Medal of Honor continues the reboot of EA's famous first-person shooter series to modern conflicts, harnessing the expertise of the world's elite military operators to tell the 'soldier's story'. We got a hands-off look to see how this sequel is shaping up.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter is Electronic Arts' latest bid to equip the long-running shooter series for the new generation, following 2010's strongly-selling but rather maligned Medal of Honor. The Afghanistan setting has been dropped in favour of a globetrotting expedition involving US Tier 1 operators fighting various bogeymen terrorists around the world. But has Danger Close managed to really put the 'special' back into Medal of Honor's operations?
Authenticity is the word
One thing is clear about Medal of Honor: Warfighter - a pretty terrible suffix if ever there was one - is that the game is certainly not going to lack authenticity. Danger Close has assembled a pool of up to 200 different serving and non-serving Tier 1 operatives to lend their expertise.
This includes US military personnel who have seen action in every skirmish involving America since Vietnam (including a few, no doubt, we have never even heard about).
Even our demo was done by an ex-US Spec Ops soldier named Tyler Gray, who apparently had ten years of Tier 1 experience but joined the game full time after being injured serving in Iraq. Attention has really been lavished on making this game as true as possible to the actual soldier's experience, barring the aspects that simply don't make good gameplay.
The story and the missions therein are all based on 'real events' - so any headlines you may have seen of military combat and skirmishes over the last 20 years will probably have inspired a mission or scenario in the game.
Rejoin the Wolfpack
One mission showed off by Danger Close featured the same 'Wolfpack' of US Tier 1 operatives from the last game. Taking the role of Preacher, Tyler Gray joined Mother and Voodoo as they landed in the Philippines after a typhoon had laid waste to the island of Basilan, flooding Isabela City and allowing terrorist group Abu Sayyaf to take control.
As Medal of Honor is all about the soldier's story, the sequence opened with a man and his wife arguing in a telephone call over his constant absenteeism. At one stage he pleads his case, but she simply responds: "You live for it."
The mission, inspired by actual events, involved the operatives retrieving hostages taken by Abu Sayyaf and held in a broken-down hotel. Gameplay remains very much in the Call of Duty mould - you move into a room, are attacked from all sides, and must act quickly and decisively. There are some tactical options, but it's mostly just duck, cover and shoot.
A new mechanic is the breach, which pops up as you reach a door, allowing you to select options such as kick it down or throw a flashbang. The choice will slightly alter the outcome, and Danger Close said that many more breach options will be included in the final game.
Powered by the Frostbite 2 engine, the destruction in Warfighter is impressive. Wooden pillars splinter and crack under heavy fire, and concrete cover dangerously erodes. The lighting is also impressive, but Warfighter doesn't appear a beautiful game like EA's Battlefield 3. The textures are a little ugly and grainy, but hopefully Danger Close will address these presentation issues before shipping.
After rescuing the hostages, the mode shifted to an on-rails sequence involving manning a heavy machine gun on a boat. After a while, choppers evacuated the boats by hooking on chains and flying off into the admittedly beautiful sky.
Worst of the worst, but also best of the best
It's hard not to feel slightly jaded when watching the demo of Warfighter. The game appears to pick up straight from where Medal of Honor left off - a modern shooter that owes more to Call of Duty than the true Medal of Honor mould.
While it's impossible to tell without going hands-on, there seemed to be the same issues with hit detection as seen in the last game. On a few occasions, seemingly bang-on pistol shots registered no damage, and even the demonstrator - who was, lest we forget, an ex-special ops soldier - appeared to be having trouble at times.
However, Medal of Honor could have another, more powerful weapon in its arsenal. Danger Close plans to bring a new 'blue on blue' mode to the multiplayer, in which players will be able to select from 12 different national Spec Ops forces and then pit them against each other to decide who is the best. US Tier 1 operators will go up against Russian Spetsnaz, British SAS, Mossad, the Polish GROM and others.
Danger Close gave the analogy of the mode being similar to the FIFA series. While they did not elaborate further, it is possible that players will be able to team up in national 'wolf packs', fighting for their country in leagues or tournaments. Done right, this could be an awesome prospect. It's also perhaps interesting to note that there is no bogeyman in the multiplayer, following the controversy that surrounded the inclusion of the Taliban in last year's reboot, which was later changed to Opposing Force.
Previewing Medal of Honor: Warfighter leaves us with the same feeling as for the last game - lots of things to like, but ultimately some pretty significant red flags. The Call of Duty-aping gameplay returns, along with similar fears over the graphics and hit detection. But the sheer level of authenticity could make the game rise above its faults, while the prospect of FIFA principles coming to the online multiplayer is a truly tantalising prospect.
Medal of Honour: Warfighter releases for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on October 23 in North America and October 26 in Europe.
Picture gallery - view images from Medal of Honor: Warfighter below: