There’s something happening to Electronic Arts. Only a year or so ago
they were still regarded by many as the too-successful-for-their-own-good
black sheep of the industry, a cynical corporate entity selling lacklustre
titles off the back of popular licenses and tired yearly
“updates”. The Medal of Honor series was very much a part of
this decline, dropping in quality with every new release following the
excellent Allied Assault. However, in a single year we’ve seen the
release of a FIFA game worth playing, a C&C game worthy of the name,
movie licenses being abandoned, and now a Medal of Honor game that’s
not only good, it demonstrates a level of imagination and innovation
that’s becoming increasingly rare in the genre.
Key to this revival is the “Airborne”
subtitle, placing you in the shoes of one member of a WWII paratrooper
regiment. Each mission opens with yourself and your fellow soldiers on
board a transport plane, usually under fire, from which you can jump and
parachute down into whatever inviting war-zone lies beneath. To
accommodate this unusual feature, every level in the game has been built
as a non-linear environment encompassing several objectives that can be
tackled in any order. You’re encouraged to land your parachute in
one of a small number of “safe zones”, indicated by cunningly
planted green flares, but you’re equally capable of landing right on
top of an objective if you’re feeling brave. Such freedom of choice
is a far cry from the glorified corridors of previous MoH games, and also
goes some way to distance Airborne from the crowded WWII sub-genre without
fundamentally changing the series’ identity.
non-linear in their objectives however, the missions aren’t truly
free-roaming. Depending on where you land, you’ll find there’s
really only one way to get to each objective, leading you through scripted
choke points on the way. However, these restrictions actually work in the
game’s favour, offering the scripted intensity of a linear game
without feeling contrived in a non-linear context. Combat feels just as
solid and enjoyable as that of the Call of Duty games, helped by the minor
innovation of a new lean and peek ability. Fighting out in the open is a
quick way to get yourself killed, so you’re encouraged to duck
behind cover, lean, shoot and dash forwards to the next piece of cover.
It’s reminiscent of the peep and creep gameplay so brilliantly
implemented in Gears of War, and it works just as well here.
For all its achievements though, Airborne suffers from
a rather significant flaw: its length. The missions are all fairly long,
sometimes lasting up to an hour, but with only six to play through this
doesn’t add up to much compared to its peers. The trade-off of
course is that the developers have been able to lavish all their efforts
on those six levels, and it shows, but that doesn’t change the fact
that a skilled player could finish the game in under a day.
Thankfully though, there is some incentive to play through the game a
second time. Throughout the game you’re restricted to three weapon
slots, one of which is restricted to pistols. The rest can host a growing
number of more potent weaponry from the period, with your initial loadout
selectable at the start of each mission. As you use each of these
firearms, you’ll earn medals for certain feats that result in an
instant upgrade in the relevant area. It’s an addictive, if somewhat
contrived system that encourages you to try out different weapons from
mission to mission, and it’s possible to carry over your stats and
armoury into a brand new game. Each level is designed well enough to suit
a number of different approaches, so it’s a genuine incentive to
keep you playing, but obviously it pales when compared to the prospect of
whole new levels in which to level up your excess firepower.
Despite the minor niggles, Medal of Honor: Airborne is a welcome
return to form for a series that’s been stagnating for far too long.
Its non-linear gameplay and impressive production values help carve a very
individual niche among WWII shooters, and if it wasn’t for its
crippling length it would be an easy recommendation to anyone even
remotely interested in the genre. The weapon upgrades offer an ample
parachute for those willing to make the journey last a little longer, but
everyone else may find themselves hitting the ground with a bit of a bump.