Can Medal of Honor compete with Call of Duty?

EA is rebooting the Medal of Honor franchise with a gritty take on the current conflict in Afghanistan.

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Jeff Bakalar
Dan Ackerman
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5 min read
Watch this: Game trailer: Medal of Honor

Medal of Honor marks the reboot of a franchise that found a handful of success on the original PlayStation and PC. Eleven years after its original release, developer Danger Close has teamed up with EA for the self-titled Medal of Honor on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. This time, the events are all too familiar--directly dealing with the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.

The game isn't without its share of controversy; over the summer, Medal of Honor made headlines when it was learned that the multiplayer mode would have players assuming two team roles, one of which was to be called the Taliban. Though EA stood by the decision for a while, the Taliban was ultimately renamed to "Opposing Force" right before the game was released.

The big question, though, is whether Medal of Honor will be able to weather the inevitable Call of Duty: Black Ops storm that will hit on November 9. Will this month head start be enough for the title to be a legitimate contender?

A fair amount of hype has been laid upon the shoulders of Medal of Honor, namely because it's Call of Duty: Black Op's biggest competition this holiday season. There aren't too many drastic departures from Call of Duty's formula, but the campaign in Medal of Honor gives much more realistic and gritty insight to actual infantry combat. The decision to consult with members of the U.S. military has proved beneficial, thus making it a superior single-player experience on many levels.

Medal of Honor gets the atmosphere right, arguably the title's strongest feature. There is a comforting conversational interaction with the nonplayable characters you'll team up with--both in-person and over the radio--that completely humanizes the soldiers.

Medal of Honor (photos)

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Gamers will undoubtedly befriend Dusty, with his "NYPD" backward hat and sunglasses, a character who helps represent the new-found American patriotism immediately after 9/11. Since Medal of Honor takes place during the current war in Afghanistan, there are a few educational moments scattered throughout. If anything, Medal of Honor successfully portrays soldiers as more down-to-earth, further emphasizing the real tragedy of war.

In terms of actual gameplay, Medal of Honor has a healthy amount of issues. We experienced screen-tearing and frame rate drops on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions, and a few times where audio became choppy with occasional cut-outs. Grenades are tough to see once they've been thrown, and sliding into cover didn't always do what we wanted it to. Negatives aside, we appreciated the firing mode options and some destructible environments. The cleaned-up minimalist HUD (heads-up display) is also a welcome change, opposed to a screen overrun with ammo counts and meters.


Those looking for a similar online multiplayer experience like the one afforded in Call of Duty will be underwhelmed. Though the gameplay is tight and responsive, there isn't much diversity among the available maps and weapon classes. There is some fun to be had here, but it just feels like a watered-down experience, especially coming from the exceptional Modern Warfare 2 online modes.

War games have undergone a shift: rather than have us undergo history lessons from years past, they're now serving to give us information on the world of war we can't see. Whereas WWII shooters were de rigeur several years ago, we now seem to be in an age focusing on current combat. Medal of Honor focuses on Afghanistan; as a virtual ticket to a place most of us haven't been, it operates as a fascinating atmospheric doorway. Lighting plays a strategic role in many missions, and the chaos inherent in identifying enemies and allies translates nicely amid a sea of uniform colors.

Playing a single-person campaign in most shooters can't help but feel a little more like a haunted house than an actual war mission, and Medal of Honor really doesn't do anything differently in that regard from the Call of Duty games. The controls are a little more organic here, and the missions seem lengthier, but it's not anything you haven't seen before. The good news is that it's as good an experience as Call of Duty in terms of a single-player game, more somber, perhaps more focused. Maybe shooters can't break out of their mold this generation, but this is yet another good game in a genre that's filled to capacity. Personally, however, I hope war shooters make a transition to musketry next.


Every year seems to feature at least one major video game content controversy. Recent examples include the purported racism of Resident Evil 5 and the PG-13 girl-on-girl titillation of Mass Effect. This year's version is the explicit reference to Taliban forces in Medal of Honor, a series formerly restricted to the relatively safe historical confines of World War II (although even that may still be a cultural third rail in some cases).

As often happens, this is one of those cases where both sides really do have a legitimate, reasoned point of view. Those who opposed the game in its original form (based largely on the ability to play as Taliban fighters in the game's online multiplayer matches) have a point about how real-time current events are portrayed--especially because during online play, teams switch sides after each round, forcing one to play as both U.S. soldiers and the now-renamed "Opposing Force."

Defenders make no distinction between games and films, such as "The Hurt Locker" or "Generation Kill." After all, it would be unthinkable to mark even still-brewing current events as verboten in any of the so-called serious art forms. Still, it's also easy to be sympathetic to the argument that passively watching or reading something about the Taliban is markedly different than being put in their shoes in an interactive experience.


When compared with highbrow war films, Medal of Honor is helped by its slow, deliberate pace. Standing apart from the over-the-top Michael Bay set pieces of the visually similar Call of Duty series, this game requires a respectable amount of strategic thinking and patience. Running into a firefight with guns blazing is a quick way to end up reloading the previous checkpoint over and over again. That's not to say this isn't an arcade-y experience; it's still largely a corridor shooter, packing more gunfire into a few hours than your average solider probably sees in an entire tour.

The online multiplayer matches take the experience even further, and stand in stark contrast to the typical death match model, where players are encouraged to keep on the go, in a run-and-gun style. The multiplayer in Medal of Honor is short and brutal, and you'll want to check your corners before each move. Stealth and a steady hand work better than wanton destruction--although I still ended up eating a lot more lead than I dished out.