lowbrowculture

collects stories and ideas from John Kelly

Medal of Honour

Medal of Honour reminds of the joke at the start of Annie Hall. You know, the one about the two women eating dinner at a resort, where one turns to the other and says “Boy, the food here is really terrible” and the other says “Yeah, I know, and such small portions”. Medal of Honour – EA’s entry into the ‘modern warfare’ arena – is like five hours of absolutely nothing. A ‘nothing’ with a multi-million dollar budget, so it’s a really flashy-looking nothing. Still, it’s hard not to come out of it underwhelmed.

Actually, that’s not entirely fair. There is one stand-out, genuinely memorable moment in the short single-player campaign. At one point, you find yourself completely overwhelmed by enemy forces who swarm around you, gradually whittling down your supplies of ammunition. No help is coming and there doesn’t seem to be any end to the number of enemies, so your entire squad resigns itself to the fact that this is the end. It’s sort of like the incinerator scene in Toy Story 3. Game over, man. It’s a pretty powerful sequence and one which is executed perfectlyCompared, say, to the epilogue of Halo: Reach, which is mechanically inconsistent with the rest of the game. You spend the first 99% of the game playing a super-powered super-soldier with recharging shields that enables him to be a sort of bullet shield. Suddenly, your super-powered super-soldier breaks down if he stubs his toe. I got that shit over and done iwth soon as I could by just throwing a grenade at my feet..

Unfortunately, the rest of the game is just a string of disappointments and missed opportunities. You jump from character to character fighting the brain-dead enemies and the brain-dead game engine which they inhabit. This is 2010. We are 10% of the way through the twenty-first century and we still have enemies that do nothing but follow their scripted path, dutifully duck in and out of cover the same way regardless of what is going on around them. Bad enough, but… do you guys know what a ‘monster closet’ is? They’re fairly common in videogames, the places where enemies appear from until the player reaches a certain point or performs a certain actionThey get their name from the fact that you’ll see thousands enemies come pouring out of a particular door, you get there and it’s barely bigger than a cupboard. Hence ‘monster closet’. The more you know.. For example, in the scene I just described, there were probably a few of these ‘monster closets’ hidden in the rocks, where the player couldn’t see the enemies spawning from, and in this section, the monster closets worked fine. If only the rest of the game had been so smooth. On more than one occasion in Medal of Honour, I apparently went off on a path that the game hadn’t anticipated, so I was greeted with the sight of watching enemies spawning out of thin air in front of me. Which would have been an amusing and completely forgivable glitch except because I hadn’t gone the direction that would otherwise ‘turn off’ the monster closet, the magically-appearing enemies never stopped coming. This didn’t stop the game auto-saving right on top of their spawn point, so that when I died, I was instantly surrounded by eight enemies firing directly at me whenever I restarted.

Frustrating bugs in a videogame are one thing, and it’s easy to pick on them and write a blog post like this that says “WAH. This bug that hardly half the players will run into has completely ruined the game for me”. I mean, Mass Effect had some of the worst bugs of any game I’ve played, but I loved that game in spite of themtowards the end, almost because of them - ah, the geometry stretching bug where something went screwy in the maths and my character’s face slowly started to explode over the course of a five-minute cut-scene. This image will forever haunt my nightmares.. Why can’t I give Medal of Honour the same freedom?

Three words: Call of Duty.

Medal of Honour has virtually no identity of its own. Almost every moment in the game is a direct copy of something that happened in one of the two *Call of Duty: Modern Warfares*Which makes me wonder how you can copy so furiously from two 10+ hour games and still only end up with a 5-hour campaign. A vehicle level? Check. A sniper level? Check. A level where you’re sneaking around a snowy mountain while guards search for you? Check. If the developers are trying to win players away from the Call of Duty camp, it’s probably not a good idea to present them with third-rate knockoffs of the game you’re so slavishly trying to imitate. It’s like an artist trying to show his talent by giving us a paint-by-numbers version of the Mona Lisa. It just doesn’t work. Unless you’re deliberately trying to present some post-modern commentary on the nature of art. I’m fairly sure that’s not what the developers of Medal of Honour were trying to do. As a player, I just find it frustrating to play a game that was aiming so low and so clearly could have been much better, had the developers been given a little more time. But, thanks to Call of Duty, that’s one thing they didn’t have. In essence, Medal of Honour’s release date was set not by how complete or how polished it was, but by the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops. EA had to release the game before then. And in a way, they were probably right. See how quickly Medal of Honour has been dropped from the conversation since Call of Duty: Black Ops came out.

I’ve no doubt that the game has done enough business to warrant a sequel, and maybe then we’ll see some real innovation and it will be something actually worth talking about. Until then, we’re left with a piss-poor jump-start of a franchise that has no idea who it’s trying to appeal to.