The power of two.
Ever since Medal of Honor shifted from World War Two to the modern era, the hardcore shooter series has been suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. Whether you compare it to Battlefield or Call of Duty, Danger Close’s efforts have never really stood out – striking us as more of a ‘me too’ experience rather than something genuinely different. This year that precedent isn’t quite so clear cut, but before we get into that let’s get a few things out the way. This is military shooter, so you can assume the multiplayer portion of the game has several things; a detailed XP-based progression system, ridiculously in-depth gun customisation, a dedicated online stats portal, lots of visual customisation options for your dude/dudes, and more polish than you’ll find in a furniture store.
We know these things, you know these things, but it’s best to get them out of the way. Instead we’ll just focus on is what is different about this Medal of Honor game and what sets it apart from its fellow war-obsessed big-budget peers.
Warfighter’s most innovative feature is the addition of Fireteams. This nifty buddy system which is used in conjunction with squads, pairs gamers up in two-man teams. The location of your pal is marked in the HUD at all times, a dead buddy can spawn on his alive compatriot and a handy widget in the corner shows off the health, class and ammo of your team mate – just in case you weren’t sure who exactly you were supposed to be working with. This neat mechanic actively encourages in-depth co-operative play, be it covering flanks and the like, which military shooters usually lack. Anyone looking to Rambo their way too success will usually fail, as a two strategic minds tend to always better an overconfident lunatic when working in unison.
This kind of closely knit gameplay reminded us of the ad-hoc partnerships that get formed in Team Fortress 2 between Medics and Heavys, often without a word being said between the two players. The class system in Warfighter seems much more defined than it was previously, with each class possessing both defensive and offensive support power ups to help their team after they’ve personally accumulated a few kills. This system is very reminiscent of Modern Warfare’s killstreaks and adds an additional element of strategy to your success; should you call in a series of gas shells to hide a potential capture point, or should you call in an artillery strike to flatten the area before risking your life and your team-mates? It’s a small decision in the grand scheme, but it’s one specifically designed to make players think about using their support powers in a way that best benefits the team.
As you’d expect each of classes have their own set of killstreaks, abilties and equipment, with the Heavy Gunner boasting a drop down face plate to prevent forward facing headshots while the Assault option feels more like an all-rounder with better mobility and more versatile weaponry. Obviously there are other sniper rifle-clad or close range class options as well, but the really cool aspect of this character customisation system is the inclusion of real-life international special forces.
Attaching allegiance to your player choices, be it choosing a member of Britain’s SAS, Poland’s KROM, or others, adds weight to your selection and motivation for future unlocks. Seeing the prompt that you’ve unlocked the German KSK for selection in a certain class provided us more enjoyment than we’d like to admit, channelling that same feeling we experienced when we opened up a pack of Panini stickers and found a lovely ‘shiny’. It’s a shame this feature has been dubbed ‘Blue on Blue’ multiplayer, as that terminology brings up all kinds of tragic connotations, but the inclusion of real life forces does add an additional extra bragging element to the round-by-round slaughter.
Over a two hour time-frame we played each of Warfighter’s different game modes; Sector Control, Last Resort and the new Counter-Strike inspired Homerun mode, where players are split into two teams of six and must steal a flag on a small intimate map while the other team tries to stop them before roles are reversed after six rounds. In this mode players are only allowed a single spawn, and support powers are disabled in order to ensure of a level playing field each round. The jingoism associated with this game mode is immensely high, with flags adorned with the pattern of the nation which the flag carrier hails from and glorified animations of the capturer planting his spoils into the ground at the end of a succesful round.
Homerun mode makes a good impression, but it really doesn’t hold a candle to Last Resort. This mode has one team of ten planting bombs on three different targets with limited spawns, while the other has to defend those oh so sensitive points. Call of Duty fans might be thinking they’ve heard of this sort of game mode before but the map we played on, ShogoreValley, had plenty of interesting holding points like an ironically bombed out building guarding one of the bomb sites and a hill with a slight gradient which made peeking over the precipice seem genuinely daring and heroic. Not to mention those precious moments when a bomb has actually been planted and you need to attack or defend a target before the timer runs its course.
The remaining mode Sector Control follows a similar tact to Battlefield with different posession points on any given map, which you can control to earn points that eventually govern round supremacy. Frankly there was nothing revelatory about this mode, but we’re still glad it’s an option available to players.
Since Warfighter’s open beta arrived on Xbox Live, there’s been a ground swell of disappointment surrounding the sequel with testers (and that is what they are) complaining that the visuals are poor, the gameplay feels flawed and the interface is clunky. None of those problems were apparent in our hands-on time, in fact the PC build ran smoothly regardless what action 20 man matches were throwing at the screen and with a mouse and keyboard the interface seemed sensible and straightforward. We aren’t saying those dissenters are wrong about the Xbox 360 build, but what we are saying is that those issues don’t seem to be apparent on the PC. Perhaps that’s due to optimisation issues with the Frostbite 2 engine, but we didn’t witness anything that would make us think that the next Medal of Honor will be the lacklustre experience or worst of all a lazy port.
Maybe gamers on the whole are getting sick and tired of the same old military shooter tropes, and if that’s the case you can’t really blame Medal of Honor for the shift in mainstream perceptions. Sure Warfighter doesn’t bring much new to the table, but the multiplayer at least seems polished, entertaining and full of hundreds of different options to keep you satisfied for a few dozen hours or so. As long as you recognise that before diving in, we can’t imagine Warfighter being anything less than a rewarding experience.
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