The first game to be called "Medal of Honor" came out in 1999 on the PlayStation, and I loved it to bits. Everyone else did too! I don't remember there being an awful lot of game review sites back in 1999 but Metacritic has managed to dig up enough scores for an average of 92. It was right there at the start of the World War Two FPS craze and, looking back, I think we'd have to say that MoH was the one that truly marked the beginning (sorry, Hidden & Dangerous).
The series first came to the PC in 2002 with Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. It was blooming fantastic. If not for MoHAA then today it might have been possible to go five minutes without hearing about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, so it was a bit of a double edged sword in hindsight, but it was the first online FPS that managed to drag me away from Unreal Tournament. It injected just enough realism into a genre dominated by rocket jumping and guns that fired saw blades and the sound... bugger me, that game could give you shellshock.
Eventually the shine of WWII shooters wore off and interest declined. Still, EA kept putting a new one out every couple of years until game developers and publishers suddenly noticed that wars were happening right now and that it would only be a matter of time until they could make a game about them without it appearing to be in bad taste. New genre! Kerching!
You might have noticed that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is quite successful these days. EA noticed too and figured they fancied some of that market so the dust has been blown off the Medal of Honor franchise to reboot it as something only tangentially related to the original series. It's still about firing guns at other guys with guns, who you're assured are thoroughly nasty people, but judging by the multiplayer beta MoH (2010) has far more in common with Modern Warfare and Bad Company than it has with MoH (1999).
Medal of Honor is Modern Warfare with less running and gunning. It's Bad Company with less destructible terrain. It's Coke and Pepsi. It's FIFA and PES. As someone without unerring loyalty to any one of the three they all seem like great games. I'm certain that existing MW and BC superfans will find things about MoH that are totally abhorrent or, potentially, improvements in MoH that make their past love's features unthinkable but for me, the Switzerland of FPS reviewers, the games are minor variations on a theme with little to choose between them. Remove the HUDs and I expect I'd have a little trouble picking one screenshot from another.
The two maps available in the beta suggest MoH may be the middle ground between MW and BC, or even a combination of the best from both. One, Kabul City Ruins, is a small, concrete-dense map with Modern Warfare-like gameplay. You'll sprint in and out of cover and buildings, kill a guy, get killed, and respawn to do it again. The second map, Helmand Valley, is a larger, more open, objective-based map where you'll move from point to point destroying or capturing as you go. As in Bad Company you'll respawn right on the front line, wherever it may be at the time, so you get to see your corpse again that little bit quicker.
Speaking of, this beta is very beta-y. It's most notable in the ragdolls, which look very peculiar right now with rigor mortis exclusively affecting the elbows and forearms. I also had some issues colliding with objects despite the physical model being some distance away. Maybe they've been a little heavy-handed on the collision boxes but I'm prepared to write it off as a trick of connection lag - and there was an awful lot of that. My connection speed is reasonable and I picked servers with low ping but still found myself occasionally teleporting from point to point and back again or sliding around when I thought I was standing still. Again it's something that could potentially be caused by a problem at my end so I'm not going to berate the netcode but lag was a significant factor of my MoH beta experience.
Another significant factor was dying. As I mentioned earlier my online FPS roots are in games like Unreal Tournament that would let you take a rocket to the face and laugh it off as you bunny-hopped away down a corridor. MoH is worlds apart from that and if you wind up in someone's sights for a fraction of a second you are buggered. DICE, the developers of MoH's multiplayer side, say that this is because they have made bullets faster. For some reason I find that hilarious but there you go, physics bends to the will of gameplay.
For me the mark of a great online FPS is that it's still fun when you die, and that applies all the way from hyper-realism to cartoon lunacy. I consider Team Fortress 2 to be the best of the multiplayer shooters out there right now entirely because of the way it can make you laugh even when someone's relieved you of your limbs. A lot of that comes down to making the deceased player know that they were killed fairly and that your opponent is ultimately just as vulnerable as you. In the MoH beta, especially on the large, open Helmand Valley map, you can be sniped from so far away that you can't see the shooter. I really hope that the full game has a killcam in it because without one it's a little frustrating. I understand that a sniper with a scope would absolutely be able to get a shot off without being seen by the target in a real battle scenario but I'm playing a game and it winds me up to be on the receiving end. I'd be a terribly whiny soldier...
We'll have a full analysis of the final, retail-ready version of the game in October but the key points to take home from what I've seen in the beta are the setting (it's Afghanistan, you are fighting the Taliban, no punches pulled), the dedicated server support, and the very significant similarities it has with its contemporaries. The devs still have time to work on MoH but it's very unlikely to break any ground based on what I've seen. With that said, I'm still looking forward to playing the finished product. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 are extremely successful and if Medal of Honor can even fractionally build on them then it can't be a bad game.