Medal of Honor is a wartime documentary by way of Michael Bay

There was a point in time when Medal of Honor was a series that mattered. A franchise born in a time where WWII shooters were still hot and Allied Assault (2002) was blowing players and its competition away. But between then and now bolt action rifles and beach stormings have fallen out of fashion, most of the people who made Medal of Honor a household name have long since left for other studios, and 2010’s reboot (for lack of a more appropriate term) is left in the same place so many other shooters were a decade or so ago when the series was first kicking off: attempting to ape its peers in the hope of grabbing a slice of the military shooter pie.

Today’s analogical pastry is the impossibly large Call of Duty, which with Modern Warfare (2007), along with innovations in campaign structures and online play, brought itself out of the early 20th century into the present. Naturally, every other military shooter has followed suit, but Medal of Honor (2010) is perhaps the first to really attempt to ground itself in the ongoing conflicts happening in the middle east, a decision that could have given its campaign substance outside of itself and showcased to its players the very real horrors raging on in Afghanistan which somehow still feel so distant.

Instead we end up with exactly what you’d expect from a modern, big-budget military shooter, along with the added baggage that comes from playing off actual current events. For all of developer Danger Close’s intentions, Medal of Honor’s contemporary subject matter has only managed to turn the game into a giant mess. It’s not that I expected Medal of Honor to provide any meaningful commentary on the scenarios its portraying, but by marrying its summer action movie mentality to a war that’s still raging and killing thousands it trivializes the losses of American soldiers and innocent Afghans for tasteless entertainment.

Medal of Honor is happy to proclaim itself as being “real” only so far as it can manage to fit in a blockbuster sequence of set pieces and explosions, showing you how horrible the events it draws from are one second while reveling in gory headshots and idiotic “bro-speak” the next. Medal of Honor feels emotionally manipulative and embarrassing, unwilling to commit to being anything but a dumb blockbuster with as little nuance in presenting its subject matter as that usually entails.

And what an unbelievably dumb game Medal of Honor is. Below its terribly handled premise, incoherent plot, and attempts at “gritty realism,” there’s a game that’s terrified of letting you play it. It funnels you through levels with gratuitous levels of restriction, placing invisible walls everywhere so as to always be entirely in control of where you are and where you can go. You move when it tells you to, shoot where it points you, watch the (often malfunctioning) scripted sequences when it makes you, the game acting as drill sergeant overseeing a disastrous exercise.

Medal of Honor is so obsessed with being in control that I began to ask why I was even there at all. The game clearly didn’t want me there, as I was simply one more thing needing to be kept on a leash in case I potentially walked too far ahead and broke another cutscene trigger or stumbled into an arena before the game had time to spawn its enemies, and I didn’t want to be there because the lack of player agency made it feel like I was watching a very dull movie that I had to constantly move forward.

Final Word

Perhaps it is the incompetency with which Medal of Honor hides any of this that is the most insulting. There’s never any question that you are being moved through egregiously linear environments, shooting enemies with zero tactical awareness that pop up like target dummies, with guns that never feel right. The game presents itself entirely as it is, as if it hasn’t even enough pride to try and hide its mind numbing tediousness and derivative existance; to try and pretend it wasn’t plopped out in the hopes of catching hold of Call of Duty’s momentum because it hasn’t a single original idea left for itself. In a way I kind of appreciate this sort of honesty, if only because it’s the only bit of sincerity Medal of Honor ever shows.

Medal of Honor was developed by Danger Close and EA DICE. It was reviewed on PC and is also available on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

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