12 October 2015

FWS Topics: The Medal of Honor (2010) Five Year Retrospective

Five years ago, a unique video experience was released by Danger Close Studios and EA on PC and console gaming platforms. That game was 2010's Medal of Honor modern warfare reboot. It was considered, at the time, to be EA attempting to save the dying and nearly forgotten EA MoH franchise, by patterning their game after the very successful COD: Modern Warfare model. However, this modern war game was much more than just EA's Modern Warfare, it was a revolution in the campaign storytelling and what games could do to educate the gamer on the lives of the Special Force Operators that they love to play as. This is FWS five year retrospective on 2010's Medal of Honor and by the way, I fucking love this game!

What was Medal of Honor?
In 1999, Dreamworks Interactive did something unexpected, it released a World War II themed first person shooter with guidance from Steven Spielberg. Some believe that the Dreamworker Interactive was attempted to capitalize on the re-interest in the 2nd World War after the massive success of Saving of Private Ryan, but was the Steven Spielberg himself wanted the Medal of Honor series to bring honor and respect to the heroes in the military via realistic experiences. In some ways, it is best to think of the original World War II themed MoH games as the pioneer of later military shooter games like Battlefield, Brothers in Arms, and Call of Duty. For many of us, we had played few World War II themed shooter which included Wolfstein, Commando,and Into the Eagle's Nest, but not on modern home consoles, and the original Medal of Honor games were powerhouses of historic combat. This made them some of the most popular games of that console generation.
For a few years, Medal of Honor was the premier military shooter series on PC and home console systems, and with the release of Allied Assault, it seemed that MoH would be the king of shooters for a while. Little did we know that Allied Assault was the end of the Golden Age of MoH. Battlefield, Brothers in Arms, and Call of Duty came onto the scene around 2002/2003, and it altered the playing field. Before long, Medal of Honor was struggling to keep up as the newer franchise gained ground. By the time of COD: III, MoH had pretty much lost the war of the WWII shooters, and they became even clearer with MoH: Airborne. While the 2007 game was well received by critics (I liked it as well), fun and dynamic, and was mostly consider it the best game of the series since Allied Assault, but sales expectations were not met. This is due to the majority of the gaming community moving on to more modern settings with COD:MW. If Airborne  had come out closer to the time of Band of Brothers, the game could have riding that trend. Seeing the writing on the wall, EA decided to act, and for nearly three years, MoH was being retooled by Danger Close into the 2010 modern setting reboot game Medal of Honor.

The Historical Context of Medal of Honor 2010
The world of the military shooter games was directly influenced by Medal of Honor...the 1999 game that is. This one game that came on the heels of Saving Private Ryan, started other game developers thinking about military shooters set in World War II. For years, it seemed every major war game was set in World War I;, from Call of Duty, to Battlefield, to Brothers in Arms, and that all changed in 2007 with the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Up until the release of that game, other developers had being attempting to set military shooters in other wars, like Vietnam, but none made much of an impact.
The timing was perfect for Modern Warfare. The public was being obsessed with all things modern military, including AR15s and modern military tactical gear due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This shock wave in the world of gaming caused other developers to play catch-up, but not Medal of Honor. EA would continue to release World War II themed games, like 2007's MoH: Airborne which was hoping to capitalize on the Band of Brothers miniseries. By the time EA got the message that maybe MoH should be rebooted into the modern era, Call of Duty  was already on the second game in Modern Warfare series...which was one of the bestselling video games of all time. When Danger Close announced the rebooting of the elderly MoH franchise into the modern era of warfare, the reaction was mixed, and many critics wrote that EA was playing "Me, too" with their old and beloved World War II franchise. When MoH dropped in 2010, it was competing with Call of Duty: Black Ops, Mass Effect 2, and the juggernaut, HALO: Reach. This did not leave a lot of room in the wallets of gamers, but the game would go on to sell over 1.5 million copies. Not bad at all, and this convinced EA to tap Danger Close for a sequel. That sequel altered MoH history forever.

The Hype for Medal of Honor
I think the gaming community knew that the 2010 reboot for the MoH franchise was going to be different than the COD or Battlefield games of the time just by the marketing strategy alone. Unlike those other shooter games, MoH 2010 adverts, trailers, and teasers were all selling the idea of "Tier-One" and how warfare had changed in Afghanistan from conflicts before.Trailers showed us taking control of elite operators, driving ATVs, and piloting Apache attack helicopters; all while hunting down and killing AQ and Taliban shitbags. Win-fucking-win. From all of this, you got the sense that the soldiers in the game were going to be badass bearded warriors of the highest caliber. That was hammered home by an interview video series with members of those same Special Operations community portrayed in the game. Somehow, I knew with MoH 2010 that playtime was over, and it was time to flip the switch.

How Medal of Honor was Different that the Rest of the Pack
When I played MoH, I was floored and stunned at seeing realistic missions of Tier-One SOF "black ops" units in Afghanistan being in the game and realistic done from top-to-bottom. The treatment of the missions and the operators was unlike anything that I've seen in video games. Then there was the interview series with TIER-One Operators that consulted on the development of MoH. These were amazing videos on the mindset and nature of the top-of-the-food-chain soldiers of the Special Operations community. All of this made the Call of Duty and Battlefield games seem more like military fan-fiction than realism. Like many of the current military shooter games, the player steps into several warfighter types in MoH, but all of these different characters are part of the larger story and directly tied to the operational pie.
You could play as CAG sniper helping support a team of ST6 operators, that you take over in boots of the DEVGRU operator the next chapter. Moreover, the gear, the vehicles, the events, and all of the little details were done as correct as a civilian game developers could get with advisors. It is also helped that Sean Naylor, who penned the best account of Operation: ANACONDA with Not a Good Day to Die was hired by Danger Close Games to pen the script, allowing the connection between those real events from March of 2002 to the 2010 video game.

Based on Real Events: Operation: ANACONDA
When you play MoH 2010, you are somewhat reenacting real events that took place in Afghanistan. In March of 2002, a plan was formulated by the allied forces in Afghanistan to neutralize an massing of AQ/Taliban forces that taken up residence in the Shah-i-Kot Valley, which means "palace of the kings" in Pashto (may have been named for Alexander the Great) as well as the Arma Mountains. In order to locate and get eyes-on hostile forces, AFO teams like MAKO 31, INDIA, and JULIET were deployed into unforgiving territory. Allied Coalition Forces teams were to sweep-and-clear the valley of hostile forces. Not only were Western military coalition forces involved, there were Afghan forces as well. This was one of the largest battles in the War in Afghanistan, and became well known to the general public via the act of heroism during the Battle of Takaur Ghar. While there were issues, compilations, and poor planning/intelligence, the overall goals of the Operation were successful and demonstrated that coalition forces could strongly affect terrorist forces in the brutal conditions of A-Stan. This Operation has also been one of the touchstone Special Operations missions in Afghanistan.

Wasn't There an Tie-In Book?
Yes, oddly. Ex-SAS member Chris Ryan, who was an the famous Bravo Two-Zero mission during the First Gulf War, was tapped to write a tie-in novelette for the release of the game. The Medal of Honor book was a total of 88 pages, and it detailed the events prior to the game involving Dusty, Rabbit, Voodoo, and an SAS trooper assigned to AFO team, Jock that did not appear in the game. Their mission was to find an Afghan informant HVT and tax collector with human intelligence on the region and its players. Chris Ryan is a noted military writer, and the book was well received by fans of the game, but it was 88 pages, and sold for the price of a normal book. Some fans felt cheated by the book, but not the writing. The book ends as the Wolfpack and Neptune AFO teams are deployed to find Tariq. I read this novelette a few years ago, and I, like most people, found the writing to be solid with a great story that seemingly flowed into the shadowy world of TIER-ONE and MoH. However, it is way too short, and the addition of Jock was interesting, but not needed. This could have been an interesting DLC mission for the 2010 game, and it could have always been cool to have another character's POV for a DLC, but that never happened. This book is available on Amazon.com as ebook Kindle download for about $3. If you are like me, than you can never have enough MoH in your life.


Why Did Critics and Reviewers Hate MoH?
Because they are assholes...okay, not all are assholes, but many reviewers and critics that cast judgement on MoH had no idea what they were playing because the majority know dick about SOF operations in A-Stan. I made an effort to watch the majority of major reviewers of this game, and most had issue with the online play, which I could give two shits about, and they called the single player campaign unfocused and boring or even overly emotion and cheesy. Fucking limp-dicks. Most also said that the campaign was too drab in colors, that the enemies were generic, and the dialog was simply and too military. Once again, these critics know shit about what they are playing or the gravity of the situation that is depicted. I have no idea what these dickheads want in a military shooter, and nor do I care. MoH is a solid, emotional, true-to-life experience that you would have to pass selection or BUDs to have in the real-world.

Did Medal of Honor make an Impact?
No, not really on a wide scale as much as we fans and EA had hoped. While there was an sequel in 2012, no other military shooter game has stepped in the shoes of MoH to show the realistic nature of the world of elite Special Forces Operators in modern warfare. Where MoH made the impact was on a individual basis. Gamers like me that revealed in the details, the missions, and the emotions depicted on-screen with all of the details of the current war in a beautiful, if unforgiving, country. The impact of MoH 2010 seems even more distant with the COD franchise going further into the future. Maybe one day we'll get another game like this. Some believed that the unreleased and massive controversial Six Days in Fallujah would have been a spiritual successor to MoH's style and focus.

The "Playing as a Taliban" Controversy
Just before the game's release in 2010, there was controversy stirred up about the ability to play as a Taliban soldier during multiplayer matches. Given that the game takes place in Afghanistan during 2002, the enemy character models are of AQ/Taliban/Chechen fighters. These character models were naturally reused for the multiplayer. This is nothing new. There have been games were you can play as terrorists (Counterstrike), Nazis, and North Koreans. However, widows and mothers of fallen soldiers, and even the UK defense ministry called the move disrespectfully, and Danger Close/EA bowed to their wishes, removing the Taliban label and re-labeling them "OPFOR". This was little more than a name change, but it seemed to end the issue. However, as a result, the US military and other military organizations did not shelve Medal of Honor in their stores due to the controversy. This idea was not replicate for Warfighter.

The Murderers of MoH: EA and MoH: Warfighter
It is amazing how a single game can propelled a gaming franchise into the atmosphere or it could be the hangman's noose. EA was hoping and betting on the rebooted MoH franchise to be EA's Call of Duty Modern Warfare series. The pattern was the same: both were transitioning from 2nd World War to modern warfare and sales reflected the change in greater returns. 2010's MoH was a successful, but it was not up to the same level as COD: Modern Warfare. After all, COD Modern Warfare games were a common cultural experience and within the space of two games, Modern Warfare was the online shooter. EA envisioned Warfighter being their Modern Warfare II, and they pushed Danger Close hard to met a October of 2013 target release date, so that MoH:W could beat HALO 4 and COD: GHOSTS to market.
That drive cost MoH it's life and Greg Goodrich's job. That was the reason that EA murdered MoH and Danger Close...greed. It makes no sense to rush a game to market. But EA did. They rushed the sequel out to be released by October and as a consequence, the game was broken, unfinished, and a complete betrayal to us loyal fans of the 2010 game, along with the real military advisors that trusted Danger Close to bring their story to the world of gaming. Within weeks, the gaming press rightfully burned this game, the online community abandoned it.
We should have known...after all, the writing was on the wall several months before the release of Warfighter. EA fired Greg Goodrich, and gagged him from speaking about the upcoming Warfighter. Then the real signs that Warfighter was not going to be the powerhouse we fans imagined: the game was not given to reviewers. Much like shitty movies not screened for critics, EA would not release the game for the reviewing gaming community. This means that the reviews would be a few days after the release of the game. EA was betting to reap their money and take their pound of flesh in the days before the gaming community shit all over this abortion.
EA should have known better, and we fans and MoH paid the price. The fallout of Warfighter was that Danger Close was close, Goodrich was simply gone, and EA put Medal of Honor into cryosleep. That makes EA a double murder, killing MoH and Danger Close. This was a senseless killing, too. EA could have waited to bring Warfighter out properly, and if it had been as great as we fans had hoped, it could have easily pushed that shitty COD: Ghosts off of the gaming radar. That is the sad thing, the game that EA feared that Warfighter could success against, was the worst COD game in many years. EA missed a great opportunity. Nice job EA!        

What is the Future for Medal Of Honor?
Dim. In summer of 2013, months after the disaster that was the release of Warfighter, Danger Close Games was folded back into EA, and Danger Close head, Greg Goodrich seems to disappear off of the planet. There have been hints that MoH brand will be resurrected with yet another reboot that could, according to rumor, refocus on World War II (don't they remember Airborne?). I think the in-game universe established in the 2010 game is dead as dead can be. With the failure of Warfighter. EA believes that the "modern warfare" experiment has failed along with all of the concepts and characters within that modern warfare reboot. All that was established in those games, the good, the bad, and the ugly, are gone forever.

My Experience with Playing MoH Over The Last Four Years
 I said it above, and I'll repeat, I fucking love this game, and I wish more gamers loved it with me, and that EA had loved MoH enough to save it, instead of rolling out yet another bland Battlefield game. I have played MoH for four years, and played through the campaign over a dozen times, and I love it each time, and I attempt to be more perfect each time, because I am living an experience I badly want to have in the real world. I wish that I could have entered the shadowy world of TIER-One special operations and fought in Afghanistan...sadly, I cannot...and MoH is the only time that I can live out my fantasy without an holo-deck.
Some people jerk off to Star Wars games wanting to be Jedi or Boba Fett (who is uber-cool BTW), some wet their panties playing a Starfleet captain or donning armor and going on a magical quest. Not me. I want my boots dusty, my M4A1 warm, and my terrorists dead as I hunt them in mountains of Afghanistan with my quality guys watching my six as I watch theirs. My experience with MoH over the last four years has been a happy one, and returning to that experience is one of my happy place. I grimly know that one day, this experience will go away when the Xbox 360 is unable to play, and my Xbox One cannot play the game. I weep that day that I cannot inhabit the body of Rabbit and fight alongside Preacher, Mother, and Voodoo in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Playing Medal of Honor (2010) Today
Over the course of owning this game since 2011, I've played through the campaign over a dozen times and even played it online when there was still a gaming community playing it. If you are buying MoH today, than you are buying it for the single player campaign only because the online community is DOA for MoH and its followup MoH: Warfighter. The game's central story is very much still intact and still quite good, holding up very well. The power and emotion is compelling, and is a timepiece of that era in world history. However...the linear nature of the campaign robs it of some freshness and differentiation that you find in the HALO games. If an enemy is in that corner, he is there time after time. If you to experience Special Operations missions in A-Stan, than this gaming experience is one you can and should have.

Next Time on FWS...
There is no doubting the power of fire, and it transformed human society forever. But, while it can provide us so much, it can also used to kill. Given the psychological and destructive power of fire, it is an easy weapon, and one of the most destructive. In the next installment of FWS Armory, guest contributor and FWS friend Yoel will be profiling the use of fire by the military in the form of the flamethrower in great detail and showing its iconic use in science fiction. Watch for it on the 22nd of October!






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