The subtle ways 'Medal of Honor: Warfighter' will win over shooter fans

There's a lot of gunplay, a lot of running, a lot of looking down the barrel of a gun at a desiccated landscape, a lot of killing and dying. But connoisseurs of first-person shooters will instantly note the differences in Medal of Honor: Warfighter.

There's a lot of gunplay, a lot of running, a lot of looking down the barrel of a gun at a desiccated landscape, a lot of killing and dying.

But connoisseurs of first-person shooters will instantly note the differences in Medal of Honor: Warfighter.

Where Call of Duty is a mostly lone wolf experience and Battlefield is one comprised of squads of teammates,Warfighter forms up players into fighting twosomes. Where the war-torn backdrops of Call of Duty's millions of rolling online battles are unchanging, textured labyrinths, and Battlefield's maps are massive constructs that break apart at predetermined joints, Warfighter's maps subtly shift over time due to minor bullet abrasion and micro destruction. Call of Duty has no vehicles and Battlefield's wartime playgrounds are littered with them. It's not completely clear what Warfighter will have to pilot or drive, but if it has any vehicles they will be few and far between.

It sounds like a laundry list of insignificant differentiators, but Electronic Arts hopes that combined they will create a new sort of shooter, one that will appeal to both Battlefield and Call of Duty fans and deliver an entirely new experience.

"When you put them together, it's more than the sum of its parts," said Kevin O'Leary, global product manager for Warfighter. "It's not like you just put (Call of Duty and Battlefield) in a pot and stir them together.

"We're not redefining the entire sphere, but we think we're really going to shake it up quite a bit. "

Dropped into a match of sector control in a Somalia setting, the many little differences quickly pile up. Before playing I have to decide not which class I want to play as, but which country's special forces member I want to control. The final game will give players a dozen groups to choose from, but this early version offers six: The United States' SEALs, SOG, and SFODD; Australia's SASR; Poland's GROM; and Canada's JTF2.

A new map and mode for Medal of Honor: Warfighter will be shown off at GamesCom in August.

Each type of special forces unit comes with specific weapons and extra abilities keyed to their unit's skill set in real life. For instance, the Navy SEAL is a stealthy sniper, the Australian is a quick moving pointman equipped with a Steyr AUG assault rifle and the Delta Force class is a plodding, shotgun wielding armor-encased soldier. All of the classes also have a special ability. The Australian has two clips of "heavy hitter" ammo that does 20 percent more damage for instance and the Delta Force tank can close a visor down over his face giving his armor a major, temporary boost.

While the classes and their weapons will be highly customizable in the final release of the game, the demo loaded up each class with pre-set weapons.

The nationality of each soldier doesn't just impact their abilities and load outs. In the map I played it also determined what the flags looked like once captured. In sector control, players need to capture and hold three points marked by flags. Instead of changing captured flags to a color to signify one of the two teams playing, it changed to the country of origin for the class soldier who captured it.

The idea, O'Leary says, is to try and get people feel the same sort of national pride they have in games like FIFA, but in a shooter.

While explosions didn't completely level buildings, or even seem to knock down walls, the game's micro destruction leant an extra level of authenticity to the game's graphics, feel and tactics. I could, for instance, shoot my way through certain obstructions to take out enemies using them for cover. And nearby fire would also kick up clouds of dust and particles, temporarily distracting me.

While the map we played on was a fairly small, fairly flat battlefield, O'Leary said that was because of the mode we were playing. There will be much larger maps, he said.

The most striking difference that Warfighter brings to the genre is the use of fireteam wartime couples.

Players are paired up with another player and throughout a round can see where they are on both the map, and if close enough, through walls and other obstructions.

The appeal of working in small teams will impact how Warfighter blossoms as an online experience.

The idea, O'Leary said, is that Tier 1 operators come to form such close bonds with their compatriots that they develop an almost sixth sense about where they are in a firefight. The very real repercussions of this new always-on ability is that players seem to automatically buddy up with their fireteam member, and in turn work in concert to use more advanced tactics against the other team. The fireteam also has a few other bonuses. Extra points are awarded for killing off both members of a fireteam, or killing the person who killed your buddy. If you manage to avenge your fireteam member's death, they can instantly respawn next to you. Even if a player's death isn't avenged, once the respawn timer counts down, a player can respawn on a fireteam member's position.

During my sessions with the game, I noticed most people running through the small match in pairs, taking out enemies and dying side-by-side. The nearly universal appeal of working in small teams is bound to have a significant impact on how Warfighter blossoms as an online experience.

While developer Danger Close hasn't talked about all of the game's modes (O'Leary did say that Combat Mission, Medal of Honor's version of Rush, was coming back), players can expect a satisfying selection. We're set to learn a little more about multiplayer in August during Germany's GamesCom where Electronic Arts plans to show off a new mode and a new map, O'Leary said. The developers hope to start showing off more of the single player soon too, he added.

And Danger Close knows the importance of multiplayer in a shooter. This time around Medal of Honor is being developed internally using the same game engine that the single player game uses.

"We now have multiplayer and single player teams sitting next to each other," he said. "That helps in a lot of ways."

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