Review by Scottie theNerd
"“In Europe’s darkest hour, one man can STILL make a difference.”"
Another year, another Medal of Honor game. The series peaked with the simultaneous release of Frontline and Allied Assault on the PS2 and PC respectively. However, the later Pacific Assault on PC was met with disappointment due to its flawed gameplay, and the console Rising Sun was a huge letdown when compared with Frontline. Consequently, fans were eager to see at least a decent MOH game on the consoles, with a lot riding on European Assault.
European Assault puts the players into the boots of Lieutenant William Holt, a member of the Office of Strategic Services. While Holt is a solitary soldier and assigned to complete his missions individually, Holt fights alongside British, Russian and American forces in order to complete his assigned tasks and contribute to overall victory in the war. The game's name is a bit of a misnomer; the game takes place in North Africa as well as the Western and Eastern fronts of Europe.
The game is divided into four campaigns. Each campaign begins with a cinematic scene with Lt. Holt interacting with the soldiers he is attached to. The game starts off with the British raid on St Nazaire in France. The British raiders, on a boat flying the German flag, attempt to storm the port facility by surprise. However, they are promptly uncovered and are fired upon, after which the raiders raise the Union Jack and crash the boat into the dock. The player is immediately thrown into the action as the commandos take cover behind crates at the dock. The game features no training level, so players can use this opening level as a hands-on learning area, which is helpful to both veterans of the series and new players alike. Players later fight alongside the Desert Rats in North Africa, the Red Army and partisan fighters in Stalingrad and with American troops at the Battle of the Bulge.
The approach to the game deviates heavily from the previous Medal of Honor formula. Like Frontline, the game is centred over an important plot element, in this case a German operation called Virus House, the cover name for the development of a secret weapon. As a member of the OSS, Holt must uncover information regarding this operation in addition to supporting the Allied forces. Furthermore, European Assault features a primary antagonist, General von Schrader, who is in charge of Operation Virus House and deploys his henchmen to protect documents and square off against Holt.
European Assault also differs in that the missions are presented as memories of an aged veteran Holt reminiscing on his days in the OSS. Each mission is introduced by Holt reflecting on the various periods of the war, transitioning to the younger Holt serving during the war going over the combat situation on the various fronts. The removal of the generic these are your orders plot adds much depth to the characters of the game. In line with this theme is a grainy visual effect instead of the bright and clear visuals of Frontline.
Another large change in gameplay is the objective system. At the beginning of each mission, players are issued three objectives. However, as players explore the levels, they can discover more optional objectives to complete, giving them a higher rating and therefore receiving the campaign medals as a reward. The objectives include rallying with mainline troops, assaulting a position or exfiltrating a facility. Each level contains documents on Virus House which players can find as an objective, and also a nemesis, one of Von Schrader's henchmen with a ton of health and bent on taking Holt down. The addition of these optional objectives reduces the level of linear gameplay that was characteristic of previous MOH games.
Like other WW2 shooters, European Assault features an assortment of historically accurate weapons, ranging from bolt-action rifles to shotguns to rocket launchers. Players can use these weapons fairly accurately with a crosshair, or with precision using iron sights. Also following current trends, the game allows Holt to control up to three team mates in a squad, with the ability to issue basic move and assemble commands. Players can also heal squad members to keep them alive longer. Players can also stock up on medkits to heal themselves, and can earn Revives after completing secondary objectives to bring themselves back to life after running out of health.
A new introduction to the game is the Adrenaline system. Players can accumulate adrenaline by killing enemies with headshots, killing multiple enemies at once or healing team mates. Once the adrenaline bar is full, players can activate Adrenaline mode, in which the screen gains a red tinge around the edges, heart beat goes up, vision becomes sharper and players are immune to damage for a short period of time. Players also have unlimited ammunition during this time, so Adrenaline mode provides some awesome cinematic moments of taking on dozens of enemies single-handedly, and in some places Adrenaline is almost required to proceed.
The environment is no longer the realistic, immersive environment of Frontline. Instead, the game has been drastically simplified to bring intense action and arcade-style gameplay. The screen now features lots of noticeable icons to locate weapons, health packs and team mates, making the screen quite cluttered with dropped items.
The graphics are fairly fluid and smooth, but look less detailed than Frontline's excellent visuals. Just as the gameplay has been simplified, the visual aspect of the game has been simplified to a more action-based look rather than the aesthetic qualities. In fact, the game looks and feels like Call of Duty: Finest Hour, especially as features like health kits and team mates are used in both games. The player and weapon models look proportional, but lack the detail of contemporary WWII PC shooters. All-in-all, the graphics are good, but by no means outstanding.
The audio, however, is outstanding. The series has always maintained its excellent sound standards, and European Assault offers one of the best, if not the best audio experience in Medal of Honor. The first thing players are blasted with is the title screen's theme, which always starts at a random point in the track. The appearance of the swastika-emblazoned European continent can coincide with a loud, dramatic brass fanfare heralding the threat of the Nazi war machine. It could coincide with a solo violin reminiscent of the Schindler's List soundtrack, or a choir's requiem. The music in the game isn't so noticeable, but the European Assault theme retains its distinctive tune, while certain levels carry dark, ominous music as the mysteries of Operation Virus House become unravelled. The sound effects in the game vary from excellent, crisp and distinct sounds to barely recognisable noise, so it's a mixed bag, and the interaction between characters on screen and their movements doesn't bring the same amount of immersion as Call of Duty.
For all its innovative features, European Assault ultimately fails to bring about the same atmosphere and experience as Frontline did, though far better than Rising Sun and even Call of Duty: Finest Hour. The flaws tend to be minor, but recurring. The game seems too easy to breeze through, especially with weapons having little recoil and crosshairs being almost precision accurate, making iron sights almost redundant. Filling up the Adrenaline bar is quite easy considering how easy it is to score headshots (or rather, how hard it is not to score headshots). Even the nemesis characters in the game are easy to dispatch by firing at the head, waiting until their stun animation is over, and then scoring more headshots until they drop dead.
Allied AI is mediocre, to say the least. While they do provide some support, their value is minimal, especially as the squad command system seems marginal in the game. Players will most likely forget that they are fighting alongside squad members and run through the level solo. Squad members are intelligent enough to take cover, but don't do a very good job of it, often running across tank fire or getting in the players line of fire. Sadly, allies are only useful for healing, which grants the biggest Adrenaline boost, and for giving players free health packs at the end of each level just for being alive.
The Revive system is fine fundamentally, especially as the game is now more arcade-like and there are no save points, but its execution leaves some glaring loopholes in gameplay. Logically, if you get killed by someone, and you suddenly rise from the dead, chances are the person who killed you is still there and will kill you again. That's the case in European Assault. Upon reviving, players stand a strong chance of getting killed by the exact same enemy before they can react, wasting precious revives and health packs and causing much frustration.
For its shortcomings, however, European Assault does present an excellent action-orientated game. While not of the same material as its predecessors and lacking a multiplayer feature, European Assault provides more of the intense gameplay with some innovative features, combined with the outstanding audio quality and soundtrack.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/16/05
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