Review by Chiasmata

"Drop zone"

Let me tell you something - it's hard to write an introduction to a review of a popular World War II based game without sounding tired. The obvious pit-fall is to call World War II games a cliche. However, this in itself has become a cliche. Therefore, one must struggle for words that haven't been used a thousand times before to describe such a game. Thankfully, with Medal of Honor Airborne, EA have done reviewers across the world a favour – they have provided us with an original World War II game to write about. Unfortunately, I have squandered the chance to write an original introduction, and instead have filled your brain with inane musings about the nature of cliches. Oh well. Maybe next time, eh?

And I know what you're thinking – “original – must be a typo”. Believe it or not, it's exactly the word I would use to describe Medal of Honor Airborne. Sure, some things never change – the weapons are still authentic for the period, the noble characters are all American and the destination is still Europe. What is different is the way in which the game is actually played. Gone are the tedious linear levels. Gone are the entirely scripted enemy encounters. What we are presented with is a remarkably non-linear experience, with large levels, multiple objectives in each, and an enemy A.I. that may not be perfect, but doesn't simply follow set paths every time.

This linear nature extends to the manner in which you enter each level. Before each mission, there is a short military-style briefing, including maps and targets to be eliminated. The player then selects their equipment, and then finds themselves sat in an aircraft, somewhere over Europe. In a dramatic approach not yet available even on EasyJet, the player is then forced to leap from the door and parachute into battle. This has, of course, been done before. However, in MOHA, the player is entirely in control from the moment they leave the safety of the plane. With skill, it is possible to manipulate your descent to drop on any area of the map, be it close to the final objective under heavy fire, in a high sniper's post or in a designated “safe” drop-zone. From then on, it is up to the player to make their way through the battle-zone to achieve their targets in any order they see fit. As a gameplay dynamic, it's is beautifully done, giving a sense of freedom not previously seen in the bloated WWII genre. The levels have been designed specifically to promote a sense of freedom, with most buildings still standing open for exploration. Up against a heavily entrenched machine gun nest or well-covered group of soldiers? Run into the nearest building and search for stairs to lead you up to a better vantage point from which to pick off the enemy, or even head off in another direction and bypass the group entirely. Freedom to play how you want is always welcome, and was one of the downsides of previous linear titles – if there was a way to flank your enemy, it was always made painfully obvious which way the player had go. With MOHA, the player is left to their own devices, to formulate their own strategies and to fight the enemy on their own terms.

The control system also helps to get into the game. Running and gunning is performed with the control sticks as usual, and switching from guns to grenades is as simple as a press of the right bumper. Aiming in-game is handled by a rather clever iron sights system, in which holding the right trigger allows the player to peer down the barrel of the their gun, using it to refine their aim. When in Iron-Sights mode, the player can use the right control stick to lean from behind cover, and if crouching to peek over or under the objects between them and a hail of bullets. The lean function suits the analogue control sticks very nicely, as it gives you complete control over how much you peek your head round a corner, therefore exposing the least amount of fragile flesh to the enemy. This makes picking off enemies one at a time from long-range enormous fun, as you bob up and down, dispensing death, but also allows for instant reaction rapid fire from automatic weapons.

A degree of replayability is added by including a system of upgrades to your weaponry. Use a weapon to cause enough mayhem and it will be upgraded with extra ammunition per clip, a scope and so on. Also, throughout each level the player will stumble upon hidden drop sites, which require a degree of skill to parachute into. Doing so, however, will give the player a distinct tactical advantage at the beginning of the battle, and help them to achieve a 5 star rating for that level. Achieving 5 stars actually isn't much of an incentive on its own – the benefit of doing so is simply to unlock bonus videos about the creation of the game. Frankly, they're not interesting in the slightest, and it's a shame no-one thought to include better bonuses, such as unlockable weapons or cheat modes.

The sense of actually experiencing combat is occasionally spoiled by AI problems. As previously mentioned, the enemy A.I. is rather good, with enemies seeking cover, fleeing if out-numbered and throwing grenades to flush you out of cover - so far, so good. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for your compatriots. Computer-controlled allies will always, without fail, get in the way as you line up a shot with the rather nice Iron-Sights aiming system. Hold down the left trigger, squint down the sights and (as you squeeze the trigger) a blur of khaki with an American accent steps in front of you and spoils the shot. Furthermore, while they seek cover admirably, your allies rarely manage to hit anything. While part of the fun of war games is shooting the majority of the enemy, it would be nice to have some degree of teamwork going on. Another niggle with the A.I. system becomes apparent when fighting tanks. Instead of firing on everyone in an Allies uniform, the tanks will fire solely at the player, spotting them across incredible distances before dropping a shell into your earhole. The tank will quite often completely ignore large groups of your buddies to go straight after you, which does seem slightly unfair.

The illusion of fighting a in a realistic battle was also spoiled by the game's spawning system. More than once, I advanced behind enemy lines to flank them, only to find that the game continually spawned enemies directly behind my back, where there was nothing there but a brick wall previously. Not only did it raise my blood-pressure, it also broke the moment. Having dodged from cover to cover, to advance to a perfect spot from with to rain bullets on my enemies, only to have the mechanics of the game so brutally revealed to me was disappointing. Also, a few graphical glitches were very noticeable, including the always-annoying glitch of enemies shooting you through solid walls because the barrels of their guns have poked through the bricks.

To be fair, though, EA have gone out on an unusual limb with MOHA. Instead of doing another bog-standard World War II shooter, they actually looked at the formula for things to change and improve upon. For a company with such a poor reputation for producing low-quality games for quick cash returns, this is an interesting new tactic, one which will be extended into other areas of their gaming empire.

Like leaping from a plane, Medal of Honor Airborne has provided a fresh perspective on the genre. Long may it continue.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/13/07

Game Release: Medal of Honor: Airborne (EU, 09/07/07)


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