I have decided to tell the story of one of the gaming series closest to my heart, Medal of Honor. The story will follow the journey the series has been on from its first game in 1999, to its ultimate collapse and failure under Warfighter in 2012. This is a series close to me and more then a few times I interject my reactions and feelings about the series, this is my story and my feelings about Medal of Honor and its rise and fall. Because of the size and scope of the undertaking I have decided to split the story into two parts, with part one, which covers the story of the series beginning to right before the jump to the PS3 generation, being released last week. Part 2, which picks up right after, is below. This is the largest writing project I've ever undertaken and I want to give the story the respect and attention it deserves. I have put a lot of love into this and I hope you enjoy.
Medal of Honor had been a trailblazer in the creation of the First-Person shooter genre, crafting some of the FPS genres finest moments and games. Yet, by the start of 2007 the series had begun to grow stagnant under the sheer weight of all the games it was releasing and by a lack of innovation and fresh ideas. The forces behind Medal of Honor sought to change all of this with the launch of a brand new hopefully game-changing title, coming out in the fall of 2007, but that like so much with the series didn't quite go how they would have liked.
That game which would eventually be called Medal of Honor: Airborne, did in fact represent an innovative step forward for the series. In production since 2004, the game sought to turn the World War 2 shooter that Medal of Honor had popularized on its head by focusing on the adventures of a paratrooper. Giving players the ability to jump out of a plane and land anywhere they wanted on the map, the game promised numerous new twists for the series. Yet, its production eventually ran into problems that would lead to a fateful decision.
As production continued on this new innovative game, the series as a whole continued to release new games. In 2006, the series turned to the PSP releasing Medal of Honor: Heroes, this games success lead to the decision to make a sequel to come out the following year in 2007. At the same time it became clear that Airborne wouldn't be able to be released on all the various platforms developer EA LA was aiming for. The decision was made to release Airborne only for the newer consoles, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and release a separate game for the PS2 and Wii. This decision while ultimately to the benefit of Airborne, would mean that there would now be three separate Medal of Honor games being released in 2007.
The first of those games to be released would be the PS2 and Wii game, Medal of Honor: Vanguard. The game released in March of 2007 seemed to represent a half step between the MOH games of old and the ambition of the upcoming Airborne. Featuring the ability to parachute out of planes like Airborne, but without as much freedom to explore the environment and non-linearity as it. Vanguard represented the last final act of the Medal of Honor series on the PlayStation 2 and it served well as a final goodbye to that generation. Not the best Medal of Honor game of the era, it still managed to provoke some of the highs of the earlier games at times, particularly with its parachute jumps which served as some of the best moments of the game.
Vanguard was an odd game for me at the time, marking the first time in the series where I didn't outright love the game. For the first time I began to notice some of the flaws and problems of the series. The fact that apart from its parachute jumps it was still largely the same game as past games in the series, marked a disappointment for me. Indeed Medal of Honor: Vanguard in many ways marks the end of the my time loving the series. I would always have a special place in my heart for Medal of Honor, but Vanguard marked a turning point for me and many people like me.
Six months later in September of 2007, Medal of Honor: Airborne came out for Xbox 360 and two months later released for the PlayStation 3. The game marked a big step forward for the series, introducing new innovations on both the gameplay and graphics side of things and showcasing a new non-linear way to play the game. Performing well critically and with the potential to reinvigorate the series after a few years of stagnation, the game simply had the massive misfortune to come out on the PS3 at the same time as another game that would deliver a devastating blow to the series and transform gaming.
On November 5th, 2007 Infinity Ward released Call of Duty:Modern Warfare and in one ground-breaking and revolutionary game completely changed the fabric of the entire first-person shooter genre and games at large. For those of you who have grown up in the post-Modern Warfare world, its almost hard to put into words the impact that Modern Warfare had on everything in games. Representing a seismic shift in story-telling and mechanics of a shooter, Modern Warfare took over the world in 2007, garnering near universal acclaim and plaudits the game quickly became the best selling game of the year. Fast, quick-paced, with a deep, action-oriented, and truly cinematic story no single event dealt as devastating a blow to Medal of Honor as Modern Warfare, immediately the innovation of Airborne looked meaningless and tiny compared to the giant leap forward undertaken by Call of Duty.
The simple truth of the matter was that once you played the new Call of Duty there was just no point in going back to any of the Medal of Honor games released at the same time. It instantly made everything else feel antique and boring, its singular power to transform an entire genre and really games as a whole, ranks it as among the most important and consequential games ever. Simply put, there's a reason Call of Duty has become the juggernaut it is and that reason lays largely at the feet of what Modern Warfare did.
By the end of 2007, the future of Medal of Honor was in a far darker and shakier position then it had ever been at any time in its history. The shooter world had been changed by the actions of Call of Duty and now for the first time, Medal of Honor was clearly the underdog. Forced to retool everything, the series went into a hiatus of sorts, not releasing a game over the next few years.
During this self-imposed exile Call of Duty released two more games in World at War and Modern Warfare 2 helping to further shift the FPS genre in a new direction and solidify its position as the dominant gaming series in the world. At the same time developer Danger Close games continued work on its new Medal of Honor game. Originally titled Medal of Honor: Anaconda, soon enough the anaconda was dropped and the game simply became Medal of Honor.
The new game was a dramatic change for the series, shifting events to modern times and adopting many of the features that Modern Warfare and its sequels had brought to the first-person shooter genre. Released on October 12th, 2010 Medal of Honor was a critical and commercial success, selling over 1.5 million units in its first week and getting over the 2 million sales barrier by the end of its second week. The game broke franchise records for sales, putting it right behind only Medal of Honor: Frontline and Rising Sun as the series top selling game. Critically it was even more of a breakthrough after the disappointment of the series previous games. Garnering a 75/100 Metacritic rating, the game was widely praised for its jump to modern times and its retooled gameplay and system mechanics, as well as its stellar voice acting. The real star of nearly every review though was the games excellent multiplayer. Evoking the style and fun of Bad Company 2, Medal of Honors multiplayer instantly shot it into contention with Call of Duty and other contemporary shooters.
The new and retooled Medal of Honor had its faults as well, its graphics weren't great, the framerate was shaky at times and its textures left much to be desired, as did its hit or miss single-player story, but ultimately it represented a great return to form for the series. As EA itself said in a statement after the games release "This is the first year in rebooting the franchise....this is a marathon, not a sprint – today’s Medal of Honor launch represents a step forward in that race." Medal of Honor was now seemingly in the best shape it had been in years. The game had its faults but it represented a tremendous step forward for the series and the future was incredibly bright, with a quickly announced sequel promising to fix the flaws in the new Medal of Honor.
With the exciting new release of its well-received reboot Medal of Honor appeared to be trending up for the first time in years, yet just as before events outside its control worked against the series at a critical moment. Released one month after the new Medal of Honor, Call of Duty: Black Ops represented a giant step forward for the series from a story-telling and cinematic perspective. Following in the footsteps of every Call of Duty game and becoming a sales juggernaut, Black Ops also became one of the most critically acclaimed Call of Duty games ever and years later is regarded by many as having the best campaign of the entire series. I was among many who found myself in love with Black Ops stellar story and voice acting, whereas Medal of Honor largely foundered on those grounds.
Yet again Call of Duty had managed to usurp the success Medal of Honor had created for itself. Even still Medal of Honor's limited success marked a potential new turning point for the series, with the ability to finally begin to right the ship and truly compete with Call of Duty. Work on the new sequel began immediately and finally in early 2012 Medal of Honor: Warfighter was announced. A direct sequel to the story of the rebooted Medal of Honor, Warfighter promised to delve into the consequences of multiple deployments and the effects of so much fighting. Finally it looked as if Medal of Honor was poised to take that next big step and become a more serious, contemplative, and real look into the world of the solider and portray in stark terms the cost of war.
Warfighter also promised to fix the technical problems that kept its predecessor from truly living up to its potential. All taken together Warfighter promised a lot for both fans of the series and for fans of the shooter genre in general. With a release date of October 2012, things seemed to be promising for the game and then previews for the game started up.
As Warfighter got closer and closer to its release, people began to note some problems when playing the game at preview events. Even still, this always had to be prefaced with the fact that this wasn't the final product and developer Danger Close games still had time to fix the problems that were present. Still, looking back these were early red flags for the final product we would get.
On October 23rd, 2012 Medal of Honor Warfighter was released to a critical pounding. Warfighter almost from the drop was a critical and commercial failure. Critics and reviews tore the game apart for its multitude of issues, not the least of which was the fact that instead of fixing the technical problems from Medal of Honor, Warfighter almost seemed to have made them worse and more game-breaking. Nearly every aspect of the game was complained about by critics and many were quick to point out just how far the series had fallen, with Game Informer commenting that " this once loved series may be dangerously close to being put in the casket." Ben Croshaw of Zero Punctuation gave perhaps the most complete and total critique of the game noting that "Warfighter is down with everything that makes modern shooters so...despicable", and criticizing the game for its uninspired story, over-the-top set pieces, and a lack of player input on the actual plot, stating "being played by a self-aware human being was classified by the developers as a bug." Warfighter would ultimately appear on numerous outlets list of the worst games of the year and become the most critically panned and disastrously reviewed game int the series history.
It is also important to note Warfighter's flop commercially too, where it managed to sell just 300,000 copies in its first week a massive step down compared to the 1.5 million copies sold by its predecessor. The game would debut at number 18 on the charts and would fall far short of EA's projections for the game.
Almost immediately a death watch of sorts sprang up over the Medal of Honor series with EA issuing statement after statement criticizing the leadership and production of the game. Finally in the third quarter of 2013 in a EA conference call, EA COO Peter Moore, stated that due to the games "poor critical and commercial reception" the Medal of Honor series would be placed on hold and pulled from the production schedule.
Medal of Honor was a gaming series like few others, with roots going back to the very first PlayStation console and predating almost every other major shooter series. It helped to usher in the cinematic first-person shooter and introduced high quality production design, stellar sound design and soundtracks, and a captivating plot and atmosphere to what had previously been a very lifeless and infant genre. I feel totally comfortable saying that without Medal of Honor pioneering a trail and breaking ground for everyone else, there would never have been games like Battlefield and Call of Duty to pick up its mantel and run. Medal of Honor ultimately became a victim of its own innovative success and quickly spread itself too far, with too many different games, and slowly saw its product stagnate and atrophy. Yet the success it had was very much crucial to the development of the shooter genre and really to games as a whole and it has truly earned its place as one of the most important and consequential early pioneers of 3D games. Medal of Honor may never come back, but what it did, that legacy, particularly through the early 2000's will forever place it in my heart and the hearts of so many other gamers like me.