Medal of Honor has grown up.

The new installment, dubbed simply “Medal of Honor” in an attempt to reboot the franchise, has some remarkable changes from the series thus far. For the first time in the franchise’s 10 year history the game has left its WWII setting, taking place in modern Afghanistan just before (and during) the US attack. Like previous games it’s somewhat based on real life combat missions… “historical fiction”, they call it. The game is also much more graphic and bloody than you’d expect from the traditionally T for teen rated series, having the distinction of being the series’ first M-rated title.

The game will look familiar to anyone who’s played a first person shooter over the last few years. Throughout the single player campaign you’ll control multiple characters, all “Tier 1″ operators, known as the most elite of all soldiers. EALA spoke with many former operators in the process of designing this game, getting insane war stories and even thousands of photographs from actual operations, which were used to create a life-like world.

I met up with the developers at a recent press event in NYC where people were the first to be shown the playable game. But before we experienced that we were treated to a brand new trailer. The trailer is exciting but treads familiar ground to recent games- it’s located in the desert, there are stealth missions, AC130 missions, and vehicles. It ends with an admittedly awesome cinematic that shows the team coming across someone tied up in a chair, head down. One of the men pulls the hostage’s head up to see if he’s alive and sees a bomb strapped to his neck, ready to go off. He shouts a warning to his friends and immediately kicks the poor corpse (and his rolling chair) out the window, just before it explodes and takes much of the wall with it.

Afterwards we were led through a demo of the game, a 60% complete pre-alpha version that was already completely playable. The team was set on creating a great complete game first and had it done by December last year, giving them months and months to go back and tweak the graphics and effects. As you can see, it looks pretty damn good even now.

The mission were were shown had your team up in the mountains trying to take out some anti-air emplacements that were threatening your gunships. It starts off as a stealth mission, with your teammates all in local drab. You quietly eliminate all soldiers in your path and it’s here that you’ll notice how worn your weapon looks. It’s scratched and beaten up  and looks like it’s seen its share of action. It’s the little details that help sell the fact that these guys are complete badasses.

You make your way up the mountain, taking care of enemy insurgents and even setting up an ambush at one point. At one section, you come across a convoy of trucks, and use a laser designator to call in an AC130 to reign hell down on them. It’s pretty impressive to see, if very scripted.

The rest of the demo was fairly linear and obvious, as you’d go down the one available path, kill all the enemies in your way, and continue on to your next objective. At one point you rounded a corner to get knocked down by an enemy, getting saved by one of your teammates at the last possible second.

The one glaring problem I had with it all was how familiar a lot of the stuff looked. You’re walking around a linear path being told what to do (objectives are constantly filling your screen), watching scripted animations happen all the way. The beginning is also reminiscent of the famous All Ghillied Up mission from COD4, where soldiers emerge from the grass previously unseen. Lasing the trucks and watching the AC130 bomb the hell out of  them is exciting but you’re still a passive participant watching scripted destruction. You’re not really directing where the bombs land, you’re simply hitting the switch that makes it happen. Hopefully they game won’t lead you by the hand as badly as some other shooters have, because there’s really nothing here that we haven’t seen before.

One thing that might get online gamers excited is the announcement that DICE Studios (the folks behind Battlefield) is working on the multiplayer mode. That’s right- they’re actually devoting two whole teams to this game, and if anyone has shown that they know multiplayer combat, it’s DICE.

Medal of Honor is going to have to do a lot of work over the next few months to convince people that it’s something new, as the series feels like it’s more than a few steps behind the curve on this one. Hopefully the story (and DICE multiplayer) can push this one over the edge when it hits next Fall.