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Experiencing the Afghan war in Medal of Honor

4:00 AM on 05.14.2010 // Hamza CTZ Aziz

The Medal of Honor series was a pioneer in the FPS genre during the last two console generations. The franchise went on hiatus during this current console war, and IPs such as EA's other war franchise (Battlefield) and Activision's Call of Duty series stepped up to fill the void Medal of Honor left behind. 

The series is now back with a more modern setting, developed by both EA Los Angeles and EA DICE. DICE is working on the multiplayer with their Frostbite engine, and that side of the game is still being kept under wraps. EA did want to show off some more of the single-player though, and EALA Creative Director Richard Farrelly came up to the San Francisco area to show off another side of the campaign.

Hit the break for an early look at Medal of Honor and for my unique thoughts on the game coming from an Afghan perspective.

Medal of Honor (PlayStation 3 [previewed], Xbox 360, PC)
Developer: EA Los Angeles (single-player) / EA DICE (multiplayer)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
To be released: October 12, 2010

The Medal of Honor reboot takes place in early 2002, during the war in Afghanistan, and it sees players controlling characters between Tier 1 Operators and Army Rangers. The Tier 1 guys are the “scalpel” of the military. They go in first, blend in and gather intel that aids the big military. You can read more about the Tier 1 perspective in Samit Sarkar's preview.

My look at the game put us halfway into the story and focused on the “sledgehammer” of the military, the Army Rangers. Whereas the “scalpel” missions are about being clean and quick, the “sledgehammer” missions will feel like large-scale battles. The two groups are nothing alike, but neither can succeed without support from the other.

The particular area Richard was running through saw a squad of four Rangers on a mission to destroy a weapon emplacement. The first thing that stuck out to me as Richard moved through the mountainous terrain of the Shah-i-Kot valley was that there was no HUD on display. Vital information -- such as objectives and your squad's location -- is displayed with the press of a button and then fades away after a few seconds. Information such as your ammo counter will appear only while weapons are being fired.

Hiding the HUD provides a more immersive cinematic experience, and it's greatly appreciated, as it lets the player really take in the level of detail in the environment. Military consultants worked closely with EA, providing all sorts of information about Afghanistan that EA captured with the Unreal engine.

Fans of the Medal of Honor series will be happy to hear that features from previous Medal of Honor titles will remain, like the peek and lean. There will be new additions, too, such as a slide to cover -- also known as the “oh shit button,” as Richard put it. Players can ask for ammo from their squadmates if needed, but it's a limited amount based on the level. Squadmates will also move about accordingly -- they'll cover one direction as you cover the other.

As this was a controlled, hands-off demo, I can't say what the weapons feel like. Richard was plowing through the level with an M249 SAW, a light machine gun that looked pretty powerful but is balanced out by its long reload time. Still, you can't treat Medal of Honor with a one-man-army mindset. You want to move cautiously and hide behind the destructible cover as you engage enemies.

After a few skirmishes, the Rangers reached their target, tossed a smoke grenade marking the gun emplacement and watched as an air strike took out the target. Smoke then filled up the view and dirt rained down as the Rangers moved to the next area. The demo ended with the Rangers about to breach a house right before a bomb went off.

It still remains to be seen just how EA is going to take on the powerhouse that is Modern Warfare 2, but what I saw holds promise. This war is real, and EA is trying to approach the ongoing conflict with sensitivity and respect toward all parties.

Being of Afghan descent, Medal of Honor offers me a kind of nerdy way at revenge. I've never been to Afghanistan, but I do have family there, and I've seen how my family's been affected by the injustices committed by the Taliban. While the country is far from sunshine and rainbows, the American invasion did help make the country better.

Medal of Honor
is an outlet for someone like me. I'll never pick up a gun against someone in real life, but I play shooters like there's no tomorrow. First-person shooters are my favorite genre, and getting to shoot at representations of people who have tormented my home country for decades offers me a way to vent my frustrations. 

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