There was a specific point in Medal of Honor where my hopes for the game were at their highest. Tasked with a special operations group in the Shahikot mountains - a real place that saw some of the most savage fighting of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the American ground war in the country in 2002 - we have orders to eradicate several Taliban positions. As I make my way through the wreckage of a small outpost destroyed by our AC-130 support, the smoke clears and I see the sun rising over the ridgeline, filling the sky with red and blue light. This was one of those moments we have in good singleplayer campaigns - moments where your disbelief is suspended and you're in that experience.
About two minutes later, I was cursing Medal of Honor as I desperately tried to figure out exactly which 10-square-foot area I needed to enter to start the next mandatory scripted sequence. While you'll encounter both of these types of moments in Medal of Honor, the latter eventually overwhelmed the former. While the PC version seems generally free of the stability issues found in the console releases, level design that tends more toward turkey shoot than firefight, and a story and characters that stumble in their attempts at relevance and pathos find Medal of Honor walking into a quagmire it never really escapes from.
Medal of Honor departs immediately from other shooters set in the modern era by jumping headfirst into an ongoing conflict. As mentioned before, MOH will take you through regions that continue to see major combat. EA and developers Danger Close have stressed the inclusion of "Tier 1 Operators" in MOH - special operations personnel that act outside of officially documented military actions. The story begins with a Tier 1 team securing an intelligence asset in the city of Gardez in an op gone wrong very quickly. Later missions visit Bagram before exploring various outposts in and around Shahikot.
Like many successful war stories, Medal of Honor is about soldiers struggling against a plan fallen apart. It's a story that teeters on the brink of tragedy, or at least it tries. It's not that Medal of Honor's story is implausible. It just treads ground we've seen over and over in other media over the last few years: a commanding officer thousands of miles away making bad calls, soldiers on the ground violating orders because they know best, last stands with dwindling supplies, etc, etc, etc.
It could work if the characters were interesting or had any real depth, but Danger Close generally plays it light on the character development outside of letting us know that Rangers joke with each other, and that Spec-Ops personnel are "bad motherf**kers," and dress like mujahideen and Al Qaeda while deep in the wilds of Afghanistan. There's no real investment in the characters as people, and the gravitas the story fumbles toward never really comes together.
I felt a sense of unease throughout Medal of Honor's single-player campaign that I chalk up to its tonal inconsistency. EA and Danger Close have stressed how closely they've worked with service members to ensure accuracy in the way that Rangers and Tier 1 personnel operate, and the manner in which in-game characters take down doors and move right and left while clearing rooms may be perfectly accurate. However, the action in the game frequently devolves into action movie cliches like giant explosions, hundreds of enemy combatants to kill, and scripted death sequences of American soldiers. Levels are designed more like shooting galleries than a convincing battlefield, and the game does a poor job of directing your attention to your next objective - the HUD often seems to deliberately lead you in the wrong direction. Medal of Honor is so heavily dependent on canned war moments and setpieces that it starts to feel like the Theme Park tour of the war in Afghanistan, rather than a respectful trip through a day in the life of a soldier - and yeah, that weirded me out.