Medal of Honor: Warfighter has received quite a lot of flak for being repetitive, uninspired, short, and buggy to the point of unplayablility at launch without a hefty patch. It’s been mocked for its almost fetishistic obsession with the breaching of doors – despite how inconsequentially aesthetic this mechanic is – and for the creepy little soul-stealing she-demon NPC daughter character that haunts the uncanny valley of those computer animated cutscenes.
But what struck me – having scarcely seen the game in action – what I think it really deserves to be called out for, is that name:
Was that meant to be a joke? War. Fighter. I imagine the writer’s room for that decision:
‘So we need to brainstorm some titles… We’ve got the Medal of War part. That’s in the can. But what about the subtitle? Anyone got anything? Come on, let’s think outside the box. Yes? You. Tom.’
‘Well, in the game you’re fighting…’
‘Good. Good work, Tom. I like it. Fighting. Lots of fighting. Follow that thought through…’
‘And you’re in a war.‘
‘Great point also, Gerry. You are. You’re in a war.
‘And you’re fighting…‘
‘Yep. I heard you before, Tom. See? I already wrote it on the whiteboard.’
‘Medal of Honour: Stare Into the Abyss and the Abyss Stares Back at You.’
(* sound of a throat being cleared *)
‘…Glenn, what did I tell you about that stuff? Now, go for a walk while the rest of us sort this out.’
I mean, to end on Warfighter – the most a trite collision of immediate, obligatory noun and verb that one could possibly apply – does that mean we now have sequels like Medal of Honor: Gunshooter, and Medal of Honor: Soldierbattling to come? Each one more superfluous and hackneyed than the one preceding?
Indeed, it reminds me of a joke in 30 Rock, where Liz Lemon, hounded by the fear that writers are a relic of the past – an occupation no longer necessary in a world that glorifies ‘unscripted’ reality television and mindless special effect pyrotechnics – stumbles across a poster for an upcoming film that reads:
Transformers 5: Planet of the Earth.
Written by No One.
She sees a placeholder name – words without context or meaning. A vague gesture toward sense that leaves the goalposts so wide anything could fall within its purview.
But there really is no excuse for such vagary. When you look at the titles of texts that have endured, there is rarely such artless phoning-in of the titles. Even in the world of videogames, where franchises are (most often very wrongly) accused of being thoughtlessly cranked out, there is frequently great consideration placed in the names with which these experiences are published.
In Assassin’s Creed you get that lovely collision of the antisocial and dangerous ‘Assassin’, with the notion of order and adherence to stricture in ‘Creed’ – a thematic conflict that plays out in every level of the text, from the battle between the Assassins and Templars, to the player’s own experimentation and exploration within the mechanics of the game/animus. Further to that, subtitles like ‘Brotherhood’ and ‘Revelations’ allude to shake ups in the formula (albeit minor in ‘Revelations’), proving a good deal of depth in their meaning.
Grand Theft Auto is another ingenious descriptor. Despite each iteration of the game shifting beyond the narrow parameters of this one criminal act, the title nonetheless captures that sense of social abandon built into every level of the experience: you can steal a freedom of transport. It’s subversive; it’s reckless; it’s about escape and escapism – an antisocial defiance through which culture and civic order will be examined.
The Uncharted series, Mass Effect , Gears of War, Deus Ex – hell, I would say even Skylanders – every one of these franchises seems to have put thought into their titles than Medal of Honour has this time around. Each uses their name to reflect some fundamental element of the experience that the game is hoping to evoke, whether it be exploration; consequence; the gritty grunt work of battle; the collision of man, fate, and machine; or, uh… living on a land …um… in the sky. …Or something.
And yet: Warfighter.
Where you play the muddled, buggy experience of fighting wars.
But maybe I’m being unkind. Maybe that was the point. To let the player know, right before the load screen had even flashed into view, that this was just another generic shooter. There will be levels with heat blasted sand. There will be turrets. There will be obligatory vehicle sections. Stuff will blow up every thirty seconds or so. There will be ham-fisted nods to current political unrest, and rote acknowledgement of the real life sacrifice of actual soldiers sandwiched between staccato onslaughts of headshots and kill streaks. There will be bad guys menacing innocents in ways that make it easy for you to gun them down without qualm. A squad mate or two will die a tediously scripted death so that you feeeeeeeeel something, damnit! War is hell. …But not really. Because we’ve got nothing new about it to say.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter.
The name feels redundant, because you’ve played it all already, a hundred times before.
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This article was first posted on December 7, 2012