Once a titan of videogaming, Medal of Honor has fallen on hard times. The rise of Call of Duty as an annual gore-fest has left the one-time trendsetting series as something of a laughable footnote, with its two most recent titles, Medal of Honor and Medal of Honor: Warfighter, being commercial flops.
Looking back on the venerable series today, with its blocky graphics and orchestral score, one wonders if there is any place for Medal of Honor in today’s fast-paced, twitch-shooter market, but I would argue that the measured, slowly-paced gameplay of the early titles in the series is exactly what’s required in today’s day and age – as is a return to the series’ home territory.
Shoulders of giants
With modern shooters mostly revolving around the present day or near-future settings, I think there’s space for one more high-quality World War Two shooter. Such a stance is admittedly a divisive one, as WW2 shooters have arguable been ‘done to death’, and largely abandoned in recent years – excluding the fantasy-WW2 setting of the thoroughly average Wolfenstein: The New Order.
However, ask any gamer over 20 years old, and a Medal of Honor game is bound to have a special spot in their heart – likely due to the series’ strong focus on plot and stellar set-piece moments – a technique lifted wholesale by Infinity Ward for the Call of Duty series.
Remember the Normandy beach landings of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, for example?
The ‘other’ war
World War 2 was just that – a global conflict. I’d personally like to see a future WW2-set Medal of Honor focus on the exploits of some of the lesser known heroes of the age. Perhaps the game could focus on the ‘Desert Rats’ of the British 7th Armoured Division, fighting against General Rommel in Africa or Italy. What about resistance fighters in Norway, working to halt Nazi troop movements? Anything would do, as long as it’s not another American one-man-armying his way through the entire Nazi party.
Admittedly, such an approach is unlikely to gain traction with the bigger publishers, but it would be a refreshing change of pace not be playing as a honky-tonk, yeehaw American.
Plus, I’d like to see a future Medal of Honor take a leaf out of Spec Ops: The Line’s book, and explore the mental impact of war in an unexpected way. Perhaps, as part of a plot-led campaign, the player character could begin to suffer the effects of war on a personal level.
The Last of Us has shown that strong characterisation can more than carry a plot, and although Medal of Honor‘s first-person viewpoint makes such a connection with the player character more difficult, you need only look to the Deus Ex series to demonstrate that that restriction can be easily overcome.
As for replayability – often a stumbling block for FPS campaigns – a little player choice can go a long way to making a game far more enjoyable the second, third or fourth time round. Take, for example, my earlier suggestion of a campaign set around the actions of the Norwegian resistance. By offering the player a little choice on how to approach a mission – ambush, stealth infiltration, all-out assault – you can make a scenario play out differently each time. Throw in a little role-playing with team selection and arsenal options and you’re on to a winner.
“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy”, said notable German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke, and the same should become the core of a new Medal of Honor. One of my favourite games in the series, Airborne, took great pleasure in offering more open, less linear levels – and in keeping the action unpredictable throughout – and this approach is key to making a shooter replayable.
With modern games design offering opportunities for vast, open worlds, I’d like to see the same approach combined with Medal of Honor‘s solid shooter dynamics. Airborne‘s approach – assigning a list of primary and secondary objectives, and allowing the player to approach each in their own order, was refreshing for the time, and something that has arguably been lost in recent triple-A titles.
Black Ops 2‘s ‘non linear’ levels, for example, were still corridor-like once you looked past the set-piece moments and got into the core of the game.
Finally, I’d like to see a game that focuses on the realities of war in the 1940s – unpredictable equipment, mud, blood and rain – to bring a strong sense of immersion to the genre. With the graphical power available through modern consoles such an approach would pay dividends, and combined with Medal of Honor‘s world-famous score and some strong sound design, I’m confident any new title in the series would be a hit.
What would you like to see in a reborn Medal of Honor? Leave a comment below.
Article written for Pass the Controller