Electronic Arts and developer Danger Close Games have been struggling to position their upcoming first person military shooter, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, alongside genre heavyweights, Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Despite showing promise in our hands-on preview, interest in the Medal of Honor followup has been comparatively low – leading the publisher to reduce sales estimates for the soon-to-be-released title.
Making matters worse, the title’s PR campaign took a hit a month back when Executive Producer Greg Goodrich started a series of featured blog posts, detailing the Warfighter weapons by providing links to actual gun sellers – enabling players to purchase the real world counterparts of their in-game weapon arsenal. Now, Medal of Honor is once again trying to blur the lines between games and reality – by marketing their DLC pack, “Zero Dark Thirty” (“Hunt” for UK players), in connection with the upcoming film (of the same name) from academy award winner Kathryn Bigelow about the hunt and killing of Osama bin Laden.
The “Zero Dark Thirty” pack (check out the trailer as the top of the page) will deliver two maps, The Darra Gun Market and Chitral - locations that reportedly play a part in the upcoming (albeit fictionalized) account of the assault on Bin Laden’s hideout. The pack will be free to anyone who purchases the Medal of Honor: Warfighter limited edition – with downloaders paying $9.99 on their console store of choice. $1 of each purchase will be donated to veteran charities through EA’s Project HONOR program.
Here’s a breakdown of what players can expect from the two maps, prefaced by Danger Close Games with: “The decade long hunt to find Bin Laden went through some of the most remote and dangerous parts of the world.”
The Darra Gun Market is located in a tribal land where the rules are defined by only two principles — hospitality and revenge. No police are allowed to enter the area and all the laws are made by the tribal leader. This small town in Pakistan is home to dozens of back-alley shops and self-taught machinists who are in many cases building guns by hand. Almost no outsiders ever see this town. What better place to hide than where only locales and known tribal members are allowed to enter.
Chitral is another area of Pakistan thought for a time to be one of Bin Laden’s hideouts. A rural mountainous area filled with deep narrow valleys, it has many places that are inaccessible several months each year because of snow and road conditions. There are over 1200 small towns scattered throughout the Chitral district and finding someone who doesn’t want to be found would be next to impossible.
The official EA breakdown ends with the following statement: “Medal of Honor Warfighter steps into the boots of the soldiers who led the hunt for Bin Laden and takes you to the locations where only the most elite dare enter.”
Admittedly, the donation to veteran charities is admirable but the heavy reliance on “Hunting Bin Laden” gameplay is definitely a new marketing angle for Warfighter. Previously the game had simply relied on the experience of Tier One operatives – not outright promoted the game by asserting that players would partially recreate the search for a real life terrorist. A few weeks back we reported that Danger Close had enlisted a member of the Bin Laden mission squad, SEAL Team Six, for consultation on Warfighter – but, given that EA had worked with other SEAL operatives in the past (for authenticity), there wasn’t any reason to believe that they’d try to tie the game to the actual terrorist raid. At this point, the connection is limited to the game’s multiplayer – and there’s no indication that players will actively search for the infamous Taliban leader as part of the title’s narrative.
Regardless, the announcement has once again put EA and Danger Close in the controversy spotlight (especially after the removal of The Taliban from the last Medal of Honor) – since game critics and advocates alike have been put-off by what some might see as trivializing or glamorizing the hunting and killing of an actual named person in a video game (even one as dangerous as Bin Laden). Of course a similar criticism could (arguably) be levied at the Zero Dark Thirty film itself – with some detractor’s painting Bigelow’s movie as little more than a timely cash grab.
That said, the Zero Dark Thirty film is expected to use the real life story for a sharp character drama about the events leading up to the assault on Bin Laden’s compound as well as an evocative look into the lives of the Navy SEALs who were responsible for eliminating the Taliban leader. While still fiction, based on the facts, the movie will ultimately add a new layer of understanding and discussion around a sensitive topic. On the flip side, the game seems to merely be using the real life Bin Laden event to create buzz – without delivering anything meaningful to the subject matter. Location-inspired multiplayer maps allow EA to directly capitalize on the hunt for Bin Laden – without subsequently dealing with the heartbreaking details (lost lives of both U.S. servicemen and woman as well as innocents) that built up over the years during the search.
Now that video games are able to provide exceptionally realistic experiences, we’re in a weird middle ground where developers (and marketing people) can draw controversial connections to real life. But when does that “freedom of speech” cross a line into compromising underlying decency – especially when we’re talking about interactive video games. More and more, military shooters seem to struggle with that balance – ever since the high profile Modern Warfare 2 ”No Russian” controversy pushed the boundaries of morality in interactive storytelling. However, much like Bigelow’s film, “No Russian” had actual implications on the Modern Warfare story – and served as a memorable and contemplative moment for many gamers.
In our 5 Things We Want From ‘Medal of Honor: Warfighter’ feature, we indicated that along with some much-needed gameplay tweaks, the game would benefit greatly from “a story that matters.” So far, it’s unclear whether Warfighter will be able to deliver a meaningful over-arching single player experience and it’s unlikely that the game will actually deal with the hunt for Bin Laden in a compelling way (if at all) – especially since the “Zero Dark Thirty” map pack is an out of context deathmatch sandbox. Though, the tie-in has no doubt bumped Medal of Honor back into industry headlines (including our own) – so, mission accomplished? Hopefully, along with any added interest in the game via the DLC tie-in, the increased awareness will also result in increased support for those veteran charities.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for further updates as well as other movie, TV, and gaming news.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter releases October 23, 2012 for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.
Zero Dark Thirty is scheduled for theatrical release on December 19, 2012. For more on the film head over to the Zero Dark Thirty page at Screen Rant.