Review by Overdrive

"Change for the sake of change is never a good idea"

My best friend once told me the appeal of the Medal of Honor games was founded in their near-flawless ability to make the player feel they were part of a greater generation of humanity — people whose heroism and valor shaped the world we live in today.

And let's face it: he's right. While I'd like to believe there's some sort of hidden nobility in my remarkable ability to spend 16 hours a day perched in front of a computer or television set while rapidly machine-gunning pizza, wings and chips into my mouth with uncanny accuracy....the truth is that my “feats” aren't exactly history book material.

With that said, who wouldn't want to be able to leave their body temporarily and be placed right in the thick of things during World War II? Who wouldn't want to storm fortified bases, take out Nazi boats and factories and eliminate high-ranking Axis officials? Sure, the games follow the cardinal laws of first-person shooters a bit too closely to be truly realistic, as your lone soldier is more than capable of taking out entire battalions of the enemy AND can erase the effects of 15 bullet wounds with one first-aid pack, but does it really matter?

The games in this series are all presented with such authenticity that you truly feel as though you're in the 1940s. Black-and-white news clippings alert you to evil plans, while a crusty commander praises your work while imploring you to do a little bit more for your country. I'm pleased to say that Rising Sun, the fourth game in the PlayStation series (and second for the PS2) continues that trend.

Hell, Rising Sun possibly improves on it. Departing from the European missions of the previous three games, you're now stationed in the Pacific — just in time for Pearl Harbor. The first two stages go by in the blink of an eye, as you first must escape the bowels of your ship and then man a gun to shoot down the Japanese planes threatening to completely wipe out your entire fleet.

Being able to complete two levels in roughly 10 minutes may seem like a negative, as this game only has nine stages in total, but I didn't look at it this way. Those first two stages were as hard-hitting and dramatic as they come. You're stuck in a scene of total chaos, with nothing but your wits and ability to save you. That proves to not be enough to truly be triumphant, though, as the second level is interrupted by a cutscene where the U.S.S. Arizona gets sunk by the Japanese — right in front of your helplessly watching eyes!

But if you care more about intense, shoot-em-up gameplay than drama, things will pick up when you start the third stage. Fans of the earliest Medal of Honor games will be pleasantly be surprised to find that each of the remaining seven levels is much larger in scope than most (if not all) of the 20-plus stages those discs boasted.

The third level starts out with you (and a handful of troops) under fire in a Philippine city. Clear out the opposition and you'll be forced to escort your allies through narrow streets while fighting off deadly snipers. Before you've completed this level, you'll have gone through a baseball diamond and a mansion AND you'll still have to man a machine gun in the back of an explosives-filled truck needed to blow up a bridge.

Later levels will see you meandering through deep jungles, fighting off troops cleverly camouflaged in foxholes. Or maybe you'll be sneaking through the streets of Singapore, using a one-shot sniping pistol to take out patrols as you close in on a hotel where a top-secret meeting is just waiting to be infiltrated. Or you just might find yourself in the unenviable position of having to dash up a hill towards a heavily-guarded Buddhist temple. Never mind that a slew of Japanese soldiers are streaming down said hill, diving behind boxes and manning cleverly-placed machine guns with the intent of cutting you to ribbons — you have a job to do, soldier!

The presentation is near flawless in just about every level and the game mechanics are as solid as ever. If this installment of Medal of Honor hadn't changed a single thing, I would have been in heaven, as the formula is simply that good. Unfortunately, they made one major change. And it drains a great deal of life out of Rising Sun.

As in every other game in this series, there are two ways to beat each level. You can simply make it through or you can satisfy the game's demand that you're a fierce, yet efficient, soldier. In the previous games, that meant you'd be expected to kill 95 percent of each level's enemies while finishing with at least 75 percent of your health. Doing so would result in you unlocking a bunch of unnecessary (yet rewarding) things such as codes, additional multiplayer options and the medals bestowed upon elite soldiers by their superiors. Since none of these things were necessary to beat the game, reaching those requirements was merely a fun way to test your skill.

Well, in Rising Sun, you still don't need to pick up these rewards, as they still are essentially nothing more than superficial trinkets. But if you make that your goal, you'll soon find the fun of doing so is absent in this game. The requirements were changed for some unknown reason to take the focus off killing every single enemy you could find and place it onto stealthy play. Now, the main things you're graded on are your ability to avoid taking hits (no matter how much health you finish a level with, if you've taken more than a certain number of hits, you won't get a high rating) and your ability to be accurate with over 75 percent of your shots.

Suddenly, those seven standard Medal of Honor (the first two don't play by this rule) levels feel like a thousand. Every little move you make is absolutely crucial if you want to get nothing but gold star ratings. You can ONLY use shotguns (due to their wide hit range) or weapons with good enough scopes to make picking off distant foes mere child's play. The levels in which I was given a shotgun or sniper rifle were the ones in which I had little-to-no trouble connecting on the vast majority of my shots. However, machine guns are now near-worthless, as it's folly to expect sharpshooter accuracy with a weapon that's wildly spraying bullets at moving targets.

You also can't truly explore these seven stages. Sure, they are quite linear, but each has a few side paths with ammo, health and other goodies. Of course, these optional areas also have their fair share of enemies and the more fights you're in, the more likely you are to take damage. Since you can only take so many bullets while maintaining a gold rating, you'll find yourself doing the bare minimum to clear all the objectives.

And by “all the objectives”, I mean both the ones you're briefed on and the secret ones you know nothing about. Every single level (even the first two) has a couple of secret missions you must complete despite having no knowledge of what they are or how to accomplish them. In the second level, you simply must shoot down an absurd number of Japanese planes. In the Philippine city, you must find a couple of well-hidden items by exploring every nook and cranny (a “no-no” according to the hits taken rule) until you've unearthed them. In one of the jungle levels, you must blow up a generator. Never mind that you have no idea you must do so OR even that said device is anything more than a static background device you're unable to interact with, if you want your excellent rating, you must blow it to smithereens!

Fortunately, unlike other games in the series, Rising Sun does include save points, so you don't have to do all this at once. Sadly, I know exactly what I'll have to do in order to get my perfect ratings. I'll have to inch my way up to the first save point in each level, being as careful as possible to not make any crippling mistakes. Upon saving, I'll sneak out and kill one enemy....and save. I'll kill another foe.....and save again. This will go on and on and on until I've crawled at a snail's pace through the level and am so burnt out that I am incapable of appreciating my rewards. Then I'll do it again and again until I've unlocked everything this game has to offer.

I love the Medal of Honor series and, as far as presentation and actual gameplay goes, I love Rising Sun, but I just don't think any game is worth that much trouble. The sad thing is, if you play through it solely with the intent of beating it, things aren't that difficult. Most levels have one or two tricky spots where you'll die a time or three before figuring out the proper course of action, but the nine levels are easily beaten in a matter of hours. However, when you play it with the intent of getting the best rating, the difficulty skyrockets to a degree where all the fun has been sucked out of the game. If Rising Sun had a “middle ground”, I'd proclaim it one of the best first-person shooters I've ever played. It still is a fun game, but definitely below my expectations for a Medal of Honor game.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 09/08/05

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