat17 says:

    With Doom 4 in development and Half-Life 3 coming out someday… I just can’t work up any sympathy for the passing of Medal of Honor. There are better games, made by better developers coming down the line, who’ve proven that they can say important things in their games and not have to push a pro-war violent kill-all-the-brown-people agenda that I swear is secretly funded by military money.

    Although, if John Walker wrote the next Medal of Honor… that would be one of the only ways to get me to play it.

    I think there’s definitely room for a game to provide the opposing anti-war thoughts that would directly respond to the extreme pro- nature of so many shooters. But I don’t think Medal Of Honor would be the right place to do such a thing.

    Wait… I guess not.

    Goodbye, Medal of Honor.
    You won’t be missed.

  3. Shooop says:

    And wish I thought to say this earlier…

    This article really kind of confuses me – isn’t a game finally being acknowledged by its own creators as a catastrophe a good thing? It means there’s a chance someone learned something.

    Our best hope for a resurrection of MoH would be if another studio picked up the IP and ran with it or if EA lets go of Danger Close and they go independent. Maybe the failure of Warfighter will allow this.

    • Narzhul says:

      ..where did you see that they acknowledge that? The COO pretty much shows he has no clue about the game he was talking about. He places the blame on us, not on them(the company).

  4. Snargelfargen says:

    Medal of Honor: PEACEFACE

    starring:
    John, a young bloke recently transferred to the UK parachute regiment.
    Basem, an engineering student living with his parents in the capital of an unnamed middle eastern country (lets call it Stanistan for now, I suck at names)

    John’s battalion is airdropped into into Stanistan after democratic elections are postponed for the third time and an ongoing conflict between the regime and a coalition of secular and Islamist militias erupts into full civil war. Rebels are conducting mass killings in a remote city, and the regime forces are reportedly outclassed and defecting in large numbers.

    Landing in the middle of the night, John and his mates are surprised to discover that the poorly trained regime troops have simply been shelling the city from afar. It is up to the paras to clear the city in house-by-house fighting. This would be a semi open world scenario, where the player has to secure a number of key points, while avoiding killing any civilians and dealing with sniper fire, mg emplacements and “friendly” artillery fire. Eventually morning dawns, and John learns that due to logistical screw-ups and half ot the UN security council reneging on promises, his battalion is stuck without any support. They will have to commandeer vehicles and make their way to the coast where the royal navy should be landing with reinforcements.

    The same night, Basem’s older brother suddenly returns after spending several years in Afghanistan. He says he is leaving to join the rebels that very night and asks Basem to join him. Basem has always looked up to him but declines, unnerved by his sibling’s newfound religious fervour. The next morning, Basem is shocked to find a large demonstration in front of the university. The Brits are landing. All classes have been cancelled and a state of emergency declared. The demonstration turns into a riot and poilce start to close in.

    This would be another semi-open scenario but with an emphasis on stealth. The player is unarmed and has to get back home without being caught by regime troops patrolling the streets. Maybe a rooftop chase or something too, shades of Half-Life 2. The player arrives home to discover some goons waiting for him and his family missing. His brother’s ties to the rebels have not gone unnoticed by the regime. The goons drive him out to a remote shack along with several other prisoners. They manage to overpower the guards and escape, starting Basem’s quest to find his brother and rescue his family.

    Other scenarios:
    John’s squad is stationed with some regime troops guarding prisoners. Rebels attack, and some of the guards start rounding up captives for execution before retreating. Horrified, John and two other soldiers must warn the battalion commander about what is taking place. The player has to steal a technical (toyota pickup with a big gun nailed to the bed), and find a way through the rebel attack to reach HQ. The massacre of captives takes place anyways, and the UK officialy blames it on the rebels.

    Basem, now fighting with the rebels discovers that a tank column is unexpectedly approaching from the rear. With only ten minutes to spare, the player must set up an ambush to delay the armor. Basem is equipped with a couple of IED’s, and an ancient Mercedes-Benz with a bunch of russian rpg-7′s in the trunk. There’s only one problem: The houses surrounding the chokepoint are inhabited…

  5. Wooly Wugga Wugga says:

    Just two things:

    1. Yes the execs are sugar-coating the failure of the game because they need to protect the share value of their company in the eyes of shareholders and analyst who know nothing about games. Those releases aren’t meant for game journalists. The fact that EA is doing so well while other publishers are going bankrupt just proves that they are getting things right from a business perspective.

    2. Have you spoken to the average American? The attitudes in the game towards war, American soldiers and patriotism are a pretty accurate reflection of the opinions of a huge percentage of the population of that country. Hell, even the Brits are guilty of seeing war as a computer game against brown people (Newsflash, Prince Harry isn’t the only soldier who equates killing brown people across the ocean to playing a video game.)

  6. Agrippa911 says:

    Simple solution.

    Turn MoH into a more “fantasy” shooter, the one-man against the world style (after all it’s named after the medal awarded for doing suicidally brave acts). In fact turn it into an episodic game, have each episode based on/inspired by an actual MoH citation (with obvious creative additions). You’d have endless scenarios to play out, enough to keep the series going for quite some time (or a truckload of DLC).

    Then turn CoD into a more mature style shooter. A bit more BF3 and ARMA. Emphasize objectives and team play over bodycount. Make combat more lethal so a greater incentive to try alternatives to combat.

  7. Solanaceae says:

    I don’t really care about how “deep” a shooter is vis-a-vis exploring deeper themes surrounding war or whatever (though the blatant jingoism in a lot of recent titles can be tiresome), but frankly unless someone releases something in the vain of Red Orchestra or Rogue Spear/Raven Shield I just have almost no interest in shooters anymore.

    Part of the reason I don’t enjoy these “modern warfare” shooters is that compared to something like Red Orchestra (the original), the gunplay is just completely uninteresting. RO always feels like an actual pitched battle, and the weapon mechanics and assymetrical balance are just beautiful to behold (i.e. no amount of infantry has a shot against a panther unless they have AT weapons or satchel charges, a machine-gunner will lay waste to innumerable hordes of SMG toting infantry at range but get devastated by just one up close etc.)

    RO and its mod, Darkest Hour are still the best ever “semi-realistic/realistic” multiplayer shooters ever in my book, by a LONG shot. Nothing comes close. The only shooter I’m looking forward to at the moment is whatever Jackboot Games comes up with (they’re working on a sequel to DH) and possibly ARMA3.

  8. INCA says:

    Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and her 2 expansions (ACTUAL full campaigns of their own) were never boring. Play them on hard and they will challenge you. I remember Sniper Town in Allied Assault and the resulting snow levels, talk about treading carefully. And I just started playing Allied Assault again a few nights ago on HARD difficulty.

    I hated Airborne, it was THE missed opportunity. The drop-in choices were all on rails. I hated the invisible walls. And the AI scripting was crap, the XP and unlocks were very unwelcome. It bastardized the simplicity of Allied Assault. More people enjoyed the (as some claim) “arcadey” Allied Assault more than the Airborne rubbish.

    Now regarding the Korean war, there a some VERY good films from Korea that would serve as good adapations into a game. Off the top of my head we have, ’71 Into the Fire’, ‘Tae Guk Gi’, the TV series ‘Comrades’ and ‘Marines Who Never Returned’ . All very uncompromising in their depiction of the Korean war.

    • Azdeus says:

      Don’t forget a Theme Hospital, M.A.S.H style!

      Having the success of your surgery be determined on how well you choose to insults. Makes use of the Alpha Protocol style timed dialogue choices!

      Seriously though, I still have fond memories of the MOHAA games, even Pacific Assault. Even more so from Brothers in Arms. If they can make a game based on the Korean war that even touches on what made these games good, I’d be interested.

      • INCA says:

        I too have very fond memories of Allied Assault and her two expansion campaigns Spearhead and Breakthrough. I remember the line at CompUSA just to play the PC demo of the opening of Operation Overlord. Eventually they put the full game on the demo PC and people literally spent all day there playing Sniper Town and the snow levels.

        Check out the film titles I mentioned above covering the Korean War, some great scenarios could be developed into a game. All are subtitled.

  9. Citrus says:

    Holy fuck I spent good five minutes laughing at the ridiculous fake beard on the second pic at top. Nice Photoshop job Mr. Walker.