Medal of Honor game goes on sale amid controversy

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Media caption,

Medal of Honor's prequel book author Chris Ryan on the game's realism

The video game Medal of Honor (MoH) has gone on sale despite calls by the UK defence secretary to ban it.

The game follows the exploits of Special Forces troops battling insurgents in Afghanistan in 2002.

In August, Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox called for the game to be banned after it emerged that users could fight as The Taliban.

Its developer EA said the game was meant to be realistic, but eventually renamed The Taliban "The Opposition".

This edition, the latest in EA's long running series of games bearing the MoH title, has dispensed with its World War II theme and opted to recreate modern combat in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.

But with 150,000 American, British and Allied troops fighting in Afghanistan, many felt taking on the role of the Taliban was a step too far.

Dr Fox described the game as "un-British" and said it was "shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban against British soldiers".

The Canadian and Danish Defence Ministers also criticised the game.

EA weathered the storm for a few weeks, but in early October the firm bowed to pressure and took the term "Taliban" out of the multiplayer option.

Despite the change, the game is still banned from sale on military bases, although troops can purchase it elsewhere and play it on station.


Johnny Minkley, a journalist with video gaming website Eurogamer, told BBC News that he thought EA's decision to allow users to play as the Taliban was a marketing ploy.

"I don't think EA was that naive," he said.

Image caption,
Players fight as Special Forces operating in Afghanistan in 2002

"They knew that this would be controversial, but they needed to do everything to get attention, especially when they are going up against Call of Duty: Modern Warfare - the biggest brand in the world."

The game itself has received mostly positive reviews, scoring an average of 75% according to the review aggregator site Metacritic. Computer and Video Games Magazine described it as "an accomplished, confident online shooter".

Mr Minkley agreed, saying the developers had done "a really good job" but added that the product was some way from being perfect.

"The campaign stands up well and it is a competent and exciting first person shooter.

"But I do have a problem with it, and that is that the single player mode is very short.

"A competent gamer could get through the entire game in under five hours."

Logging on

In the 1990s, single player games usually lasted for days, if not weeks. However, that changed with the 2001 release of Max Payne, which could be completed in under 12 hours.

"This is an ever growing trend - we saw it with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare - of having an exciting, but short, single player game," said Mr Minkley.

Image caption,
The decision to allow users to fight as The Taliban caused controversy

"Developers claim that the multi-player aspect - where players compete on line - extends the life of the game, but the fact remains many people cannot or do not want to play online," he added.

US developer Activision's last modern combat shooter - Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - grossed over $1bn in sales, and the follow on title Call of Duty: Black Ops, due for release on 9 November this year, is expected to do as well, if not better.

EA's decision to switch the Medal of Honor theme from the Second World War to a modern day conflict has prompted some critics to accuse the US firm of imitation.

Mr Minkley agreed, but said the decision was a financial one and Medal of Honor was not a pale imitation.

"What they've tried to do is focus on the confusion and uncertainty of western forces in Afghanistan and it feels different from a Hollywood style shooter like Call of Duty.

"You also have to bear in mind there is a degree of WWII fatigue and, ultimately, games developers are there to make money," he said.

"This is a commercial decision to follow the success of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 but - other than The Taliban issue - is far less deliberately provocative than Call of Duty."

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