Medal of Honor

Goat Recon.

With its latest Medal of Honor game, EA wants to show you a different side of modern warfare, and that different side - whisper it - has goats in it. You can't turn them into vehicles, though, and you can't strap Semtex to them and coax them towards trundling into enemy boltholes before obligingly exploding. I doubt you can even use them as cover. They're just trotting around the game's Afghan landscape, chewing grass, staring into the distance with that strangely sage look that goats often have, and thinking their goaty thoughts.

There are goats in the game, in other words, because there are goats in the ravages of Afghanistan, and this project is all about accuracy. That's easy for me to type (although not as easy as it could be, because I cut my finger chopping an apple a few minutes ago), but as I've never been in the military, never been under heavy fire, and never been to Afghanistan, I'll have to take the developers' word for it.

They're taking someone else's word for it, as it happens - the game is the product of hours of discussions with shadowy figures in the real US army - and that brings us to today's buzz phrase: Tier One Operators.

Picture the American war machine as a pyramid. It's lucky they don't go into battles this way, because they'd never win anything. Anyway, there are two million men and women in the US military. Of those, 50,000 are spec ops. Of those, only 200 are Tier One. They're the elite of the elite, never used except in the deadliest, trickiest, absolutely most urgent of situations.

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A brief trailer sets the tone with a downbeat voice-over - and a man tied to an office chair being kicked out of a window before exploding.

It's invitations-only, apparently, although I can't imagine it's an invitation that would particularly cheer most people. EA has been in very close consultation with a few of these mysterious characters, and their peculiar lives are the fascinating backbone of the Medal of Honor reboot - the first game, following in some rather large footsteps, to bring the franchise to the present day.

If you're imagining this elite squad of super-soldiers picking their way through the Ambassador's Reception in one of the great cities of Europe, ducking past trays of Ferrero Rocher as they move in on a sinister autocrat with an eye patch, you've got the wrong idea. The average Tier One - sorry, I forgot, none of them are average - is somewhere on the windswept crags of a lonely mountain range, probably disguised as a shepherd, and sporting an amazing beard.

Beards and goats: unlikely as it seems, that's what makes Medal of Honor seem pretty exciting. It doesn't appear to be a glitzy neo-con fantasy. It hasn't redrawn conflicts to make the enemies more old school and simplistic - "Phew, it's only the Russians again" - and it seems to want to deliver something other than vivid spectacle as it tells its story.

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