Not quite a Call of Duty killer - yet
On Xbox Live and PSN, two Superpowers are fighting it out for supremacy in the online warfare theatre. But which one is winning the battle for new recruits - Battlefield or Call of Duty?
Well, in truth, they're not even fighting the same war. Although superficially similar, both series are drastically different once you scratch beneath the surface, and so are the people who enjoy them.
Call Of Duty is bold and brash, the shooter of choice for the archetypical frat boy. The kleptomaniac structure of CoD's perk system rewards aggression, bravery and above all things, self-preservation.
On the other end of the spectrum, Battlefield is the thinking soldier's playground. Rounds can last for hours rather than minutes, teamwork is essential, and the destructible landscape makes fleetness of thought a more powerful weapon than anything you can carry in a backpack.
But is there any room for middle ground between these two extremes? Medal of Honor's multiplayer makes us think that maybe there is. This is the fast-paced skirmish gameplay of Call of Duty viewed through the lens of Battlefield devs DICE. But it's no shoddy cover version; instead, it's an accomplished, confident online shooter that draws from the best of both worlds.
Medal of Honor: Background
Running off a modified version of Battlefield's Frostbyte engine, Medal of Honor's multiplayer component has an instantly familiar feel to it, bar a few concessions to accommodate the tighter level spaces (the ability to demolish entire buildings is the biggest absentee, although in certain instances it's still possible to chip away at cover to leave an opponent exposed).
One thing that DICE has carried over extremely well from the Battlefield series is the organic feel of the map layouts. While Call of Duty's arrangement of crates and rocks are laid out in meticulous detail, there's a natural spontaneity to MoH's battlegrounds, which results in a wonderful sense of subversion once you learn how to exploit your surroundings.
This is true of both the smaller maps (such as Kabul City Ruins, where with a bit of practise you can bound from rooftop to rooftop without ever needing to touch the floor) to more expansive stages such as the Shahi-Kot Mountain Range.
Medal of Honor: Multiplayer
Is MoH's multiplayer innovative? No. Is it without flaws? Most definitely not - the most painful of which is its incredibly erratic respawning system. But what it does bring to the table is a well-crafted, balanced shooter that's kinder to newcomers at the point of entry than CoD or Battlefield.
In particular, its biggest triumphs are the storyline-driven Combat Missions, where teams of 12 duke it out in epic battles that sweep across the Afghan terrain. We're big fans of Battlefield's equivalent Rush mode, but we appreciate that the patience and teamwork required makes it difficult to get into unless you're playing with a squadron of friends.
But since Medal of Honor speaks a more accessible run-and-gun language, this a far easier game type to dip in and out of, opening to the masses a Deathmatch variant that has a sense of progression and drama that you don't always see in shooters of this ilk. Call of Duty stick-in-the- muds owe it to themselves to try it.
Medal of Honor: Single player mode
So we've fallen big time for Medal of Honor's multiplayer, but as far as the single-player campaign goes? Well, we don't want to say it's a game of two halves... but in truth, it really is. The story mode, which divides its attentions between the adventures of a close-knit team of Tier 1 Operatives working behind enemy lines and the 'everyman' tales of the standard army forces on the frontline, never quite comes together as we hoped it might.
It's hard to pin down why exactly, because the only area of the game that is noticeably substandard is the AI, and even this can be turned around to your enjoyment (breaking cover to plunge a knife into an insurgent's throat from 20 yards away is a particularly irresistible head rush).
Perhaps it's the Afghan setting, which delivers more variety than you'd credit it for, but ultimately makes for a lacklustre theatre of war in FPS terms. The wide-open landscapes mean that many fights take place at a disengagingly large distance, and this makes it difficult for Medal of Honor to get any sense of tension rolling.
Medal of Honor: Tiers
But there are moments where Medal of Honor lets its hair down and delivers the kind of thrills and spills we've come to expect from the genre. The Tier 1 Operative stages see Danger Close at their most creative, with death-defying raids on enemy settlements that bring to mind classic levels such as Call of Duty 4's Ghillies In The Mist.
But although it often sets up interesting scenarios, in our opinion the game doesn't take the Tier 1 set-up far enough. Pre-release, we were told of these elite soldiers' ability to improvise their gameplan in the face of adversity, but this doesn't translate into any kind of gameplay mechanic.
Levels remain linear and scripted, and it's disappointing that there aren't more opportunities to think outside the box. A spot of co-op would also have been welcome too - perhaps that's one for the sequel, though.
Like Battlefield before it, Medal of Honor is an engrossing online shooter with an above-average campaign mode bolted on. As a result, it's a purchase you should only seriously consider if your console is hooked up to the intarwebs. On a wider scale though, this reboot thrusts Medal of Honor back into the spotlight, and for the first time in ages we can't wait to see where EA take the series next.
It's not on Call of Duty's level yet, but it's a positive step forward, and small victories eventually win big wars.