By Jeff Jensen
October 15, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT

Earlier this year, Medal of Honor — a modern reboot of a 1999 WWII game, now set in Afghanistan — sparked controversy when word leaked that its multiplayer mode would let you play as Taliban bad guys trying to kill American-led coalition forces. ”Taliban” was subsequently changed to ”opposing forces,” but the premise and gameplay remain the same. The most problematic thing about Medal, however, isn’t the name it gives its villains but how it depicts its heroes. The game aspires to capture the experience of an allegedly true-to-life class of elite secret soldiers known as Tier 1 Operators. You get to play as these ”precision instruments of war” in a variety of intense combat scenarios that require cleverness and patience. The opening mission, set in a ruined ghetto, is daunting and terrifying. After an ambush, you and your cohorts must snake through streets and buildings as enemies try to take you out.

The game’s most commendable achievement is its realistic environments; the settings are extraordinary. But the protagonists are impersonal and thin, little more than cartoonish mercenaries. The black-ops badass has become such a cliché. How about an average G.I. Joe for a change? For all its authenticity, Medal is a fantasy that turns a complicated reality into a winnable game starring indomitable Rambos. Maybe when they finally conquer those pesky ”opposing forces,” today’s grunts will get a Medal of Honor of their own. B