As Activision's Call of Duty series gets set to blast away our brains in a futuristic setting, EA's Medal of Honor is buckling down and sticking to the right here, right now.
At E3, Danger Close - the Medal of Honor developers - were throwing around thinly veiled terms like "relevant", and the slightly needling "respect for the soldier". Both sides are maneuvering for position, and Medal of Honor's divergence is sure to be interesting.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter is the follow up to 2010's reboot of the shooter franchise, and continues in its gritty realistic vein. Except, this time around EA have taken a page out of Tom Clancy's books and spread the fighting, and the style of combat, all around the world.
Danger Close were at pains to emphasise that Medal of Honor was all about the world's current problems, and we were told that the singleplayer campaign would see players parachuted into global hot spots. Mum's the word on the rest of the singleplayer experience, but we did have a chance to sit down and get hands on time with Warfighter's mutliplayer offering.
While Warfighter and Black Ops II might not be competing for narrative real estate, they will certainly be locking horns when it comes to the FPS multiplayer experience. On offer for my playthrough was team deathmatch mode, as played on the map 'Somalia'. This is a new map built off and mirroring the singleplayer mission of the same name and place, which was previewed at the EA press conference.
The alignment between real world events and multiplayer set pieces emphasises how much Warfighter is banking on its global theme. In multiplayer, the classes available copy the elite units from the singleplayer experience, and draw from the pool of global special ops badassery that exists across the world. From Poland there is the revered GROM, from Canada the JTF2, the Aussies are fielding the SASR, the British present the SAS, and Uncle Sam is bringing the Navy Seals and OGA to the party.
There are no Kiwi forces present, unfortunately. But it ain't surprising; if Willie Apiata and his wild bunch were playable, the game would be outrageously unbalanced.
Each class has its own unique skills, and they also have their own special abilities that can be utilised once you achieve kill streaks or combos. For example, the Aussie SAS troops are fast and agile, equipped with a Steyr AUG and a shotgun. Their special ability gives them "heavy hitter" ammunition for the AUG which increases critical damage - but only for one clip. Others, such as the US OAG demolition unit, are equipped with automatic shotguns and can enter into "tank mode" where movement speed is greatly reduced but armour increases by two thirds.
All of these variations in gameplay options are available immediately and are unique to every class, so there is no unfair weighting of perks. In addition, special abilities such as UAV spotters or AC10 strafing runs can be used once you've gained enough kills. It's early days, but from what I had the chance to experience, these options do need to be a little more balanced. For example, if you were in the vicinity of the Aussie's SAS artillery bombardment, you were goneburger.
Special abilities and kill streak perks are not particularly groundbreaking, but they do round out the experience. What is new is Medal of Honor's buddy system. You can select another player to be in your 'fire team'. The advantage to this appears to be twofold. First you can always see where your fire team mate is, which is handy in a pinch. Second, if you die you can choose to spawn near your buddy - or if your teammate kills the player that took you out, you will instantly respawn.
These are neat new ideas. But my first impression was that more work needs to be done to optimise how they both work. Often I tried to spawn next to my fire team buddy but the game refused to let me, leaving me staring bemusedly at the lobby screen.
Warfighter is a second bite at the apple for EA. But, in the war of attrition that is first person multiplayer, it's not enough to simply tread water. Warfighter looks like it's following - not leading. Combined with EA's new additions to Battlefied 3 through Battlefield Premium, even the home turf is getting crowded.
Warfighter is scheduled for a late 2012 release. There is still time on the board for it to distinguish itself.By Conrad Reyners