Preview

Medal of Honour: Multiplayer Beta

Give the man a medal

There's a lot going on in Afghanistan, so it's very hard to say what's occurring at any given minute, but I'm almost completely sure there's no firefight going on where two teams of equal size are running around in circles like they were, as my mother would always put it, headless chickens. Call it a hunch.

Why pick on Medal of Honor's lack of realism, though, when I also have it on fairly good authority World War II wasn't really like how it was depicted in, say, Call of Duty: World at War? The problem, as I see it, is that Nazi-slaying shooters don't have to worry about authenticity when trying to replicate genuine warzones: the new Medal of Honor, with its contemporary setting and close-to-the-bone detailing, does. Despite my best efforts to separate the game from the real-world situation it's basing itself on, it's more than a little bit jarring to play a multiplayer shooter with maps set squarely within the Helmand Province.

If that was the limit of the problems with Medal of Honor's multiplayer component, DICE could probably rest on their laurels until the game went gold and enjoy a tasty paycheck. But in its current state, sadly, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

My main concern was always how DICE was ever going to differentiate the game from the perfectly functional Bad Company 2, and from the looks of things they've ultimately just decided to turn off some of BC2's most agreeable features and settle for an underwhelming hybrid of Modern Warfare 2 and Bad Company 2. Destructible terrain is out, for instance, so despite the game looking, feeling and often moving like its Frostbite-powered brethren there's never any threat of the wall you're cowering behind exploding at any given moment. It's a shame.

The beta is currently running two modes. Mission, which plays on the Helmand Valley map, is basically the same as Battlefield's Rush mode. Points are lit up, and one team tries to stop the other from capturing them. There's only one point to compete over at any one time, unlike the two in Rush, which robs Mission of some of Rush's most intense tactical plays.

Team Assault on Kabul City plays a straight team deathmatch scuffle. The obvious comparison is Modern Warfare 2, where the same mode has always been the most popular playlist. It plays exactly how you'd expect, although Frostbite has a hard time keeping up with Call of Duty when it comes to dense infantry combat.

The highlight of the beta, as it currently stands, is definitely the maps - both exhibit the kind of design nuance that's helped cement DICE's hefty reputation as one of the most capable multiplayer developers in existence. There are an excellent variety of areas, with plenty of tight infantry funnels and dangerous sniper arenas, and the kind of crafty design work which forces everyone into frequent skirmishes.

The class selection is quite nice, too. On each mode you pick your class from Rifleman, Special Ops or Sniper. It's an intentionally sparse selection, giving you very few - but crucially important - differences between classes: Snipers bag headshots, Riflemen are a good all-rounder class and Special Ops carry the big guns.

You get to pump experience - gained from kills, headshots, streaks etc. - into each class, giving you 14 levels of incremental unlocks and meaty bonuses. Weapons can be further customised by fiddling with their rail, barrel and base slots, which adds a much-needed set of unique customisation options to an otherwise pedestrian set of perks and unlocks.

Its problem, though, is a lack of its own identity. With the Vietnam expansion to Bad Company 2 released a couple of months after this, and Call of Duty: Black Ops competing in the same calendar period, there's very little that currently suggests Medal of Honor will have enough to detract you from the current shooter heavyweights.

On one hand it feels odd to be so critical of a game that's still in the stages of a closed beta, but the problem is that EA have brought this upon themselves: this is being used as a grand promotional tool to generate hype for the finished game. While it certainly has potential, in its current state it's more likely to turn people away from Medal of Honor.

There are things you can forgive but remain amusing/distressing nonetheless. Firstly, there have been all kinds of technical problems with the game running on PS3. That's to be expected, perhaps, but it's a bit shocking to see it nonetheless. There's a noticeable pause after you're killed, too, which is a bit bizarre and the sooner it's stamped out the better.

Of course, it's still in beta at the moment. There's plenty DICE can change between now and launch - and they often do, if their previous works are anything to go on. As it stands, though, Medal of Honour multiplayer looks like it's trying to merge Bad Company and Modern Warfare, but the current result is something that feels like it's missing the best bits of both.

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