How Not to Make a Multiplayer Game

Medal of Honor was supposed to be EA’s big salvo against Call of Duty, an attempt at bringing down Activision’s juggernaut of a shooter at least a little bit. While I think the single player portion of EA’s game is far better, the multiplayer is surprisingly derivative for such a high profile game. It tries to marry elements from Battlefield: Bad Company and Call of Duty, making what probably sounded like the perfect shooter on paper. But Medal of Honor only borrows the surface trappings of these elements and none of the depth, resulting in a multiplayer mode that feels as if it was made by people who don’t understand why its peers are so popular.

Call of Duty is all about killing people. There may be some objective-based game modes, but from my time with the franchise, it seems that most players ignore these objectives in order to extend the match and rack up more kills. It’s all about the kills, the kill count, the kill streaks, the kill/death ratio; the entire multiplayer revolves around this one action being repeated over and over and over again. Thankfully, the developers (whether it be Infinity Ward or Treyarch) stuff these games with so many different ways to kill people that this repetition doesn’t get boring.

There’s always some new gadget waiting to be unlocked: a new gun, perk, leveled-up perk, or attachment that will make killing easier. There’s a tremendous variety in each Call of Duty game that’s only getting more complex with every entry in the series. Players also have the ability to create their own class, mixing guns and attachments and perks in ways that complement individual play style or that encourage a different kind of play style. These games go out of their way to create variety, giving us an absurd arsenal and then letting us customize that arsenal, but this variety is necessary because the moment-to-moment gameplay rarely changes.

By contrast stands Battlefield: Bad Company, which is more about the team than the individual, so kill count isn’t as important as your overall score. Here, it’s all about the points. Support actions can earn you just as many points as a kill, encouraging players to help each other out in addition to killing, or for those players that aren’t skilled at shooters, it encourages them to stick solely with a support class. It’s these distinct classes that give Bad Company its unique feel.

Each class has its pros and cons. The Assault class is good for straight attacks, but weak against armored vehicles and can drop ammo pickups for teammates. The Engineer can fix friendly vehicles and has a mix of tools to destroy enemy vehicles, like mines or rocket launchers, but isn’t very effective in full on combat. Medics can revive and heal people, but their guns aren’t very accurate, especially at long range. Snipers are the most effective support character; naturally good at long range, and even if you can’t hit a target, you can mark the enemy so he shows up on the map for your team to kill. Motion grenades do this as well, and motor strikes are devastating in the right hands. However, Snipers are weak in close combat. Each class shines in certain situations, making them distinct with different abilities, weapons, and unlocks.

Like Bad Company, Medal of Honor is structured around specific classes, Rifleman, Spec Ops, and Sniper. Unlike Bad Company, there’s very little difference between classes, which renders the entire concept pointless: Support abilities become kill streak rewards, available for all classes. Your guns are different, but not nearly different enough. In terms of practical use on the battlefield, a Spec Ops’s SMG is almost indistinguishable from a Rifleman’s assault rifle. These two classes are essentially identical, and the Sniper is only unique because it gives the player actual long range sniper rifles.

The moment-to-moment gameplay is a clear imitation of Call of Duty in that there’s nothing to do except kill people. Unlike Call of Duty, there’s shockingly little variety in Medal of Honor. Each class gets only three guns, six if you count the “enemy version” of your normal weapons. You’ll mostly be rewarded with attachments and gadgets: red dot sights, extra ammo clips, silencers, etc. But all these unlockables are tied to a class, and this is where the class-based structure becomes a band aid meant to cover up a lack of content. Since there’s so few things to unlock, if these rewards were spread across all classes or if players had the ability to mix and match like in Call of Duty, then there would be so few options that the game would be ridiculed for its barren arsenal. By tying rewards to a specific class, you’ll end up unlocking the same attachment multiple times, giving the illusion of more content.

A friend suggested to me that this may be part of an attempt to make a more realistic multiplayer shooter, as in soldiers aren’t really separated into unique classes and only use a select few guns in real battles. But if D.I.C.E. really wanted this multiplayer to feel realistic there are other things that they could have done. As it is now, Medal of Honor clearly more wants to be more Call of Duty than war sim. Matches are nothing but pure competition, driven by kill counts, kill streaks, and kill/death ratios. Even if that excuse for the limited arsenal holds some measure of truth, it’s just another example of how poorly thought out this multiplayer really is: You can’t be realistic while chasing after Call of Duty (at least in terms of multiplayer).

As it is now, this multiplayer in Medal of Honor is just a poor imitation of better games, and really makes one appreciate the tactical depth of its peers.