Medal of Honor
It's 2010 and, despite attempts to resuscitate a dormant franchise with a sharp shock of money, EA still won't fork out the cash on an adequate localisation team. If the game is a success then our GCSE examination boards of the future will have to accept 'honor' as correct spelling.
After taking a look at a presentation of this new (suffix free) Medal of Hono(u)r reboot in EA's Guildford offices - the series now joining the ranks of Call of Duty, Battlestar Galactica and Masterchef and being updated for our hectic modern-day times - it's clear to see the game is treading the heavily beaten path of grizzled military squads, extravagantly improbable set-pieces and a world where all physical objects have a one in five chance of exploding at a moment's notice. Scratch that: one in three.
Our specialist death squad of choice are the Tier 1 Operators, which doesn't quite have the same ring as 'SAS', but these bearded boys are still an elite group of military badasses with a penchant for kicking ass and being heroes. Or, as the official blurb puts it, "the Tier 1 Operator functions on a plane of existence above and beyond even the most highly trained Special Operations Forces". These are the kind of guys who get out of bed in the morning by somersaulting out of an upstairs window and rescuing a cat stuck in a tree on the way down.
The concept, which EA LA are hoping will help the game stand out from the oversaturated crowd, is that Medal of Honor is going for an authentic portrayal of a team of special operatives stationed in Afghanistan. EA have brought current and former Tier 1 operatives into the studio for their advice, and the development team are keen to stress how the game will noticeably reflect this extra focus on detail, though they might just be referring to how every character has a realistically unkempt beard.
It's an approach that's already paying off. You trek across a desolate mountain range in a calm that affords you the time to look at the lit fires, with flames that wave and crackle in the air, and bilious plumes of smoke on the horizon. Meanwhile, your team weaves through dense patches of foliage and effortlessly dispatch odd pockets of scattered enemies. In one instance you even setup and execute your own ambush, finally giving players the chance to experience one of the genre's most reliable scripted sequences from the other side of the equation.
Going back a few minutes, the demo level fades in with a few moments of tranquillity - the shot is all landscape - and then an AA gun starts going off in the background. Big, wispy trails of gunfire dart across the air, and it all reminds me of when the AA guns used to pepper the skies with their deadly payloads in original Call of Duty. Only in Afghanistan and, well, all shiny and new. With extra beards.
"Let's do this right" barks your commanding officer with a voice so gruff his sneezes could turn tissues into sandpaper, and your whole squad pops out of cover - they're so elite they were camouflaged the entire time! Then you start snaking your way across the level's snow-tipped mountains to deal with that pesky anti-air nuisance.
As soon as you're starting to think that it would be impossible to keep up its muted, creeping pace the game reminds you it's a high-octane terrorist shooting simulator and throws a big, hefty conflict-shaped spanner in the works. Your presence on the mountains is spotted and the enemies go into full alert, turning the game into traditional (and very recognisable) loops of duck, cover and kill. No FPS would be complete without these moments, of course: they're the starchy potato to the atmospherics' meat.
The whole thing feels a bit like you've seen it all before - such as when you use an IR laser to call down an artillery barrage, blow up a structure by planting C4 or use a 'buddy boost' to navigate over tricky terrain - but it's all held together by excellent production values and a noticeable visual flair. Like all FPS games, the game will be made or broken on the strength of its gunplay and the feel of its weapons. It's hard to say how that aspect of the game handles from the presentation, though the sound and the look seem spot on, however.
Looking to the rest of the game, EA LA describe the Tier 1 Operative missions as a 'scalpel' component. On the other hand you've got the 'sledgehammer' lot, the less refined, ordinary military Joes who go about things with a little less panache and, if video game trends are to be adequately followed, a bottomless pool of military money to spend on an inexhaustible supply of 85,000 dollar Javelin missiles. If these troops were English soldiers they'd be lucky to be given a pair of decent shoes. None of these sledgehammer missions were on show, though I doubt you'd have to stretch your imagination too far to get an idea of what kind of destructive antics you'll be getting up to.
The vital Multiplayer component was also a no-show for now. DICE are taking on the game's online duties, and I came away from the demo wondering exactly how it'll all tie in with EA LA's singleplayer experience. The Swedish studio's track record for online gaming - Richard Walker gave the recently released Battlefield: Bad Company 2 a solid 93% - is second-to-none, though. Time will tell.
That also looks to be the case for the singleplayer, too. Whilst Medal of Honour is sporting a very flashy engine, a nice premise and some inspired set-pieces, it remains to be seen if it will be good enough to float to the top of the gigantic pile of similar titles on the market. It talks the talk, though, and there's a very good chance it could end up the military shooter of choice upon its release this winter. And, besides, how often do you get to play as a team of protagonists all sporting humungous beards?