Monday, October 15, 2012

Preview: Medal of Honor: Warfighter

If there are two things the video game industry is inundated with these days, it is reboots and first-person shooters; if a game isn’t putting you in the shoes of a soldier with a mission, it’s a reboot of a classic series. Heck, even Dishonored and XCOM, easily the two best games thus far this year, are an FPS and a reboot respectively. Despite this, however, it is not as likely to see a combination of the two; how often do we see first-person shooter series’ rebooted from the beginning (the unending parade of Call of Duty and Battlefield notwithstanding)?

Medal of Honor filled that quota in 2010, giving us a modern-day reboot of the series that was long set in World War Two and, while the game was given middling reviews and faced a bit of controversy, it was a game that I thoroughly enjoyed. For all of the shooters on the market, I thought the single-player gave the best impression of being a single soldier in a squad of equals; where Call of Duty and Battlefield go out of their way to make you feel like some sort of super soldier, Medal of Honor set you as just another soldier in a much larger conflict.

Danger Close, the studio behind Medal of Honor, has decided to give us another dose of the rebooted franchise with Medal of Honor: Warfighter, a game that is to continue the narrative established in its predecessor. That means more modern settings, more modern weapons and, presumably, more authentic modern combat.

Anything I Should Know First?

As I already mentioned, Warfighter is the continuation of the Medal of Honor franchise, a long-lived series that has been around for at least three console generations. The original series, running through twelve different titles all set in World War Two, was a best-seller and really paved the way for games like Call of Duty to enter the shooter scene. Heck, Steven Spielberg was involved with at least one Medal of Honor title; with that kind of backing, it’s no wonder it was the shooter to beat for years.

Breach and clear, boys. On three...
Unfortunately, Medal of Honor started to slow down around the time the Call of Duty franchise started to pick up; while Activision was gearing up to release Call of Duty titles each and every year, EA kept the Medal of Honor franchise on the slow and steady path, releasing only one or two titles every three years.
In 2009, however, EA announced they were releasing a new Medal of Honor, this one to be set in the modern day. In an effort to base their game in as realistic a setting as possible, they actually hired “Tier One Operatives” as consultants, soldiers who belonged to elite task forces from the United States military. These individuals were never identified by face or name, and EA actually went so far as to blur their faces and modulate their voices in any videos they were part of. This created an air of mystery around the game while also lending it some credibility; if these are people whose identities we actually have to protect, they obviously must be the most elite soldiers in the United States.

I admittedly have not been keeping up with the media released for Warfighter to know if these “consultants” have returned this time around but, given the precedent, it is almost enough to know that Danger Close Games (the studio behind the modern reboot of MoH) has some insight into the world of Tier One Operations.

Anything Else?

Danger Close Games, formerly EA Los Angeles and the developers of many Medal of Honor games, has a long and storied history. It was founded in 1995 by DreamWorks, the animation company, to develop games based on the movies they released. In 2000, EA bought the company from DreamWorks (after the successful release of Medal of Honor) and devoted them to developing more titles for the franchise. They also are responsible for games like Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth, Command & Conquer 3, and Boom Blox (yet another collaboration with Steven Spielberg). That’s quite the catalog, you have to admit, especially considering they are behind the gritty modern reboot of MoH from 2010.

So this is what it's like to be on the other side of
suppressing fire...
Speaking of the reboot, Danger Close ran into a bit of controversy because of the multiplayer mode attached to the game; where the Allied force was called the Coalition, the other side in multiplayer was originally to be called Taliban. Of course, this didn't sit well with the parents of America and instantly became a huge debate on Fox and other news outlets; nobody wanted their children playing games where they would be playing the Taliban. (Killing Taliban was okay, but playing as a terrorist? Definitely not.) While some believed the reaction to be a huge overreaction and the developers originally defended the name, Danger Close eventually conceded the point and changed the name of the opposing side in multiplayer to Opposing Forces.

Speaking of multiplayer, where the 2010 Medal of Honor was developed between two different studios (Danger Close designed the singleplayer while DICE, the developers of Battlefield 3, worked on the multiplayer), Warfighter is developed solely by Danger Close, though they have used the Frostbite 2 engine, proprietary technology that was developed by DICE for Battlefield 3. If the game is optimized for anything close to what we've seen in Battlefield 3, Warfighter will be full of destructible environments, something that's always a big deal these days.

What Do We Know?

Most of the news released about Warfighter focuses on the multiplayer which, given the current focus on online gaming, is to be expected. The current generation of shooters -- and the gamers who play them -- put so much emphasis on the multiplayer and seem to tack on a singleplayer campaign after the fact. But perhaps that's a topic best handled in a separate article.

The biggest emphasis for the multiplayer has been placed on the fact that you can play as a number of different special forces groups; Danger Close has included most of the expected groups, like the U.S. Navy SEALs, the British SAS, and the Russian Spetsnaz Alpha Group. However, they have also included a few atypical groups, like Germany's KSK and Sweden's SOG, as well as some groups that you probably wouldn't expect to see at all  -- groups like U.S. CIA operatives, South Korea's Navy SEALs and Canada's own Joint Task Force 2, among others.

Also revealed has been the six classes each player can choose from: Sniper, Assaulter, Demolitions, Heavy Gunner, Point Man and Spec Ops. Each class has specific weapons it has access to, as well as specific abilities you can utilize; Heavy Gunners, for instance, can go into a Support Stance and set up your LMG with a bipod, giving improved accuracy. Spec Ops, on the other hand, allows you to see thermal signatures through walls, allowing you to see enemies.

Other than this, EA has been playing most of the information about Warfighter fairly close to the chest; for instance, we know that you can choose different factions to play as, each of which is represented with a different model in-game. However, it is yet unknown whether different factions have different abilities or skills, or if such differences are specific to the different classes. There are rumours that each faction will have specialties that will lend themselves to different classes but that has not been verified.

The singleplayer campaign is set to continue the story established in the 2010 Medal of Honor; a number of the same characters return as your squadmates as you are tasked with tracking down a large quantity of high explosive that has made its way into the United States. The game will take you around the globe, taking part in missions in the Philippines, Somalia and, presumably, the U.S.A., and will pit you against a number of different militant factions. The missions are all based on actual recent events but have a fictional story written to tie them all together, with you playing as two different characters throughout the experience.

Finally, and possibly the most exciting feature of Warfighter is, as previous mentioned, the game is being built in the Frostbite 2 engine. This game engine features fantastic visuals, an amazing lighting system and, best of all, destructible environments. This means that you can toss a grenade at a wall and watch as shards of wood and drywall go flying from the blast; the Frostbite 2 engine was originally designed for Battlefield 3, which is notorious for amazing firefights where huge explosions can literally bring buildings down on top of soldiers. Being able to implement those sorts of strategies in Warfighter will be a big step forward for the franchise, and is showing a trend in shooters that is really starting to catch on.

And I Care Why?

Medal of Honor is a franchise that has been around for over a decade and has always remained strong throughout its run, but I believe the reboot to modern times was a big step forward for the series. When Call of Duty set the tone with CoD4: Modern Warfare, everybody sat up and took notice; so many shooters had been mired in the World War Two setting, jumping the setting forward sixty years was a big deal. The Battlefield series quickly took note and followed, but Medal of Honor had remained true to its roots and continued giving us WW2 shooters.

Come with my beard if you want to live!
 The 2010 reboot was a huge stepping stone for the series; not only did the studio prove that they could still make a great shooter, it was proof that the Medal of Honor series was still alive -- and better than ever. For all the importance of the 2010 game, however, Warfighter will be where Danger Close has a chance to solidify their place in the market once again; with huge blockbusters like Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 having been released last year, and with Black Ops 2 being released later in November, Warfighter needs to succeed in order to show the industry that Medal of Honor is not a thing of the past.

What Should I Do Now That I Know?

Warfighter is released on October 23rd and will be available on all gaming platforms, including the Wii U upon its release in November! EA is offering a special deal where, if you preorder the game, you receive a free upgrade to the Limited Edition of the game, which offers you two downloadable weapons for multiplayer, a multiplayer map pack, as well as access to the Battlefield 4 beta, to be offered sometime next year.

Last Remarks?

I mentioned above that I really loved the 2010 reboot; for that reason, I hope that Warfighter is as good, if not better. I believe Danger Close has always done a great job showcasing the role a soldier plays in a battle, even back as far as the original Medal of Honor, and the importance they are putting on their realism (what with all the actual soldiers acting as consultants and so forth) really puts the current reboot on a different level than some of the other shooters on the market.

EA believes that Warfighter will prove that Medal of Honor is a worthy franchise once again, and hopes that it will do well enough to verify that claim. I would personally love to see the Medal of Honor franchise continue with this new direction, so I really do hope that it does well. That being said, the market is so seemingly inundated with modern shooters these days (Call of Duty, Battlefield, Counterstrike, et cetera) that I fear it may be a tough sell; most shooter fans this generation have already latched onto a franchise and tend to ignore all other such games. Only time will tell, I suppose!

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