Monday, June 18, 2012

Answering the Call of Duty and earning Medals of Honor

It was the early 2000s and WW2 first person shooters was at it's peak at the time. The first Medal of Honor (MOH) was released for the PSX which introduced players to a WW2 FPS experience with an incredible soundtrack. MOH received generally good reviews and with its success, EA kept up with the momentum and released MOH: Underground as a successor to the first game. Later on, MOH: Allied Assault for the PC was released in 2002 which wow-ed the fps players during the time.

If you so happen to live under a rock, spoilers inside.

The most memorable part for me in the original MOH were the undercover missions, which was totally fresh and gave the game a nice change of pace. For MOH Allied Assault, the Normandy mission was my favourite. Inspired by Spielberg's own Saving Private Ryan, the game threw the player into an incredibly intense assault scenario which they must survive the landing and make their way to the beachhead. The best part of this experience was that it really felt like a huge assault on Normandy beach with other allied soldiers getting shot at and desperately going for cover. THAT really felt like a war campaign. After breaching the beachhead, you and your buddies get to beat the shit out of the Nazis and avenge your fallen comrades on the beach. A rewarding experience but even more rewarding when you actually receive a medal for the Normandy mission (see, this was our version of achievements and trophies back in the day). Oh and I later found out that those fuckin heavy machineguns in the nest ONLY AIMED AT THE PLAYER. Motherfuckers..

Then the game continued on and you're the only son-of-a-bitch America could send to destroy the Nazi war machine. A lonely tour of duty indeed. This tradition continued as well when MOH: Frontline was released for the PS2. I know being a one-man army is awesome and all but this is World War 2.. you're not Duke Fuckin Nukem or BJ Blazkowics for fuck's sake. Okay.. Wolfenstein was WW2 themed but its totally mystical sci-fi so it doesn't count! Thats what we wanted: Team mates, buddies, brothers-in-arms. This made the experience of WW2 FPS more realistic.

In 2003, Infinity Ward released the first Call of Duty. At first impression, everyone called it a Medal of Honor clone. That is, until they got their hands on the game.

"In War, No One Fights Alone."

That was COD's tagline and goddamn, they werent fuckin kidding. COD featured AI teammates tagging along in your mission. They were there backing you up, giving you orders, yelling out enemy positions, throwing/returning grenades and taking cover. This was a totally new experience and it really felt like you're fighting a war with fellow allies. The game also had a limited weapon carrying capacity which was inspired by the Halo series, thus allowing you to only carry a primary and secondary weapon. Another unique feature of COD was allowing the players to play as several different characters with their own different perspectives of the war. Another trademark of COD was the introduction to key characters in the story. Characters like Captain Price and others fought alongside the player. Most of these characters return in the sequels and other incarnations of the game.

Call of Duty became a success. An expansion called United Offensive was released. Sequels starting spawning up and COD eventually caught up and overtook Medal Of Honor. MOH while struggling, tried to keep up with the war fps trend in its own ways. Both games had releases on the console platforms. By the time, COD had released Finest Hour, Big Red One (My favorite for the PS2 btw) and COD 3 while MOH released Rising Sun, European Assault and Vanguard. The COD side were getting better reviews while MOH was trying hard to keep up. 

Finest Hour was alright but it felt like a carbon copy of the original COD on PC. Big Red One was brilliant because it had a sense of brotherhood among the squadmates and they stick around throughout the whole game. It does pain me to see some of them die as the story progresses. Call of Duty 3 was good and had a trademark Treyarch touch to it. For MOH, Rising Sun was mediocre as it tries too hard to simulate the American pacific assault against the Japanese. European Assault was somewhat alright but the whole Adreneline Mode kinda killed the game for me. Vanguard tried to be different but kinda left a lot to be desired.

At this moment Call of Duty fans has sort of divided into two factions: The Infinity Ward fans and the Treyarch fans. Both studios have their own ways to give players a war experience. Infinity Ward, being the original creators of COD is more focused on in-game set pieces (usually at epic scale) to wow players at almost every turn. Treyarch, to me, is more focused on it's characters while still maintaining the trademark COD experience. Since Big Red One, I've noticed Treyarch's been wanting the player to get to know the characters. The same when they developed Call of Duty 3 and COD: World at War. I always liked Reznov and its awesome to fight alongside him. Also another thing I noticed, Treyarch tends to keep their final levels more to a last stand while Infinity Ward wraps up a long fight with an epic ending (Modern Warfare 1's my favorite).

To advance means to change. Both COD and MOH decided its time to ditch the World War 2 theme and take up modern weaponry.

COD: Modern Warfare, developed by Infinity Ward, was released and god damn, it was awesome. The experience and the twists were brilliant. For the first time, playable characters were killed off. The president at the beginning of the game was one thing but I never expected the US Ranger we played as to actually die. The nuclear explosion that lead to that was another wow factor for me. The game's climax was memorable and satisfying. Seeing your favorite buddies die before your eyes while that one-armed bald son of a bitch shoot Gaz in the head gave me a moment of rage. When an injured Cpt. Price, passed me a handgun, i knew exactly what to do at that moment. Even more rewarding when the game slowed down time for me to shoot Zakhaev's guards. As that fucker got shocked to see brain matter sprayed on him from both sides, "Turn around, dipshit", I said to him. He looked and I shot him right between the eyes. THAT was an epic cinematic experience.

At first I had no quarrel about the plot in Modern Warfare and it gave me a reason to hate the main antagonist. It all changed for Modern Warfare 2. MW2 tried to live up to the first game but kind of overdid it. The vehicle levels really felt like an arcade game than something COD-ish. The controversial "No Russian" mission wasn't an issue for me (hey.. I play Grand Theft Auto.. killing civilians is so normal). The characters in MW2 was so two dimensional and forgettable. Soap was meh (I can't believe I played the guy in MW1..) and Ghost was like.. huh who's this gu- oh nvm he died. Killing off characters in MW2 felt kinda unnecessary and occurred to much yet it doesn't really deliver much impact in the story. The main antagonist, Makarov, is nothing compared to Zakhaev. A generic Bond villain to be honest.. Shepard's betrayal was surprising but it just didn't deliver much. So thus began COD's era of shoot plenty of bad guys for wow set-pieces and behold plot-twists.

This continued with MW3, which story was so damn weak. The epic COD experience was still there but it felt like a burden to finish with an uninteresting story. More forgettable and killable characters (except Price of course) and Soap's death had no impact at all to me. MW3 didn't have much highlights in it's singleplayer but the ending was somewhat satisfying. You, as Cpt. Price, lighting up a cigar as you watch Makarov's dead corpse hanging by his head in front of you. Mission complete.

While COD was releasing the Modern Warfare series, Medal of Honor rebranded itself as a modern era shooter as well. Also, for the first time, allowed players to play as different characters with different perspectives of the war. Personally, I liked the characters and story for the new MOH. The Tier 1 guys were cool and your Delta Force partner, Dusty, was an awesome mentor-like figure. The vehicle based missions were alright but then again, I love the Apache helicopter. But I can't help but feel that it copied Modern Warfare but with it's own gameplay mechanics. Hell, you can request ammo from your buddies. That was cool but only if you have the same firearm. The game got positive reviews but sadly, it was heavily compared with COD Modern Warfare. But somehow it just didn't feel like Medal of Honor. MOH used to reward the players with medals at the end of each mission and to remind the player that he/she had fought well to accomplish it. This MOH was a shooter all the way. (PS - Medals earned has a whole different feel compared to achievements/trophies. Well, thats my personal take to it.)

Activision then released COD Black Ops, developed by Treyarch. Black Ops is more story oriented and theres a sense of character development and plot progression. Its more grittier and darker compared to the other COD games. It has a lot of conspiracy related themes as well. A modern version of Resnov returns as your mentor and buddy throughout the game. Most part of the game, you'll play as Alex Mason but occasionally you'll switch to other characters as well. Oh and for the first time in the COD series, your character speaks. The plot twist in Black Ops was surprising as well. You knew that something was fishy but the revelation was just awesome.

Black Ops will be getting a sequel soon and will have Treyarch's trademark characters returning but in a futuristic setting while Medal of Honor has it's follow-up called Warfighter coming soon as well. We'll see how both games fare up.

So there you have it. Two franchises going neck to neck with each other and how much they have evolved throughout the times. Call of Duty was a shooter that promised to deliver a cinematic war experience has become a story oriented kill-the-villain shooter while Medal of Honor has totally forgotten its origins to keep up with current trends. Still, I will play both games and their new releases because I grew up with them.

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