Danger Close have their work cut out. Not only does Medal Of Honor: Warfighter have to contend with the looming juggernaut of Treyarch's Black Ops 2, but they'll have to persuade Battlefield 3 players to step out of their tanks and try something new. Without a particularly stable base to build from - the 2010 reboot was decidedly mediocre - Danger Close needs to go big or go home.
To their credit, they plan to do just that. While Medal Of Honor: Warfighter's singleplayer campaign is still largely under wraps, the multiplayer component has been sharpened up, kissed by the icy, beautiful lips of Frostbite 2.0 and given a healthy injection of authenticity.
If that doesn't flick your safety, perhaps the twelve playable classes drafted from legendary real-world special forces units will.
The SAS were sadly unavailable during my hands-on time with Medal Of Honor: Warfighter at E3 2012 (they will be playable in the full version), but I was still spoiled for choice. Warfighter has drawn its classes from the most fearsome units in the world, from the to the Australian SASR to the Polish GROM. Each unit offers several unlockable sub-classes (72 in all), toting different weapons and support packages suited to different combat roles.
The menacing SFOD-D enters battle with a light machine gun and heavy armour, which can be temporarily deployed to massively decrease incoming damage, turning its wearer into a walking tank for brief periods. In contrast, the mobile American OGA rifleman hefts an eminently manoeuvrable HK MP7, perfect for quickly relocating around the maps. Depending on your sub-class, operators will be able to call on a number of special abilities, such as the aforementioned armour, AP ammunition to counter it and deployable UAVs to spot enemy positions.
Support Packages will handle much like killstreaks, and are unique to each unit. The Australian SASR Sniper can target specific positions for precision mortar strikes, whereas JTF2 operators can call on Black Hawks to prowl over the skies of the combat zone, spraying enemies with indiscriminate minigun fire.
In gameplay terms, Warfighter has opted to place teamwork above all, refining the 'fire team' concept that's increasingly becoming a part of the multiplayer FPS experience. Within each team, players will be grouped into two-man partnerships; each player aware of their wingman's position at all times, even through walls. You'll be able to directly spawn on your buddy after the timer counts down, but should your wingman manage to kill your nemesis, you'll re-enter battle immediately. Partners will even share XP and gain extra points for helping each other out. This close cooperation should help to set Warfighter apart from its rivals, and allow some legendary online power couples to rise to forum stardom over the Christmas holidays.
Mechanically, Warfighter feels completely different from its predecessor. Danger Close has rebuilt the experience from the ground up, focusing on authenticity, grit and more intimate engagements compared to DICE's uncontrollable sprawling mayhem. Death is frighteningly quick and mercilessly brutal, while the weapons handle with a determined sense of weight and recoil. You'll often have to fight to keep the heavier weapons trained on target. The playable Somalia map featured a mix of mid-range spaces, streets, rooftop sniper perches and intimate interior environments, a perfect killing ground for partners who use corners, overwatch and communication to advantage. Warfighter has more in common with Modern Warfare than Battlefield, but its more measured tone and teamwork tactics make it feel like an entirely different beast despite yet another appearance of Domination/Conquest gametypes.
Just in case you don't know, Frostbite 2.0 is an exceedingly powerful engine. It sent Battlefield 3 players into paroxysms of retinal ecstasy last Christmas, and it's being used to great effect here. Warfighter looks sharp and surprisingly sumptuous ahead of its holiday release, making Somalia look as beautiful as it is deadly. As you'd expect, bullets throw up a huge amount of chips, shrapnel and dust when they impact, further increasing the sense of immersion.
Danger Close still needs to convince us that they can deliver a worthwhile singleplayer experience, one that offers more than just another stodgy slab of been-there gunplay, unnecessary jingoism and impenetrable military jargon. But by aiming for a sweet spot between authenticity and fun, between teamwork and glory, the multiplayer might well be an unexpected hit.