The Medal of Honor series has existed for sufficiently long enough to guarantee a place in any first-person shooter hall of fame, even if the content has generally erred towards the predictable; anyone wishing to immerse themselves in a gritty, gung-ho World War II shooter in the early years of this millennium needed look no further than Electronic Arts' series for a fairly formulaic approach.
By relocating the franchise to the more modern theatre of Afghanistan and by commissioning a halfway decent multiplayer from EA DICE, Medal of Honor's 2010 reboot connected with a new audience desperate for the ultimate in war realism. Sales figures of over five million attest to the success of the endeavour, even if critical praise was somewhat lacking.
Developer Danger Close is at pains to stress that the key to appreciating Medal of Honor is understanding the attention to detail. Each encounter is modelled from real-life experiences; the so-called "Tier 1" operatives on the studio's payroll are remarkably candid when it comes to retelling what would presumably be fairly classified stories.
Our initial demonstration in London last week began with a passage of of gameplay piloted by a Danger Close employee. Typically in these circumstances, the developer playing the game tends to be rather good at it, in no small part due to his or her role in actually creating the game. Not so in this walk-through – several missed shots and ham-fisted take downs attested to a distinct lack of ability or familiarity on behalf of our demonstrator. As explained later, this is because he actually was a Tier 1 operative: invalided out due to a shrapnel injury, Tyler Grey now works for Electronic Arts in an advisory role, making sure that what you see is as close as possible to what he experienced. His ability with a real gun is therefore likely to be substantially better than his ability with a controller.
It's all indicative of Danger Close's desire to place the Medal of Honor franchise at the forefront of realistic modern shooters. After all, there's no shortage of first-person titles on the market, so finding a point of differentiation generally requires either a locational change, or a supreme effort towards providing a unique experience. Danger Close has opted for the former, demonstrating a short campaign in the Philippines designed to show its flexibility in moving outside the Afghan setting.
Modelled around a real-world encounter with the Islamic separatist group Abu Sayyaf, the player is tasked with rescuing several kidnapped aid workers in the flooded city of Isabela. Surgical precision is key here; the hotel prison crawls with hostiles while rain streams in from holes in the ceiling, and waterlogged rooms provide a grim background for the Tier 1 team's rescue effort.
The remarkable visual candy speaks to the flexibility of the Frostbite 2 engine, appropriated from Electronic Arts' elephant-in-the-room Battlefield 3. Despite using a controller for ease of demonstration in the rather cramped display booth, the game itself ran on an impressive looking Alienware rig. Danger Close appear to be making quite a statement as to the importance of top-end graphics even at this early stage.
The main segment of the rescue mission completed, and several dozen enemies neutralised, attention can be focused on the hostages. It's here that the first real gameplay addition to the series is featured. By initiating a sequence whereby the player kicks in a door, various options are presented to alter the method of entry; either flashbangs or grenades can be hurled first, and there's a range of different methods to breach the door. Naturally, once through to the other side, there's a slow-motion trope whereby all the hostile inhabitants of the room can be dispatched with one clip.
Many of the breach options haven't been defined at this stage, and even those on offer were subject to change in the final release, but Tyler Grey was quick to point out that Warfighter won't be including the kind of camera-under-the-door approach used in other titles. Speed is of essence, and damn the consequences.
Hostages rescued, a swift exit is called upon as inflatable boats are prepared and boarded. To round out the demonstration, a hectic chase through waterways to eventual freedom is facilitated by a couple of rescue helicopters, each hauling a boat out of the water and making good the team's escape by air.
It's a short demo, although it doesn't take a great deal of study to see that Danger Close is reluctant to introduce any major changes for this sequel. The singleplayer campaign will elaborate on the tale of Rabbit and his team, their attitude towards war and the effects it has on their loved ones. There may be a few twists and turns, but it's very much business as usual for the franchise.
If the flaky AI and problematic story from the 2010 edition can be improved upon, there's the potential here for a compelling, realistic shooter, particularly with the visual quality on offer from Frostbite 2. Danger Close has professed its desire to lengthen the campaign too, and the multiplayer is likely to see new additions to keep it up to date.
Ultimately however, this is an exceptionally crowded market, and unless Warfighter brings some fairly spectacular set pieces to the table, there's every risk it could disappear into the background, squashed by the upcoming Battlefield expansions and the inevitable Call of Duty release, all due later this year. Realism may be a good angle to take, but the success of any game hinges largely on enjoyment rather than any supreme motive behind the content.
We'll better understand whether Medal of Honor Warfighter can distinguish itself following E3 in June when the next media reveals will take place.