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A pair of hit games jump into the modern era.

Two popular action series in computer gaming, Medal of Honor from Electronic Arts and Call of Duty from Activision, debuted in WWII settings, treading a line between historical and fictional events. They’ve long been popular with gamers, but when Call of Duty jumped into the present with the Modern Warfare brand, it proved to be a huge success. Electronic Arts recently followed suit, advancing Medal of Honor to follow Special Forces teams in present-day Afghanistan. Both games included aviation elements in their WWII versions, and both chronicle aviation’s evolving role in warfare.

Black Ops ($60, requires Microsoft Windows XP/Vista/7, Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 processor or comparable, 2 GB RAM, 12 GB hard drive space, 256 MB 3-D video card, is the latest iteration of Modern Warfare. The game’s singleplayer campaign follows an operative involved in secret missions through several historical hot spots, such as the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam.

Aviation is a major factor in the game. One early mission has players ride aboard a Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Sorties in Vietnam feature both Bell UH-1 Iroquois gunships and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II jets in close air support. Players can even commandeer a Mil Mi-24 Hind helicopter. Although these action scenarios tend to seem far-fetched, the aircraft and their roles are generally historically appropriate. The Hind, for example, is an early “A” model, with angled cockpit windows instead of the bubble canopies so often seen as the trademark of the feared gunship.

The Electronic Arts entry into this arena is a reboot of sorts, with Medal of Honor ($30, requires Microsoft Windows XP/Vista /7, Intel Pentium D 3Ghz processor or faster, 2 GB RAM, 256 MB 3-D video card, getting a new developer and new game engine. Like Black Ops, the game fabricates some interesting circumstances and amazing timing for the sake of drama, but all the aviation assets are used in reasonable fashion. The storyline features teams of U.S. Navy SEALs and Army Rangers as advance forces for an operation. Oddly enough, despite verbal references to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, players don’t work with the popular Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks, but there are several Boeing-Vertol MH-47 Chinooks in play for transportation and some harrowing crash scenes.

Several incidents show the modern relationship between aircraft and infantry. The player as a foot soldier uses laser designators to mark targets for strike aircraft, such as the Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II and the McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle, to great effect. This isn’t innovative; gamers did the same thing in Modern Warfare. Still, Medal of Honor’s developers get a little credit for not quite copying Modern Warfare’s C-130 gunship missions. The mighty Hercules is there, but instead of manning its weapons from above, players get to see its power from the infantryman’s eyes.

Both of these games are visually impressive excursions for aviation lovers, although historians with a sense of humor will probably find Black Ops’ trip through time a little more interesting to play. And both are short games that gain some extra life through the multiplayer modes.


Originally published in the November 2011 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.