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Medal of Honor: Airborne

Take the plunge.
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.

War is begin. 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.

While 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.

Take cover!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.

BFFDespite 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.
Medal of Honor: Airborne
» Details Format(s): PC, Xbox 360
By: Jevan Moss
Date: Sep 22nd, 16:15
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