The use of the fabled Tier 1 Operators offers another welcome change of tempo and emphasis as you ghost militants on hillsides, and your partner Dusty carefully measures your assaults to increase the certainty of success while making them more efficient and economical on your supplies. The choreography at work in the Tier 1 and SEAL sections is one of Medal of Honor's greatest assets, and does a good job of articulating the difference between Special Forces and their colleagues lower down the elite scale.
It's a shame, then, that the scripting and storytelling outside the action is mixed. The CG cut-scenes are antiquated, while the story is hammy and a bit "Channel 5, 9pm" in execution. There's even a bit where one of the tech guys cuts off the feed from Langley before a General can order his CO to do something he knows is wrong. "Looks like we lost the feed, sir," he says with a grin. Feel good! That's an order! When one of your mates solemnly notes, "Man, there's a lot of bad guys here, Intel really dropped the ball," you wonder how long the writer had that one on a Post-It Note stuck to his monitor before he found an opportunity to use it.
Medal of Honor's campaign isn't a technical marvel either. Danger Close went for Unreal Engine 3 to tell the main story, and it seems ill-suited to the long draw distances and proposed detail levels, frequently diving well below the 30fps baseline and popping in textures on the console versions. Elsewhere, contextual dialogue sometimes kicks in too late because you did something too quickly for the script, and bits where dramatic things happen to you (falling down a hill, for example) make such a song and dance about wresting control away that it feels clunky. Compared to the sequence in Halo: Reach where you're pounced on by a Covenant Elite, all beautifully in-engine and rendered from your perspective, the absence of polish is jarringly anachronistic for a blockbuster game in 2010.
DICE's vaunted multiplayer, however, uses the Frostbite engine from Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and looks much better throughout. There are five game modes - team deathmatch, capture-and-hold, two asymmetrical assault set-ups (one fast, one slow) and a "Hardcore" mode where expected crutches like ammo pick-ups and regenerating health are either removed completely or heavily regulated - and it's set over eight well-designed and varied maps.
There are only three classes - Rifleman, Special Ops and Sniper - but they complement one another well. The Rifleman's smoke grenade clears the way for Spec Ops, for example, who in turn frightens enemies out of cover and into the sights of the Sniper. DICE rewards progress with new toys, but without giving veteran players too much of an advantage. Support Actions - directed airstrikes, for example - are well balanced following public beta-testing, while weapon customisation is a complex and rewarding experience.
It's a different approach to some of Medal of Honor's competitors, designed to put skilful players on top whatever their experience level, but the result will undoubtedly still be that if you don't get in early and sacrifice time to learning levels and systems, you will struggle to find a foothold without enduring a lot of frustration. Those who do may find the experience a little too close to Bad Company 2 for comfort, but that won't stop them enjoying the remix.
We know that multiplayer is keenly not about portraying the Afghanistan war, of course, given that the developers have said that changing the name Taliban to Opposing Force has no material impact on gameplay. This disconnect is perhaps a good thing; multiplayer runs a much greater risk of appearing insensitive given that you sprint, jump, die and respawn at a fearsome rate, and without the careful scripting of the linear campaign you can do all sorts of things that would look quite bad, in or out of context. All the same, it's hard not to feel it could and should have been completely abstracted.
As a game about the Afghanistan war that does its absolute utmost to avoid being about the Afghanistan war, Medal of Honor is arguably just a shooting gallery spliced with a fairground ride and a solid multiplayer accessory which owes a lot to Bad Company 2. It certainly does little to advance the theory that videogames are responsible enough to tell stories within sensitive contexts - it's compelling and enjoyable to play on a visceral level, but it's a shame it lacks the creative bravery to match the courage of the heroes it so reveres. Having set out to prove that there is another way of doing a first-person shooter set within a contemporary conflict, however, it can lay claim to qualified success as an interesting vertical slice of the US military machine.
Medal of Honor is released for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 this Friday.