The two-thirds mark of many a first-person shooter is an opportunity to strip players of their pet gadgets and the overpowered weaponry they’ve come to rely on, thus forcing them to approach the game they’ve been playing for the past however many hours with fresh eyes and a new awareness of the stakes. Medal Of Honor, the controversial, heavily anticipated modern-day reboot of an 11-year-old franchise, makes use of this classic construction, but when the tables turn from engaging ragged Taliban forces—outgunned and under-armored as they are—to skulking alone through spider holes with just a knife and sidearm at your disposal, hoping only to chip away at an overwhelmingly superior force, it’s difficult to play the game without being brought up short and considering the politics.
That isn’t a criticism; in fact, the level in question signals the high point of an already-solid (though brief) campaign of calling in air strikes as a Tier 1 Operator, firing off Hellfire missiles as “big army” from a wounded Apache, and scanning for rifle glints as half of a coolly efficient sniper combo. More understated and convincing than Call Of Duty, Medal Of Honor stays engaging by making good use of Afghanistan’s notoriously inhospitable climate and varied terrain, by pulling off well-executed helicopter and ATV segments, and by transitioning between modes before gameplay has a chance to drag.
What was tiresome before the game even shipped, however, was the endless debate over the ability to play as the Taliban during multiplayer. EA has since relented and placed the fighters under the generic “Opposing Force” banner, but that hasn’t changed the military’s stance on selling the game in its stores, which makes Medal Of Honor’s troop-honoring, founding-fathers-name-checking coda a little awkward. Unlike the campaign, the multiplayer was developed by the Battlefield: Bad Company 2 masterminds at DICE, and it features scorched-earth tactical-support actions like air strikes, and speedy respawns that keep the action hair-trigger and the body counts high. Players select from three classes (special ops, rifleman, or sniper), unlock weapons and customizations, and dash for cover through organic, convincingly wreckage-strewn maps that reward methodical players over reckless ones. Medal Of Honor favors gritty realism—and some surprisingly moving, quieter moments—over cinematic excess, and it’s all the better for the restraint.