Monday, 11 November 2013
Medal of Honor, First Person Spectacle
I have talked in my Spec Ops: The Line post about the concept of First Person Spectacle. A week ago, I was visiting my family during the All Saint's Day. As I had pretty loose schedule, and most of my cousins had still to go in school or to work during the week I had free, I managed to play through the campaign of Medal of Honor.
I realise that game is quite old now, it came out in 2010, but since I bought it for one of my cousins during one of the humble bundles, I felt it was a good time to give it a go. I only did the campaign, and it was fairly short, I played on normal difficulty and it took me about six hours. Well it would take six hours if the game would not have been so horribly put on track that any little deviation form its plan gets you into the endless loop of not progressing anywhere. I had to restart two of the missions because of that.
Medal of Honor is a First Person Spectacle. It fits the description perfectly. Story, as ever in first person shooters is of little importance, and mostly just to justify your meaningless slaughter. But that is no excuse to grant it immunity from criticism in my opinion. I remember the First Person Shooters I played in my youth. The first Call of Duty, and Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Battlefield 1942. I feel those three were the makers of First Person Spectacle, that was cut close to perfection in recent years. And even their story was close to non-existent, the feel it emanated was much better.
Before those, I played Unreal II: The Awakening, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein, both games that I hold in high regard. Both are also the games that give me creeps in their own right even now, when I remember the screech of the hyena warriors in Unreal, and legless abominations shooting lightning in Wolfenstein. They are also the games I will not ever go back and play again. Mostly, because I fear I would crush the ideal they came to represent in course of the years, but also because that hyena screech is really frightening. And I would like to imagine, that the fear left behind is because I was young and very susceptible.
Maybe it would be better to just focus on the current Medal of Honor. I must say that is quite obvious I am not the target audience. I like the story in a game, more than that, I always like to think what the story means, and what it comes to represent. And in Medal of Honor, to say it makes me sick. is overreacting. But it is not a good feeling. Maybe it is my own feeling about pointless loss of lives in any kind of modern-day conflict.
Maybe the game fails in story because the story in game is as good as any excuse anyone came up for the wars America fought in recent years. Paper thin and blatantly bad. When you are put in shoes of an American soldier with the disposal of all the technology, it is almost pointless. You are told you are fighting the Al-Qaeda, but you continue to destroy villages full of soldiers.
Maybe my idea of terrorists hiding in the big crowds was wrong, and they really do have their villages all at the same spot. And everyone in the village is a terrorist just waiting to take a shot at the first soldier. I find it hard to believe that in all the villages I was set to flatten to earth in Medal of Honor, there was no children or women in them. Any kind of civilian at all. There are only these armed, masked or bearded bad guys that want to kill you. And all the villages are soon discovered to be a haunt of Talibans and full of their weapons.
A case could be made for the bad guys in Medal of Honor, that they are in right. That they fight to protect their home that evil imperialists from the West came to destroy. I mean seriously. You expect me to empathise with the bunch of elite soldiers over the loss of ONE team member, after I helped them kill legions of enemies. And they even, although passively, claim they will get back at the enemy? For what?
If enemy is torturing one of yours it is bad, but if you torture one of theirs, it is ok? It is fine for you to kill thousands, but it is a calamity if they kill one of your own? It is ok when you see how your "good" guys bombed their allied forces, "by accident", they would probably say, and nobody gives a damn. But as soon as the same HQ finds out that one of their own got stranded, they send everyone to rescue him.
It is hard to take the game seriously. It is ludicrous. You have tanks, helicopters, snipers that are short of shooting curved shots, jet fighters, predator drones and satellites. Only thing your enemy has, is AK-47. For the love of God, how can you even say with a straight face you came to help these people against AQ? It is a bad joke. More than anything it looks like a propaganda of American army and their bellum iustum.
Much more I preferred the story in the elder FPS games. There was maybe a letter to the loved one, a report of combat situation. You were just one among many, and that made it great. It seems as they knew in the past that the story would never be their strong suit, so they did not try to focus on it, instead they made it overt, only a passer-by. But this now, this makes it just sickening.
What does Medal of Honor do right then, you might ask. Well, the spectacle. They do this perfectly. It is one joy-ride after the other.You jump from one soldier to another, and there is this seamless connection between all of them. It seems as the well-oiled ant swarm. Nobody is special, but because you all do what you are to do, you make it through. This feeling of faux-individuality that supports the team is great.
It is great to see how you charge with your regular grunts up the hill against all the machine guns and enemies, hiding in whatever you can find to hide behind. Followed by being outnumbered and short of dying, only to be saved by a last-second helicopter rocket charge. Then, you find yourself piloting the helicopter, and when you think, the helicopter will go down, it is saved by one of the snipers killing the operator of FLAC gun. And then you continue on as this sniper. This is a great execution, that brings the theatre of war to life. Emphasising how everyone has a job to do, and nobody is expendable.
But this illusion can be thwarted in its own matter. When all your soldiers around cry in despair they are short on ammo, or out of ammunition it feels cheap to say the least, that you can just come to one of them and restock on your ammo. They appear to have the ammo for you, but not for themselves? It is also really linear experience. You mostly fight in canyons, roads surrounded by kills on all sides, or plain goat paths. There is no freedom in movement or carving your own path.
You are forced to do what the game wants of you. And if the game wants you to provide the covering fire, you better do it, because no matter how close you get to that machine gun, how many granates you hit it with, that machine is immune to all your damage, and it will not budge. You are punished for any kind if initiative of your own. You are there to do what game wants of you. Because game knows what is best for you.
The game is meant to be mindless experience, where you just go along with everything. You are not supposed to dwell over anything for too long. And if you do not, it turns out to be great experience. So, just look at the facade and you are guaranteed a fun experience all the other modern FPS set out to provide. Just do not think about it. A simple thought is like a light wind that sweeps the card house on the floor.
A few days ago Jon Walker over at Rock Paper Shotgun wrote something similar about the story in Call of Duty. I would recommend you to read about this as well. The Missing Conflict: How Call Of Duty’s Stories Went Awry. While I am recommending what to read, I would like to point you in the direction of Terry Eagleton's Holy Terror. It is a book that came out in 2005, but still continues to stand the test of time.