Picture the scene: You're creeping through an Afghan wadi, covering your squad mates' approach with suppressive fire on an enemy machine gun encampment. Dust is being kicked up by running and bullets, and the piecing glare of the red-hot sun is so bright it makes looking far into the horizon impossible. You're a long way from home, soldier, and the emotional toll must surely be immense. As you zero your sights on another distant bogey you gently squeeze the trigger before being greeted by a big ol' headshot notification icon popping up at the bottom of the screen. This is war.
Medal of Hono(u)r enters the crowded shooter market with lofty ambitions: it wants to realistically present the current conflict raging in Afghanistan, and in doing so it has become the most controversial game of 2010. But developer Danger Close's contentious desires are often hindered by Medal of Honor having to concurrently act as a video game, and it's in this back-and-forth between tone and game that the whole product suffers its biggest blow.
What you need to understand about the new Medal of Honor, you see, is that many of its core events play out like its contemporaries. The first level ends with a carbon copy of Call of Duty 4's iconic, slow-motion pistol headshot, for instance, and the second level has you causing a ruckus in an aircraft graveyard less than a year after Price and Soap shot their way through one in Modern Warfare 2.
This aesthetic familiarity is a bit of a shame, as when Danger Close designs set pieces around the currently unexplored avenues of modern combat the result is far more spectacular. One notable highlight arrives in the middle of the game, when you and your NPC cohorts are garrisoned inside a dilapidated house that is progressively blown to smithereens by enemy fighters. The massive scope of the action is refreshing: rolling mountains completely surround you and huge concentrations of Taliban fighters bundle over the horizon. By the time the confrontation ends you can see the whites of your opponents' eyes and your house has been reduced to a single, broken slither of wall. It's an absolutely thrilling sequence.
The problem, however, is that such moments are few and far between. Over the length of the game's six-hour campaign there are only a handful of events that get the blood pumping, with the rest having you do little more than take potshots at distant enemies with high-tech weaponry. Major events are heavily signposted, and too many instances place you behind invisible walls (or in front of a door that only your AI sidekick can open) until you've dispatched the current screen of baddies. Much of the best spectacle is packed into the first few missions, as the game takes you from a top-notch opening to a slightly underwhelming and abrupt finale.
Even the equipment selection is a little sparse. Ammo for your guns is only ever a button press away, with supplies infinitely bandied out by any of your sidekicks. For this reason you're hardly ever likely to switch out from your default selection, which consists of the precise M14-EBR, all-rounder M4A1 and, occasionally, the sweeping destruction of the PKM - all familiar tools to an FPS aficionado, familiarly implemented. You can, of course, pick up weapons from your fallen enemies, but yours are always better so you won't bother. The onus is supposed to be on the people holding the guns, rather than the weapons themselves, but it would have been nice to have a little bit more versatility made available.
And while your Tier 1 fellows and occasional group of Rangers feel like they want to stay alive, perhaps shooting their way through this mess so that they can get back to a nice little house in the suburbs with a cute little picket fence and a tasteful American flag waving proudly in the autumnal breeze, your Al-Qaeda enemies roam around like mindless AI drones. The complete inability for the opposing force to preserve its life feels remarkably out of place - and kind of ruins the end result a bit, too.