When Electronic Arts announced last December that its classic Medal Of Honour series was being rebooted with a modern setting, the strategy seemed a wise move. Over recent years, the first-person shooter franchise has lost significant ground to Activision's dominant Call Of Duty and EA's own Battlefield: Bad Company series. However, the setting of Afghanistan raised a few eyebrows due to the conflict's dogged fighting against a disparate Taliban and Al-Qaeda enemy, but also the fact that the war is still raging to this day. So Digital Spy had a look at a single-player mission from the game and talked to executive producer Greg Goodrich about Afghanistan, instruments of war and the return of Medal Of Honour.
At EA's Spring Showcase in London, developer EA Los Angeles demonstrated a US Army Ranger sequence from the game's main campaign (the multiplayer is being handled by Bad Company studio EA DICE). Goodrich said that Medal Of Honour essentially has a duel focus - the Tier 1 Operators and the Rangers. He explained that the Tier 1 troops represent the "precise, deliberate and aggressive surgical instruments of war", compared to the "sledgehammer" approach of the Rangers.
The demoed segment immediately follows the Leave A Message trailer released by EA earlier in the month. In the film, a group of Rangers - who are basically an elite and rapidly deployable force of light infantry - fly into Afghanistan's Shahi-Kot Valley in a fleet of helicopters. As the choppers stream into the combat zone, a rocket-propelled grenade rips one from the sky and then all hell breaks loose. Goodrich said that the sequence is a reference to the opening of 2002's Medal Of Honour: Allied Assault, which depicted the Allied raid on the Normandy beaches in 1944.
"The way we set that up was in a nod to the original Medal Of Honour with the Allies landing on the beaches of Normandy during World War II," said Goodrich. "Medal of Honour has always been a World War II franchise but this is the first game which is not, so we wanted to give a nod to that."
Controlling Adams, Goodrich moved between the sun-baked mud huts, shooting the Mujahedeen fighters as they emerged from the dust. As an aside, Goodrich said that the setting of Afghanistan will not just bring dustbowl terrains punctuated by the odd settlement. Working with a team of military consultants, EA Los Angeles has recreated the "very diverse" south-central Asian country, including its lush green valleys and snowy mountain peaks. According to Goodrich, the chosen setting will offer "a visual cascade of environments without ever having to leave Afghanistan".
Starting off with a heavy machine gun and a shotgun, Goodrich fought house-to-house against the abundant enemy force. After passing through the settlement, the Rangers moved out into the open terrain. There is a real sense of scale to the game, with expansive plains bordered by snow-capped mountain ranges. The game also ably transmits the sense of fear as US soldiers attempt to fight in an alien terrain that is a haven for their opposition. The Rangers moved into a high-sided valley as Taliban fighters scampered over the ridge, pouring down fire on them. Enemies ran between the rocks, melting into cover and using their surroundings intelligently. The well drilled and experienced guerrilla threat will pose a genuinely fresh challenge for even FPS veterans.
Gameplay-wise, Medal Of Honour follows a tried-and-trusted FPS formula which will feel instantly familiar to fans of the genre. However, interesting new features include the opportunity to request ammo from AI teammates, which could prove vital in frantic situations. There is also a neat slide-to-cover feature as also seen in EA's new FPS property Bulletstorm. Another strong aspect of the demo was that the dialogue feels very realistic, with the men exchanging believable comments and discussing important information. "I somehow feel safer with those guys overhead," said one Ranger as the fighter jets blazed across the sky. They also thankfully kept the wisecracks to a minimum.
Medal Of Honour is shaping up to be a real return to form for the series, which has tumbled into the doldrums in recent years. However, there are still some areas of concern. In the demo, the gunplay occasionally seemed a tad weak as it took quite a few shots to kill an enemy compared to the more realistic Modern Warfare. It is, however, difficult to make a real judgement on that without going hands-on. The graphics also look a bit rough around the edges, such as an in-game cutscene featuring items disappearing abruptly when passed between characters.
"To be honest, it's not about war. It's about a group of characters and it's a character-driven story," said Goodrich. "All Medal Of Honors gone by have always been about the story, telling the soldier's story. When we set out to make this game and we moved it to modern times, we kept the same core tenants of respect, authenticity and honour. It's similar to movies such as Saving Private Ryan, which is a work of historical fiction where the story is told through the lens of fictional characters going through real historical events. In that, the setting is just a backdrop."
Medal Of Honour will be released for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in Europe on October 15.