Despite the best efforts of EA with a reboot of Medal of Honor and other offerings, Call of Duty has continued to dominate the first-person shooting market on consoles.  Last year, Battlefield 3 found a sizable audience, but the reboot of Medal of Honor the year prior was not as successful.  Still, the publisher is moving ahead with the franchise, and if the multiplayer I previewed at PAX is any indication, EA Danger Close‘s Medal of Honor: Warfighter’s multiplayer may well be worth your shooting time.

Three modes were on hand: Home Run, Hot Spot and Sector Control.  Control delivered a familiar team capture-and-defend mode, but served as a strong introduction to the game’s Fireteam mechanic.  Though players will be on a team with several others, before each match, players will be connected to one other player, contributing to respawn benefits and point accumulation.  If a player dies and his or her Fireteam buddy is still alive and not engaged in combat, the player can respawn immediately behind the teammate, possibly joining the fray in the center of a skirmish.

With three points to secure, the mode smartly created several concentrated areas of firefight, allowing Fireteam buddies to either stick together or join up with other members of their larger team.  For a better idea of this mode, RipTen’s Michael Futter and I demoed it together earlier this summer and you can read his preview here.  I can report that after more extensive time with the mode, it holds up well in repeated playthroughs.  It does not rock the boat, but the map provided more than enough variation to allow for multiple rounds of excitement.

Where the Fireteam aspect of multiplayer really shines is in a mode like Hot Spot.  Players will again be divided into larger teams, but point accumulation felt even more intrinsically tied to working with your Fireteam partner.  One team would have to plant explosives on various potential targets in a map and defend that spot while the other team would attempt to disarm the device.

Sarajevo Stadium was the impressive location I demoed for both Hot Spot and Home Run.

Perhaps it was the need for both stationary and mobile defensive tactics.  You can choose to completely ignore your partner, but working together is a much more effective and enjoyable strategy.  Players earn points for avenging partner kills, and when a teammate is killed, the desire for payback is palatable.  The killer of your buddy will be illuminated with a red outline for three seconds no matter the attacker’s cover, giving partners a prime opportunity to attack.

This inclusion crafts extremely unique situations, however.  Instead of jumping right into the chaos, you can hold back and allow your partner to revive next to you.  You can also head straight for the opponent and hope to catch them off guard.  Yet as they too will know you have seen them, they can use this “last known position” feature to their advantage and lure you into a trap.  The possibilities are plentiful, and it creates for a dynamic combat experience that allows for many dynamic scenarios.

While Sector Control played well, Hot Spot ramps up the frenetic pace quite a bit without losing a sense of teamwork.  This inherent pack mentality prevents a lone wolf feeling from setting in, though if that is more your play style you do not have to remain tied to your partner.  Doing so though, would take away what seems to be Warfighter’s greatest strength in multiplayer.  Though not a frequent multiplayer fan myself, Hot Spot created enough different scenarios to actually make me want to return to the mode even after my play session had ended.

Hot Spot also demonstrated the strengths of the multiplayer’s class system, allowing players to smartly use special abilities and properly dominate the battlefield.  I found myself gravitating to the German KSK, who could call in a Blackhawk helicopter and man the bird’s gun.  It was immensely satisfying to mow down enemies as they approached the area of effect (the chopper will remain in place and not move around the arena), but I was impressed to find it also serve as a spawn point for my teammates as an additional bonus.  Though I primarily played with this class, each of the options offered a varied enough set of options to not have classes blend together.

Choose a class and dominate the battlefield.

The final mode, Home Run was easily my favorite of the preview.  Essentially a Capture the Flag mode, some intriguing changes to the formula created a frenetic and addicting experience.  One team had to attempt to capture one of two flags and return it to the base.  Once you die, however, you’re out for the remainder of the round, and the team defending the flags must attempt to kill all opponents.  The map we played on was small and focused, and at first, matches only lasted for a minute or two at most.

The mode takes a bit of trial and error, as attackers find the proper routes and defenders learn where best to ambush.  Once all players are familiar with the map, however, matches can last longer, upsets are more frequent and it is nearly as entertaining to play as it is to watch once you’ve died.  With the quickened pace, death never feels like a punishment and with aesthetic choices that make the mode feel like a training exercise for the soldiers involved, Home Run establishes a strong competitive mode for those in the esport field.

From the few hours I played some of Warfighter’s multiplayer options, I came away thoroughly impressed by the modes on hand.  Though not a particularly skilled multiplayer shooter myself, the team-focused aspect of Warfighter made me care more about everything occurring in the match.  Hot Spot and Home Run in particular showed off the strengths of Warfighter’s multiplayer suite.

If EA can continue to focus on building this team-oriented experience while maintaining the quality I was happy to see, Warfighter will offer something for fans of every type of shooter while still delivering a fresh experience, and even pull in a few like myself who have yet to indulge in nightly marathons of thrilling firefights.