Over a month ago, I saw the new Medal of Honor. Over a month ago, I sighed.
We are stuffed with first-person shooters like a summer mosquito is stuffed with blood, and at times I consider my interest in these things just about sucked dry.
I feel that on my cynical days, which I guess is the kind of day I was having when I went to a nightclub in San Francisco to see the first footage of Medal of Honor: Warfighter.
But in my optimistic moments I remember that when many people make the same thing, it's easier to spot the subtle differences. One person's over-doing-it is another person's gradual iteration. These games are all about solving life's problems from behind the barrel of long rifles, but the tiniest things can make the difference.
I hope what I first heard from this new Medal of Honor is no tiny thing.
What I heard was the voice of a woman, itself a rarity in military shooters. This was the voice of the wife of the main character, Preacher, the playable main character in this ripped-from-the-headlines adventure of top-tier military personnel fighting terrorists across the world.
We didn't see the wife that night, not before the game demo flowed into the standard, hectic, amazingly-well-rendered gun battles you're used to seeing from big-budget shooters. We just heard her, calling from home, despairing that Preacher was gone so often that he hardly knew their kids. It sounded like the marriage was falling apart.
"I would love to tell you all about the phone call," the game's producer Greg Goodrich told me, "That human side is very real, and it's very prevalent in the game."
The personal lives of Preacher and his main brothers-in-arms may be part of the game's story, but the game's action is what Goodrich and the game's creators were most prepared to emphasize that day: how the game is based on close-in combat, to distinguish it from the expansive battles of EA's other big shooter series, Battlefield; how the game's new graphics engine lets pieces of the rooms you shoot in chip away. The phone call is not featured in the first trailer released for the game.
No Bin Laden: While Medal of Honor: Warfighter is ripped from the headlines and based on many real or planned actions by special forces against real terrorist groups like El Shabab and Abu Sayaf, the most famous special op against a terrorist won't be included in the game. There will be no raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound, Goodrich told me. Why? "It's just not our story to tell," he said.
Why exclude the most famous example of what you're basing your game on? I didn't get it. Goodrich: "I really can't comment on it. It's one of those areas I'd just rather not comment on right now. I would just say it's just not our story to tell."
I didn't care much about the shooting, even though that is where the game part of this game is at.
I wanted to know more about Preacher and his wife. Goodrich gave me a little more: "Clearly they've reached a junction in their relationship where she's like, you're gone 300 days out of the year or you're deployed overseas or in training. She's saying, ‘I am trying to raise this family and I need help.' Clearly, there's struggle there and they have a choice to make. Clearly, Preacher is a fighter. He doesn't want to give up. That is a whole other layer to this game and a storyline that will become more evident."
We won't be able to play as Laina. I don't even know if these call-from-your-wife moments are anything more than non-interactive filler that kill time while missions load. I think Goodrich cares about it enough to treat it better than that, though I can't see it making the game any more fun. More interesting, though? Yes. Very much so.
"If we are doing our job right," Goodrich told me, "we will drive home the fact that these are more than just guys with guns." He recalled the previous Medal of Honor, a 2010 game whose single-player campaign had moments of panicked splendor, when its version of warfighting in Afghanistan felt just a shade more terrifying and difficult than the super-hero military fantasy of most shooter games. "That last game was about what those guys fought for on that mountain," he said. "This game is about what these guys fight for at home."
I hope that makes this one different.