Visit Eurasia! (But take your buddies...)
I’ve always found the intimidating and worryingly large list of ‘Historic First-person Shooter’ games pretty confusing. You can only assume that like any other sub-genre you care to name, there are great successes and equally great failures to be experienced. So, was another entry in the ‘Medal of Honor’ series necessary, and if so, was it worth playing? A quick search of the string Medal of Honor provides a staggering list of thirty-five or more games! Can a late-comer to the genre make any sense of this, not to mention determine their best purchase option?
Well, I was new to the series, and I couldn’t. So I took a risk a few years ago and made a purchase of this ‘European Assault’ title. Expecting a fairly realistic World War II experience seemed reasonable enough – (after all, these titles claim simultaneously that they’re as real as it can get). But, not being too concerned with simulations or obsessive and redundant detail, I was open to a less-than-realistic battlefront.
So, after the disc booted up, we’re presented (quite appropriately) with a title screen comprising of a sepia-tone European map and a very impressive orchestral score (later to be used in an American political campaign!) I found the presentation quite fitting and thoughtful; lo-fidelity quality and film-grain stained and speckled menus. It has a great antiquity to the lettering, music and interface (you enter your name with a typewriter). Excerpts from the soldiers’ field manuals are shown during load-screens, and offer a trivial glimpse into some of the details that might not have been seen before in this conflict.
As a British soldier, you tag along with an American unit as they repel the Axis powers in the European theatre. I won’t explain any of the particular details, as anyone interested can easily retrieve them, but I will say it’s quite a tour you take. Germany, France North Africa and Italy are involved and are reasonably identifiable as different countries due to the environmental and man-made details. Yes, this game has varying quality visuals, but all levels offer a significant enough change to keep your interest.
So does the actual shooting-mechanic offer anything new? Actually, it doesn’t. But neither does it fail at the already established. The reticule and gun-barrel are aligned accurately and naturally, and the movement of your character (all made with the standard dual-analogue stick arrangement) is smooth and workable. In fact, this was one of the first shooters (apart from ‘Metroid Prime’) that I was immediately pleased with in this aspect. Typically, the options of X/Y axis sensitivity and aim-inversion are present.
The very first level the game features was quite impressive. Set at night and at a French dockyard, the sense of urgency, danger and intensity is established well. Thrown into the action, you have little time to orient yourself (and your squad) before enemy fire is thrown at you. The very act of shooting an enemy is quite satisfying, and they do react somewhat in relation to where they’re hit.
As the levels are quite open and large, it was a nice addition that you were able to explore. Thankfully, it is actually encouraged, and the lists of primary and secondary missions usually require you to sweep the field, exterminating all the way, so that you can achieve a Gold medal for the particular mission. Set the difficulty to hard, and you’ll find that achieving glory is no walk in the park. This level design coupled with your squad commands makes a more long-lasting and all-rounded experience.
Your squad, for the first time in a MOH title are semi-assignable as they respond to simple commands. Advancing or pulling-back is about as tactical as you can get, and I was never too sure if my commands were followed too consistently throughout the missions. And, to maintain you’re gunning power, it may be necessary to treat your squad with medi-kits that are scattered about the level. Ultimately, this means less health for you, and as the mission success hangs on you and you alone, there was little sense in healing your comrades unless you had an excess of kits.
Where the game fails is in its use of the non-playable character intelligence. Frequently, your squad behave strangely, as if their pre-battle routine is a large thermos of espresso. They dart about constantly and irrationally, and often to my supreme annoyance, stand in your line-of-sight when aiming. There is nothing more irritating than when you’ve taken aim carefully, only to have it undermined by an idiotic grunt that stands mindlessly in your firing-line. Unfortunately, you can not take out your frustration as friendly-fire is switched off permanently!
Also, the graphical content of the game is below standard, and there is little definition in the crucial areas that players typically look for. The character, vehicle and weapon models are all quite simplified and dull. Sadly, they are not memorable, even if they are fun to use at the time. Environment graphics vary from well-done to basic and bland. That part is a shame.
The Bottom Line
Overall, this title is a quality release. The things that save it from just-another-war-game are the squad commands and the explorative nature if the missions. Another nice touch was the inclusion of end-boss characters. Almost resembling James Bond villains, these eccentric Nazis are usually dug-in somewhere deep with plenty of goons for support. Taking these guys out was a refreshing twist on the tried-and-true ingredients of other war titles. There is a charm to this game; the downside is that along with the political and military causes it re-enacts, it has undoubtedly been swept into obsolescence.