Making Medal of Honor: Warfighter more personal

Monday, 11 June 2012 09:02 GMT By Dave Oshry

A row erupted at E3 last week about Medal of Honor: Warfighter’s take on “realism,” but, as Dave Oshry explains in this touching editorial, Danger Close’s vision of modern combat is the one American veterans can relate to most.

Soldiers don’t want to come home from battle and re-live their losses: they want to explosively re-create their triumphs. They want to remember their experiences as an action movie, not as a tragic opera. At least my friends do.

Although the multiplayer matches in games like Call of Duty and Battlefield often consist of dozens of players on each side – I usually only play with one or two other people.

In fact, I usually only play with one other guy. His name is Aaron. He’s the former Aussie editor of RipTen, the current senior editor for HBG and a writer for PlanetPlaystation. He’s also damn good at first person shooters and the best friend I’ve never met.

You see, Aaron now lives in Auckland, New Zealand and I live in San Diego, California. The closest we’ll ever to get to a fist bump or a high five is when we capture an objective together on Operation Firestorm in BF3 or hold off a horde of zombies and make it to a safe house in L4D2.

My real life friends live here in San Diego. San Diego is a military town and my friends are mostly comprised of men and women who’ve served. In 2010 when everyone else was playing Black Ops, they were playing Medal of Honor. They said it was more authentic, more realistic. They said they knew guys who worked on the game with Danger Close. They said they were the real deal. One of my buddies almost even had the DC logo tattooed on his leg before I talked him out of it.

At E3 this past week I got hands on with with Medal of Honor: Warfighter and its Sector Control mode, more commonly known to the CoD crowd as Domination or the Battlefield crowd as Conquest. What’s different about Warfighter is that the game splits you into fireteams. You and one other player are joined at the hip. In this way the game feels more like a co-op experience than a massively multiplayer one. More importantly, it becomes a personal one once you start to figure out the goals of EA and Danger Close.

Warfighter’s executive producer Greg Goodrich sat down with Tom McShea of Gamespot at E3 to discuss an editorial Tom had written about how Warfighter isn’t an “authentic” experience because it follows the formula of other modern day shooters, featuring things like regenerating health, killcams and headcounts.  And while Tom makes a good point with his desire to see more realistic games that portray war as more of the hell it truly is and less of a “game,” I believe that EA and Danger Close are clearly trying to find a balance between what sells, what works, and what is respectful to their source material. Material made up of the stories of the real men and women who have fought and died in service to their country.

Even in multiplayer, what I played wasn’t your typical shooting experience. I soon realized that I had to rely on my fireteam to survive and succeed. The mechanics were there for a reason. We had to use the distinct skills of our chosen class to compliment each other. We had to survive when the other was down so we could respawn closer to the objective. We had to work as a team. I had to get to know this writer from South Korea I’d been paired with – even if I was only going to know him for the next 15 minutes and he spoke next to no English. I had to make it personal.

Authenticity isn’t realism

And I think overall that’s what Danger Close and EA are going for here. Not necessarily a “realistic” military experience, but an “authentic” and “personal” one. One that military operators can relate to, yet civilian gamers can imagine is more real than anything they could ever dare experience. They want to get the gear, the locales, the equipment and the personalities right, but still craft an enjoyable experience – even if war is anything but.

Soldiers don’t want to come home from battle and re-live their losses: they want to explosively re-create their triumphs. They want to remember their experiences as an action movie, not as a tragic opera. At least my friends do.

Warfighter’s E3 multiplayer trailer.

There’s plenty room for authenticity in video games and also plenty of room for realism, but what I think the teams at EA and Danger Close have realized after working so closely with the men and women who have seen combat is that this is the type of game that they want.  They want a game that is fun, authentic and realistic in its presentation even if not in its execution. They want a game that they can play their with friends and say, “Hey this is kind of like ______,” or “Remember when we did some shit like this in ______?” Yet they also want to make a game that they can play with an outsider like me and say, “Man, these guys know their shit – this game is dead on.”

I will likely never experience the reality of war. Neither will Aaron. And here’s to hoping we never will. However, what I can experience is a video game built on the principals of authenticity and respect for the men and women who’ve lived through it.

I can’t begin to imagine the real truth behind what went on when my friends were in combat overseas. All I get are the exaggerated stories told to me at the bar or around the barbecue pit. Stories that sound a lot more like what goes on in a video game than in real life. This is what they choose to remember, what they want to remember. This is likely why they played all that Medal of Honor in 2010. And it’s probably why they’re looking forward to Warfighter the most this year. For those who want a more realistic experience, Goodrich says that the game has a hardcore mode which only allows you one life.

I’ve always found it interesting that my friends who have seen real combat are the ones who prefer the more fast-paced and “exaggerated realism” of games like Medal of Honor and the ones that have never worked outside of an office prefer the “true realism” of simulations like ArmA. Perhaps somewhere between the two lies a game that we all want to play, and perhaps that game is Warfighter.

The sad truth is, my friends don’t have a lot of friends left. And they certainly don’t have a lot of online friends. Most of them don’t use Facebook and they’ve never even heard of Twitter. The experiences they want to share with the ones they do have need to be personal ones, and I believe that Danger Close and EA get that – even when it comes to multiplayer. Goodrich says that even if they fail at accomplishing that feat, that if they cannot convey to us the experiences given to them by the operators who helped build this game, then they at least want people to know that they tried.

I must admit that the more I hear and see of Warfighter, the more I’m interested in seeing how the single-player portion turns out. I’ve grown tired of Call of Duty’s campaigns and Battlefield 3’s felt uninspired. Given the more focused direction of the multiplayer on display at E3 and the dev team’s commitment to authenticity and personality, I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised come October – and I hope my friends are too.

Latest