Warning: This post contains spoilers for both Medal of Honor and Red Dead Redemption.
There was no reason for there to be any controversy over Medal of Honor. The months-long dispute was over a feature of the multiplayer part of the game—a shooter set in 2002 Afghanistan—where you could play as the enemy, and therefore the Taliban. It ended with EA embarrassedly renaming the characters that are so obviously the Taliban the "opposing force," a move that was barely even cosmetic.
MORE ON Medal of Honor:
Marc Ambinder: The Story Behind 'Medal Of Honor'
Conor Friedersdorf: Playing as the Enemy
Ta-Nehisi Coates: Osama Bin Laden as Protagonist
The game they made, however, contains none of the willingness to engage with the bitter realities of the war in Afghanistan that the early controversy suggested. And ultimately, the game tells a story that despite its best intentions, fails to do the one thing that would have justified their contemporary context. It fails to matter.
That isn't to say that the game doesn't have its moments—the scene where the Rangers are heading to the front, trying to hide their nerves with aggression before they're ambushed stands out, as does a confused goat herder looking into the headlights of the first special forces into Bagrah.
But the gameplay itself is not clean. I spent much of my time running around trying to trigger scripted events, or wondering whether I was doing things the way the game wanted me to or if stabbing in the dark might yield the same result. Medal of Honor set out to make a Hollywood-style game, but while certain scripted sequences feel clean enough to communicate, the complete experience isn't tight enough to drive the story from one scene to the next.