By: Chris Matel
Crossing the upstairs threshold of a building pocked with medium-caliber rifle fire, it was time to secure the flag objective in a round of Sector Control. The four walls of the room created a relative safe zone in which to take control of the position, despite a few window-sized gaps here and there. Disregarding the calamity of bass-shaking explosions outside of the refuge, the flag room was quiet.
This tranquility, however, was quickly disrupted.
Without compromising his interview, Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment producer—and apparent first-person shooter clairvoyant—Patrick Liu shifted 90 degrees towards the screen in his neighboring seat just long enough to expertly deliver an RPG round right to my midsection. This is his contribution to EA's Medal of Honor reboot. While EA LA's new recruit Danger Close have overseen the game's single-player deployment, the publisher's veteran partnering studio, DICE, have used their service record from their Battlefield series to give the contemporary re-imaging of the once World War II centered franchise a fast-paced multiplayer element.
This isn't the first release to have two studios working on disparate parts of its gameplay, but with a history as recognizable as DICE's, it's hard not to wonder who has ultimately driven the development of the game. Speaking about their collaboration with Danger Close, Liu pointed out, “We influence each other whether we want to or not...we embrace our differences, but at the same time we do respect each other's work “ It's this approach which seems to give Medal of Honor a distinct feel on the multiplayer front: familiar, yet unmistakeably nuanced.
My session with MoH's 24-person multiplayer showed off just how DICE has adapted their expertise in large land battle action for smaller arenas and objective games with progressive map expansion. With only a few lightly armored anti-personnel vehicles in only a handful of maps, reminiscent of Battlefield's need for traversing big environments quickly, the focus in Medal of Honor instead turns to the player's quick-twitch abilities and character. Liu describes DICE's work this time around as taking how it feels to shoot a gun from their past games and grounding the experience:
“We've gone in a completely different direction, in terms of gameplay and pacing It's not as over-the-top as it is in Battlefield. It's much more about the soldier; more about infantry and close-quartered combat.”
This change of pace is best found in games of Raid. Like Bad Company 2's Rush mode, Raid is an objective-based competition wherein one team has to keep the other from destroying a pair of assets. Played in variants of locations like “Kunar Base,” “Diwayal Camp” and “Garmzir Town,” DICE delivers in their goal of quick action by centrally locating objectives in small, symmetrical arenas. There are plenty of roundabout paths to take, but Raid seems to sway in-favor for attackers once their targets are primed to detonate. Yet, smart communication from defenders can stymie insurgent efforts to keep matches from ending before the 60 second mark.
Even the standard deathmatch style of gameplay takes on a slightly different tone with Support Actions and a slew of unlockables that are less about gadgets than they are equipping your rifleman, scout or specialist with better weapons as you ascend to Tier 1 status. Medal of Honor's beta was received with its fair share of criticism, but it would appear that feedback has been heard. Matches of Team Assault are more fleshed out with offensive and defensive Support Actions harder to achieve. Now, you'll have to score more skillful kills to call in airstrikes or UAVs.
That doesn't mean leveling up the three classes is arduous, however. In Combat Mission games, players will find that as they move from objective to objective in maps like “Shahikat Mountains,” enemies are plentiful enough to pick off with sniper or rifle fire; and accessibly close enough for run-and-gun operatives to score big as they deftly negotiate between pieces of cover. Not only does performing well grant you access to bigger and better Support Actions, but points earned in each class unlock stronger weapons and better scopes, barrels and extra magazines of ammunition—and if you run out of those extra rounds, you'll be able to grab weapons from downed soldiers, unlike in the beta. On-field commendations augment kill scores for completing tasks and fit comfortably into the new “Challenge” scheme of today's first-person shooters.
With DICE's contribution to Medal of Honor they have undoubtedly shown range in their ability to adapt their usually large-scale design to smaller settings, not to mention their dedication with noticeable improvements over the beta offering. It's all a formula for success, including some gorgeous environments, smoke effects which can be used purposefully for tactical advantages, and some cover destructibility thanks to the studio's Frostbite technology. That said, for all of its strengths, the game's multiplayer doesn't look to push any boundaries with new kinds of untested content; its a strong, if not safe element.
As it came time to power down the consoles after having a few good hours with Liu and his studio's bit of the Medal of Honor reboot, and all of its Battlefield-iness, there was still an unrelated question to ask him, “So, about Mirror's Edge 2...”. With an amused chuckle he responded, “No comment.”