What I would have done with Medal of Honor: Warfighter
A long time ago, I purchased a copy of Medal of Honor: Warfighter, having been stoked for its release by the fine folks at SOFREP who apparently had contact with the developers, Danger Close, and were impressed with the level of respect shown to the guy on the ground, the warfighter if you will. Recently, I started thinking about the game again. From memory, the game was very buggy, the campaign was rather short, the storyline was disjointed and somewhat confusing, and the game overall did not really live up to its advertised hype. Seeing as how one of my pet peeves is when people criticize and criticize without offering anything constructive, I thought about how I would do things differently, if I were in charge.
I would start by rebuilding the story from the ground up. A lot of the promotional material I saw emphasized the fact that the game was about Tier One special operations forces (SOF) from across the globe, tracking down a worldwide terrorist network involved in the distribution of a military-grade explosive compound, PETN. Unfortunately, this concept seems to have been lost somewhere along the way with the story becoming entirely Navy SEAL-centric with special operations units from other countries occasionally guest starring for a mission and never being mentioned again. This is the textbook definition of untapped potential. When I think of Warfighter these days, I imagine a story where the guys from AFO Neptune and AFO Wolfpack (the two teams from the previous Medal of Honor game, of which Warfighter is a sequel) are assigned to a multinational task force of so-called Tier One SOFs in order to dismantle the international terror network. At a bare minimum, I would have liked at least half the nations featured in multiplayer to have been featured in the campaign, promoting a little more integration between the single player and multiplayer experience. Better yet, have them all.
Thematically, I would have dropped the angle about Preacher’s family altogether. The emotional hardship faced by a military family is an incredibly powerful theme and worthy of its own game altogether, but here it felt tacked on and barely explored at all in between the running and gunning. As a compromise, perhaps it could be shifted to the background, alluded to in cutscenes between characters taking place throughout the entire campaign as opposed to full-on cutscenes featuring the wife and daughter in a few missions here and there, where it doesn’t create a whiplash between the quiet family scenes and the noise and explosions of battle. This could also create contrast between Preacher’s family life and those of his teammates, who might have different relationships with their families (there is a scene with Stump and another SEAL implying that the unnamed SEAL does not get along with his ex-wife). Oh and, speaking of Stump, he could have been removed from the campaign without detracting from it. I would have substituted a different character in his place but that goes into the “joint task force” aspect of the modified game that I will elaborate on later.
The other thing I would have cut out is the whole gimmick of having the missions “based on actual events”. Some of these missions were well-integrated into the story; in particular, I can think of the mission in the Philippines against Abu Sayyaf where it was both relevant to the plot (members of Abu Sayyaf were aiding the main network in smuggling the PETN and at least one high ranking member of the network was present at the time) and also happened to be based on actual events. By contrast you have a 5-minute sniper sequence that parallels the (at the time) recent hostage situation with the Maersk Alabama in which SEAL snipers took three simultaneous shots and killed the hostage takers without injuring the ship’s captain. It added nothing to the plot, was never mentioned again throughout the whole game, and was barely memorable. The whole gimmick also generated a lot more controversy than it was worth, since some of the game’s technical advisors got in a lot of trouble over their participation and contributed to the growing debate over whether SEALs still deserve to bear the title of “Quiet Professional”. This could have been partially avoided by simply not including the words “based on actual events” anywhere. It’s not that hard. Keep the content. Heck, keep the absolutely pointless Maersk Alabama sniping mission if you want, just don’t compromise your sources by implying that you have access to information that The Public Was Not Meant To Know.
Now, the fact that I am critical of that particular mission notwithstanding, there is a way that it could have been integrated into the plot of the game and this touches again on the meat of the story. One of the big themes of the previous game was the extent to which politicians and generals who are far removed from the battlefield can endanger a mission by not listening to the guys on the ground, and it lead to the poignant climax of the game where one of the main characters, Rabbit, bleeds out in the mountains of Afghanistan. The impact of Rabbit’s death is conspicuously absent from the plot of Warfighter and provided a great opportunity to continue exploring this theme with tailor-made scenarios. I point to the two scenarios mentioned above – in the Philippines, the efforts of the SEALs and their Light Reaction Battalion allies are hampered by an inept general who tries to micromanage the situation while on the Maersk Alabama sniping mission, the killing shots that decisively ended the hostage situation were delayed by several hours because of (the game implies) indecision on the part of the White House, which was also trying to micromanage the situation instead of leaving it to the Navy. This is the kind of drama that I would have incorporated in place of Preacher’s family life. You can’t have an international task force of SOFs without supporting elements like intelligence assets, and this is alluded to by Preacher’s communiques with Dusty, the character that was on all the promotional materials for the previous game. I wasn’t happy that a somewhat iconic character in the new Medal of Honor series was given such a minor role but it could have worked under an expanded storyline. It would be interesting seeing him try to balance his role as a go-between for the CIA and SOFs with his desire to get back in the fight, which he obviously can’t do with his unspecified injury. Why not touch on the rivalry between the CIA and the military for control over covert operations?
The final aspect of the storyline I want to touch on was the terrorist network itself, which was woefully underdeveloped, aside from a few key players. If there is one thing the general public should have learned by now, it is that arresting a few individuals rarely changes anything in these kinds of organizations. A few random snatches here and there did not feel at all like they were winding up a multinational group with operatives in every country and links to some of the most well-known groups in the world. Why were they smuggling the PETN? Simple – it could be used to make even more deadly suicide vests and bombs, but this was taken as a given and not mentioned at all. For that matter, we only ever see one attack attributed to the unnamed group, the attack in Spain that seemingly killed Preacher’s family. Who were their financiers? Field commanders? Suppliers? Technical experts? Propaganda producers? Handlers for their non-combat agents? Trainers? All these things are just off the top of my head and I have no special access to counter-terrorism materials. These are just things I figured would be important to running a terrorist group.
Next time, I’ll take a look at some of the gameplay elements used in the campaign and some ideas I had about them.