Platforms: PC (tested) | PS3 | Xbox 360
Developers: Danger Close Games
Publishers: EA Games
Medal of Honor: Warfighter looks good. I mean it really looks good. The scalable nature of Frostbite 2 is so on-song that it's retina-meltingly good. Of course, this is on PC, the folks at Danger Close want to show their game off in the best possible light, so the monster rigs are out in force.
The Medal of Honor reboot from 2010 was about two things: authenticity and identification. A real conflict, a current conflict, in terms of the Afghan setting, married to a level of research in depths few studios reach. Interestingly, it was the quieter moments from that game that rang truest. The thought-gathering sections before the gunshots and the death, seemingly outnumbered and with the slimmest chance in hell of victory. But of course that was the point: extraordinary missions for extraordinary soldiers.
The efficacy of such authenticity is somewhat debatable - one assumes that the affecting nature of that game will rather depend on how much leeway you were willing to give it in terms of emotional engagement - but the concept of making war a somewhat more personal experience, of highlighting the things at stake and what those fighting have to lose should they be lost themselves, is one to be applauded.
Of course, Danger Close are keeping the singleplayer element of heir follow up - Warfighter - under incredibly secretive wraps but, having wrested control of the multiplayer back from DICE, they're looking to ensure that the competitive side of the game is as distinct as possible. In short, they're keen to differentiate between this game that that rather large property of their EA stablemates.
But it's difficult to create that authenticity when it comes to multiplayer. Sure, you can get the aesthetics right, and have some exceptional sound design, but those boxes have already been ticked. How do you get players to care more in a world already filled with Battlelog notifications. Well, Danger Close have come up with three answers: give players a bucketload of customisation options, create a load of modes centred around a buddy system deeply integrated into the game's mechanisms, and inject tasty dose of national pride into proceedings.
Say hello to the Fire Teams. Designed to reflect the buddy-tactics of the Tier One Operators that Danger Close have on staff, it's essentially a big Multiteam mode that sees players pairing up in teams of two to accomplish team objectives co-operatively. So far, so ordinary, but Danger Close have added a few little teaks to encourage togetherness. You learn very quickly when deployed in Fire Teams that to stray too far from your partner is to consign yourself to a swift and early death.the tactics of tier one operatives, it's possible to join up with a friend to take on the maps together.
As well as spawning in on your teammate, Fire Team members will be able to share ammunition and health packs, with only the heavy gunner class able to offer munitions assistance outside of those closed pairs. You'll earn greater XP by sticking together, using flanking manoeuvres, and looking out for one another,, s you get a percentage of the other's kills as well. Your partner is easier to track as well, giving off a glowing outline that can be seen through walls and other obstacles, so at any given time you know where your strike buddy is. "As Tier One Operator you've had extensive training," explains Danger Close's lead Tier One consultant, Tyler. He doesn't give interviews. "You're coached and schooled in the nature of Fire Team combat, and you spend so much time with your partner that you almost have a sixth sense as well as a stream of constant communication. That's what this mode is all about - getting the best out of one another." Finally, should you be taken out, if your surviving buddy can exact a swift enough revenge kill, you'll be pulled straight back into the action with an instant respawn, with your Fire Team showered in points and XP.
'Home Run' served up the perfect playground to test out the newer features. Danger Close are already proclaiming it to be their attempt to engage in the e-sports market and with the ode's fast-paced frenetic gameplay, you can see why. Though the modes will support six-on-six, we were playing four-on-four, with each side (Red vs Blue) split into two Fire Teams. The Defenders had two flags to protect, the Attackers, well all they had to do was successfully steal one and return it home to safety. At two-three minutes a pop, it was a game mode designed for swift, multiple rounds, with the sides swapping halfway through. There were ten rounds in total, so five on either side, with successful capture of defence earning your colour two points. First to ten won the game.
Oh...and once you're dead in a round, you stay dead until the next one.
Even in the booming cavern of the EA business lounge, with headphones on it was the sound that drew you in. No Hollywood bass here, everything thudded and pinged in realistically muted fashion. Silence but for the faint crunch of boots on rubble. Friend or foe? The sunlight peeked through blasted and scorched buildings, or what was left of them, dappling the predominantly shadowy level. But as brickwork puffed and popped there was no time to marvel at the visual delights. Rather than the run-and-gun explosive gameplay of BF3: Close Quarters, the heightened level of risk, and the ease with which you could be killed, lent itself more towards a cautious approach. But you have to watch the clock. We didn't have the ability to communicate firmly with our partner, but no doubt that will have a key part to play, and indeed finding a regular Fire Team partner will surely be one of the first things that you do as a Warfighter player.
There were other modes dotted around on the floor too: one saw you and your buddy planting C4 carefully on designated targets as defenders attempted to stop you. Another - Sector Control - essentially mirrored Conquest Domination, with three bases to capture and control for as long as possible. With the 12 different real-world strike teams from which to choose, not to mention the 193 countries you can earn XP for with gun in hand, it makes you care slightly more about the action, and helps you to feel part of something larger - something that's worked incredibly well for FIFA.
It's terrifically engaging, and that's coming from a confessed sceptic. But with the scores level leading into round 9, there was a collective sense of anticipation in the small, cramped room. Orders began to get barked out, cries of "Noooo!" went up as people perished. I managed to steal the flag, but was felled five steps later. Th action switched to my teammate who instantly grabbed the flag after avenging me, as our companion Fire Team crept in and circled front and back. There were shots from the rear and it turned into a sprint. One of our men went down; then, with seconds to go, another. But we scraped victory, a huge cheer went up, high-fives all round, and I was sold. It's clear that Danger Close have taken some rather large pages out of Counter-Strike's book...but then again, if you were looking to deliver a tense, terse competitive MP with co-operative elements, why the hell wouldn't you?! Throw in a larger meta-game that taps into some national pride and you've got a potential winter winner on your hands.