Medal of Honor: Airborne
Has MoH recovered since Rising Sun and Vanguard?
Xbox 360, PS3, PC
EA Los Angeles
I haven't afforded the Medal of Honor series more than a cursory glance since the abomination that was Rising Sun - eight or nine levels, a broken game and a 'To Be Continued...' ending? No. Just, no. That was the height of the Bad Times for EA, when they were content with rushing releases and pushing no boundaries whatsoever.
I've even whined about this very thing before, in a previous MOH review. It has been a while since these traumas were first inflicted, but to say I was a little weary of Medal of Honor: Airborne is understating things just a tad - I had written it off. I didn't care. I didn't want to waste my time with it and I could happily have gone on ignoring the series for the rest of time. But then the sods here at Kikizo Towers decided to send me the game to review, and my self-imposed embargo was lifted - against my own free will, might I add.
With a build up like that, you can see where this is going, can't you?
It's great. It's really, really good fun and is testament to the 'new' EA we are seeing more and more of these days - they're simply making damn fine games. Airborne isn't as revolutionary as the press blurb would have you believe, but it freshens things up just enough to be an entertaining experience, rather than the dull, identikit plod that other WWII shooters seem to be these days.
The main change to the MOH formula comes with the 'Airborne' aspect - as Boyd Travers, a member of the 101st Airborne, it is your job to go places, during a war, which are dangerous and inhabited almost entirely by the enemy, fly over them at a relatively low altitude, jump out of the plane, deploy your parachute, land and kill Nazis/blow shit up. Kinda (based on) real life superhero stuff, yes? So EA didn't want the parachuting in thing to be on rails, or simply a gimmick to make the experience more 'absorbing', or whatever other words they use on the blurb these days.
The drop is actually part of the strategy for tackling a level and opens things up considerably to experimentation - green zones are always available: marked by the billowing green smoke of a marker flare, these areas have ammo, health and no bad guys waiting for you on the land. Regular zones are apparently unworthy of colour-coding: these areas are more dangerous than the greens but can offer some tactical advantages if used correctly - landing on a rooftop for a sniper's vantage point, for example. Finally come the red zones: if you land in these, you're likely to get killed - that's not to say you definitely will though, and this is where the fun really kicks in. If you're good enough (or playing on a low enough difficulty) it is possible to tackle the red zones head-on, taking out the most dangerous regions from the very beginning of a mission and dealing with vital objectives in a matter of minutes. It's not a great strategy, mind, and you will die a lot. It's just nice that the option is there for those idiotic enough (yo!) to take it.
The game itself falls into standard MOH fare - decent, solid shooting action. The formula has been refined to take into account the flavour of the month - cover - and peeking out from under/over/through whatever you're hiding behind is easy as the proverbial. Another way in which EA have added something to the game comes with the 'experience' gained from using different weapons - shoot enough Nazis in the face and you are rewarded with upgrades: higher magazine capacity, less recoil, better accuracy and everything in between. It's a simple stroke of genius and makes you really experiment with your arsenal so as not to miss out on some superpowered mega rifle of doom. Though it has to be said, a fully-upgraded Thompson is better than anything else on the game. More or less.
Running through each theatre of combat, the player is confronted by old-fashioned waves of enemies: it's clear when you've activated them, as about three hundred of the buggers appear out of nowhere and start hammering your chin with bullets and grenades (so, so many grenades...). Luckily, you have the luxury of allied troops backing you up at all times - like the team mates in the CoD series they are an unlimited flow: one falls, another pops up to take over. They're just effective enough to be useful, though not so overpowered as to mean the player can sit back and twiddle their thumbs. They're not the smartest of cats though, and can get rather annoyingly in the way. When you're just about to pop a German officer in the eye. From 500 metres. With your pistol. Not that it annoyed me...
The wave system that the enemy employs can make for some intense battles, as well as some intensely irritating firefights - the bastards literally line up to use MG nests at times. Seriously. But overall it's a system that works far better than it probably should, especially considering the lack of inspiration in its application.
There are only a few missions on offer in Airborne, but each one is generally quite lengthy and the rewards/skill drop (land on the roof, land inside this building etc.) brings in a fair bit of longevity to proceedings. It's quick enough to finish though, for those that can't be bothered putting much time into it, and it's nowhere near as insultingly short as Rising Sun. Once bored of the campaign, you can move on to multiplayer (I mean, you can move on before if you like, but shut up), which can distract you for as long as you let it - it's not as great as a hell of a lot of PC shooters online though, so this is a mode that is unlikely to steal a great many hours.
The presentation of the package is of a very high level, which will surely be a shock to no one. The looks of the thing are generally top notch, everything sounds perfect - really, really good - and the whole package just has... I don't know, a flow to it. It's genuinely lovely. The rousing orchestral score even feels fresh, even though everyone has heard it a thousand times already.
I wasn't looking forward to Airborne. I was happy to ignore it and play everything else in the world, ever. I was very wrong and will be sending my apology to EA in writing. I'm sure they'll care a great deal. It does just enough to make the game not feel stale, though it doesn't do enough to be as revolutionary as EA want it to be. Nevertheless, it's certainly worth a play or three.
Airborne is not the best FPS ever released, no. It isn't as innovative as it thinks it is, not at all. However, it is a bloody fun game - it single handedly drags the sullied name of the MOH series out of the gutter and reinstates at least a little faith in humanity in those that play it. It just hits the right buttons at the right times and comes out smelling of roses (and Nazi blood).