We go sniping in Afghanistan in EA’s modern Medal of Honor reboot.
Time and time again, Medal of Honor executive producer Greg Goodrich says his game–a reboot of the formerly World War II-set franchise–is about “respect” and “reverence” for the soldier. When asked how Medal of Honor, which takes place in modern Afghanistan, handles the current conflict sensitively, he tells us, “It’s not about the politics.” The soldier’s authentic experience is everything, says Goodrich, and “telling the soldier’s story” is key. If the game makers do have a position on the war, other than being a good setting for a game, it seems you won’t find it in Medal of Honor.
The attitude suggests the game equivalent of The Hurt Locker: an action movie set in a modern, divisive conflict but concerned only with its hero’s experience on the ground. The resemblance plays out, at least superficially, in Sniper, one of the campaign missions in our demo that is reminiscent of that film’s desert sniper battle. The mission began in a slow and tense manner as we took on the role of Deuce, a sniper from AFO Wolfpack, who was partnered with his spotter, Dusty, the game’s bearded elite Tier 1 poster boy. The two soldiers were lying on a ridge in the mountains, where they were hunting for dug-in Al Qaeda fighters.
As we looked through the electronic scope of Deuce’s sniper rifle, Dusty spotted three enemies on a rocky slope on the other side of the valley. He gave us directions to the targets, some 1,000 metres distant, and we scanned across to find them. At full zoom, the field of view bobbed wildly with Deuce’s breathing, which could be held temporarily with a left-trigger pull. We picked off the three targets through the steadied scope, with the explosive squelch of the headshots unfeasibly audible from a kilometre away. That aside, much effort has been made to create a realistic sniping experience, with delayed hits and Dusty advising us, counter to our first-person shooter instincts, to go for the centre of mass–the body–and not the head.
As spotter, Dusty gave directions to a string of further targets, advising on direction, distance, and priority. Tapping up on the D pad displayed the active heads-up display, which pointed out the direction of our next kill, though it’s possible–and more authentic–to go by Dusty’s voice directions alone. Wind speed was mentioned, but it didn’t seem as though we needed to correct for crosswind. Among our targets were an enemy sniper, given away by the glint of his scope, and a hidden mortar team preparing to fire, which was made visible with the scope’s heat-vision mode.
The sniping segment ended with a nearby tripwire that triggered an explosion and signalled incoming enemies, so we beat a hasty retreat to higher ground. Out of forced sniper mode, Deuce was packing an MP7A1 submachine gun; as we defended our position from a rocky corner, the enemy pushing toward us, its down-the-sights aim assist was mild but welcome. Then, as the dust settled, Dusty explained the enemy fighters weren’t Afghan (“I hear Chechen and Arabic”).
Dusty was full of helpful pointers; in fact, he spotted a lone injured enemy further on and proposed we use him as bait. Perched up high, we let the injured fighter draw a dozen more into the clearing below before opening fire. We wiped them out and then hightailed it further uphill, squeezing through rocky corridors in the evening sunlight and emerging high above the foreign fighters’ camp, which was scattered with enemies in modern-looking combat gear and hoods. Cue another sniping segment in which we cleared out the camp and then, to end the mission, provided sniper support to a far-off squad of rangers pinned down by enemy fighters on all sides. Heat vision (available in white-for-hot and black-for-hot flavours) was useful against the dusty haze rising off the mountain slopes, helping us pick out silhouettes in vegetation and against rocks.
In our other single-player demo mission, Belly of the Beast, we were with the US Army Rangers, the brute force “sledgehammers” to Tier 1’s elite “surgeons.” Here the player character was Specialist Dante Adams, getting dropped into the Shahikot Valley by heavy-lift helicopter. The intro cinematic began with hooah military bravado, and then, after the Rangers touched down, all hell broke loose. The helicopters were attacked by unseen Taliban fighters as they took off, and our platoon was quickly stripped back to a four-man squad, running for high ground.
With those three fellow rangers for company, we fought down the natural corridors formed by rocky foothills, squaring off against enemies who favoured AK47s and occasional rocket launchers. Adams comes equipped with the M249 SAW, a light machine gun with plenty of power but a long reload. The weapons feel and sound impressively authentic, and the prominent icon that pops up with every headshot is a gratifying touch. The rest of your squadmates are invulnerable, and, thankfully, they don’t make you push forward alone too often and will shout for you to fall back or get into cover if you go it alone or get out in the open. You can request ammo from your squadmates, too, though you can’t trade weapons with them.
The rocky corridors channelled us past abandoned Russian tanks and then into a ruined village packed with enemy fighters. Then, we were on to our objective: a heavily defended antiaircraft machine gun emplacement at the top of a path littered with the crumbling remnants of walls. These walls shattered as we took cover behind them, providing temporary shelter as we ran the gauntlet of antiaircraft gunfire, with enemy fighters crowding in over rocks on the left and low buildings on the right. Cover is destructible, though not nearly as extensively so as in, say, Battlefield Bad Company 2. It’s also worth remembering that Bad Company studio EA DICE is developing the multiplayer action, not the single-player campaign.
The intensity of the assault on the antiaircraft gun underlined how suitably fragile we felt. Out of cover, with walls turning to rubble all around, we felt much more like a soldier than a superhuman. We took one of the rangers forward to suppress the AA gunfire and let the other two rangers plant the red phosphorus smoke marker that would call in a strike on the emplacement. A good dose of suppressing fire quieted the machine gun long enough for the others to get in and pop smoke, giving us a few moments to get clear before the site was convincingly annihilated by air support.
Danger Close, the newly formed Los Angeles studio behind Medal of Honor’s single-player experience, counts a number of a Medal of Honor series veterans among its staff. EA will be hoping these are the safest hands to take a venerable–but dormant since 2007–World War II franchise into new territory. Though making an impact with a modern military FPS is no mean feat in such a crowded genre, this reboot has the heritage to make it a contender come launch time in October. We’ll have details on the all-important multiplayer offering next week.