No-one really knows the precise recipe that guarantees a successful first person shooter. However, one new theory, based on literally minutes of painstaking consideration by yours truly, suggests that the following ingredients may be helpful: a three word title, under the format "X of Y"; a hideously competitive multiplayer mode; a near-contemporary Western military theme; and, most important of all, at least one character with a beard.
EA's new Medal of Honor has already nailed this last element, even though the game won't be out for months yet. The front cover boasts a hard-as-nails-but-still-quite-cool-looking chap, replete with a massive trampy beard and a whopping great machine gun. He's also sporting sunglasses AND a baseball cap, the latter worn backwards in the manner of an early '90s rap artist. It's a terrifying combination: he looks like some form of CIA hiphop busker, a man who could kill you in 48 different ways if you refuse to buy his last Big Issue.
Thankfully, this isn't all that MoH also has going for it. If we return to my hastily-assembled checklist, it's clear that EA LA is scoring high on all fronts: the title is a natural fit, obviously, while the multiplayer side of things is being handled by Battlefield developer DICE. Hardly anything is known about this part of the game aside from the fact that it'll use DICE's own Frostbite engine, but considering the quality of the recent Bad Company 2, it'll be a big surprise if the Swedes drop the ball on this one.
So that just leaves the near-contemporary Western military theme. As luck would have it, this latest Medal of Honor has opted to ditch the series' World War 2 setting in favour of a new plot involving terrorists and insurgents in Afghanistan. Plot details are still vague, but we now know that the story will be told from two very different perspectives: for part of the game you'll play as a regular Ranger grunt; at other times you'll be in the shoes of a man named "Rabbitt" - a Tier 1 Operator. For those of you who don't subscribe to Guns & Ammo magazine, know that these are the cream of the USA's military forces. There are about 200 Tier 1 Ops in active service, compared to two million in Uncle Sam's overall throng of soldiers. These guys could kill you with a bus ticket, sneak aboard the N87 to Kingston, and make an impromptu radar blocker using a damp Rizla and a discarded kebab. Some of them may - or may not - look like CIA hiphop buskers.
Let's finally cut to the chase here: Medal of Honor is EA's answer to Modern Warfare 2. Comparisons are inevitable, and on the face of the demo presentation I watched last month, they're quite apt. The mission I was shown finds Rabbitt and his lethal chums sneaking through a mountainous Afghan landscape, just as dawn is breaking, stalking their unwitting foes. The Tier 1 Ops have names like "Preacher", "Voodoo" and "Mother", while the stealth-based action carries a focus on silent, simultaneous takedowns, orchestrated by terse radio commands. Later on, as the pace heats up, the group are protected by the familiar, awesome firepower of an AC-130 gunship. At all times the action carries a deeply cinematic feel, driving the story onward through sharp banter between Rabbitt's fearsome colleagues.