Medal of Honor: Airborne Exclusive Multiplayer Hands-On

Prepare to parachute into multiplayer battle in EA's upcoming World War II shooter.

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The test of longevity for most first-person shooters is not usually found in their single-player campaigns. Rather, it's in how addictive or engrossing their multiplayer suites can be. This is doubly tough for World War II games, as the Call of Duty series has established a high bar in terms of multiplayer popularity. However, EA is no stranger to World War II shooters itself; indeed, its Medal of Honor series is older than Call of Duty. With Medal of Honor: Airborne, the company hopes to breathe new life into the genre with a dynamic style of gameplay that's possible because you can parachute into battle, in both the single-player and multiplayer games. And we hit the virtual silk against EA's finest to see what the online gameplay is like.

First, here are some key basics on the multiplayer game. Airborne will support up to 12 players in all three multiplayer modes. It's a team-based game, so there are no one-against-all modes. Instead, you'll belong to one of two teams. There are the Allies, which is basically the American Airborne, and the Axis, which can vary between the German and the Italian forces. Two of the three multiplayer modes feature the Allied side parachuting into action; the Axis never parachute since they were on the defensive during all the battles depicted in the game. There are some pros and cons to parachuting, which we'll get to a bit later on.

At the beginning of each battle you select a primary weapon to carry (you can switch to a different selection while waiting to respawn). There's a rifle, which translates into the familiar M1 Garand for the Allies and the bolt-action German infantry rifle. Next is the submachine gun, which is either a Thompson or an MP40. Heavier firepower is provided by the auto-rifle, either a Browning Automatic Rifle or an StG44. Then there are sniper rifles, and for fun with high explosives, an antitank weapon. Then are no vehicles in the game to use the antitank weapons against, but they are useful for taking out clusters of infantry. You can also carry a second weapon, which can be scavenged from dead enemies, for extra firepower. And everyone gets a pistol and some grenades, as well.

Sure, you've got a great view up here, but you're also a sitting duck for the other team.
Sure, you've got a great view up here, but you're also a sitting duck for the other team.

As you'd expect, there's a balancing act going on between all the weapon types, so there's no "perfect" weapon. The rifle is accurate and has a decent range but is relatively slow firing. The SMG can spew out rounds in a hurry, but it's most effective up close. The auto-rifles are powerful, but their recoils make them difficult to control, and they eat through their magazines in no time. The sniper rifle is deadly accurate with a long range, but agonizingly slow. Then there are the antitank weapons, which can be fired only when aimed through their iron sights. This makes them slow to aim and fire, and even slower to reload, but the blast radius of their warheads basically makes them mini-artillery.

With all this firepower exploding around you, it's no big surprise that you'll die a lot, probably on par with other shooters. The game uses a regenerating health system. The health bar is divided into four squares. If you're wounded, health drains from a square. Avoid fire for a few seconds and it will refill. If a square is fully drained, it won't regenerate unless you pick up a health pack. If you're killed, you're out of action for a few seconds until you respawn.

All this is pretty standard for a World War II multiplayer shooter, though. We've come to expect the BARs and the bazookas. Where Airborne differentiates itself from the pack is in its modes, two of which depend on the parachute system to make the action pretty unpredictable. After all, in most games both teams start at the same place every time, which makes everything after that a bit predictable. In Airborne, one team is usually drifting down onto the map, landing all over the place. An Allied paratrooper can land almost anywhere on a level, from a rooftop to the objective itself to even on top of an enemy trooper, killing him instantly. On the other hand, the Axis can have a blast picking off the slowly descending Allies.

The first mode is objective airborne, which is basically a seize-the-objective mode that uses three flags. The Allies parachute into the level in this mode, and each team has its own flag at opposing ends of the map with a neutral middle flag in between. To seize one of the team flags requires a single player, but to seize the middle flag requires two teammates working in conjunction. If a team manages to control all three flags simultaneously it wins the round. The first team to win two of three rounds wins the match. Then there's team deathmatch airborne mode, which does away with the flags altogether and focuses on killing the other team. Again, the Allies parachute into the battle in this mode. The third (and most conventional) mode is regular team deathmatch; this does away with the entire parachuting bit, so both teams start out on the ground.

Be careful of friendly fire in multiplayer. For one, it's not friendly.
Be careful of friendly fire in multiplayer. For one, it's not friendly.

All three modes are supported on all six maps. These aren't particularly huge maps--if they were too large, they'd simply be too big for just 12 players--but they're designed so that there are plenty of ways to get around each level. Their names are pretty self-explanatory. Destroyed village is set amid a gutted village not unlike the one seen in Saving Private Ryan. Neptune is set amid the Norman hedgerow country and a German radar bunker. There's a small trench network in front of the bunker, as well as a tunnel that bores through a small hillside. You can go through the tunnel, or up and over the hill. Husky is a scaled-down version of the Operation Husky level in the single-player campaign, and you'll parachute into a circular Sicilian town. This is a brutal level thanks to the narrow alleyways and streets, as well as the ubiquitous rooftops, which makes it easy for the airborne to rain down death. Three of the maps are taken from the single-player campaign, while the remaining three have been adapted from previous Medal of Honor games.

Finally, Airborne will feature both ranked and unranked matches. Unranked matches are basically unofficial, so players can tinker with the various server settings, allowing access to unlockable upgrades. The ranked servers will basically be official, and you'll be able to build a persistent character over time, gaining access to various unlockables. These are mainly weapon upgrades, similar to those seen in the single-player game. For instance, you can unlock rifle grenades, which lets you launch grenades a lot farther than you can throw them. This persistent mode will reward long-term play, which is the obvious hope.

Even without the parachute system Airborne's multiplayer mode looks to be pretty solid. But throw in the ability to rain men upon the battlefield, and it becomes wilder than most World War II multiplayer battles. Medal of Honor: Airborne ships at the end of the month.

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