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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Game Review - Medal of Honor: Airborne

Does it deserve a medal?

Why do we want to play another WW2 game again when year upon year, we are essentially playing out the same events over and over again? It may be this simple question that was asked before Medal of Honor: Airborne was developed. For the first time in the many years of history of WW2 games, EA brings something unique across the table – you start each mission by parachuting down from the sky and deciding which location is the best for you to begin the fight. You could decide to land on the rooftop, so that you could snipe some Nazis off first, or you could land directly on top of your objective, so that you waste no time in planting the charge on the Tiger Tank to destroy it. Ultimately, the decision is yours. But is this mechanism just a gimmick, or is it so much more than that?

Each of the 6 levels begins interestingly enough, with you and your fellow soldiers in the plane chatting with each other and cracking occasional jokes. These moments are short-lived, though as your plane will be shot at in a matter of seconds. Machine gun rounds penetrate and everyone around you starts perishing. Jump out of the plane you must and that you shall do. As soon as you jump out, your compass appears and provides some really useful information as to where the various objectives are located, but it will not show where the enemies are until you land. I find this quite contradictory because the game encourages you to pick a smart location to land, but yet refuses to show you enemies’ whereabouts and as such, you may encounter instances where you will land right at the heart of an enemy gathering and get yourself killed in no time. The decision isn’t so much on where to land in the early parts of the game; it is only during the later levels that this parachuting mechanism plays a more crucial role in your survival where your enemies get increasingly more aggressive and harder to beat.

On the ground, you are free to choose which objectives to pursue first. Indeed, as promised, Airborne does feel more ‘open’ than other WW2 shooters where you usually start out at a pre-defined location and follow the objectives that are only shown progressively. Linearity is not entirely absent from Airborne, though. After you have completed all the sets of objectives given to you when you first land, the game starts shoving you down a linear path like any other. Fortunately, each level is peppered with intense action, so the game doesn’t bore too soon, but there seems to a little lack of variety in the levels. While I appreciate that there are varying scenarios throughout the whole game that forces you to approach each with a differing tactical strategy, there is almost no vehicular action in the game. And if there is a vehicular portion, it has always been about tanks.

Nevertheless, Airborne manages to inject more interesting elements into the gameplay by offering upgradeable weapons. Seriously! Whenever you use a particular weapon to silence an enemy, the experience points will accumulate and after you have reached a certain level, that weapon gets upgraded – for good. The upgrades are not merely aesthetics, but helpful ones like an increase in the number of rounds a weapon can carry at any one time and improved accuracy. At one point, my Springfield sniper rifle can even shoot grenades off its barrel – accurately. But as creative as this idea sounds, the hit detection of weapons in Airborne is poor. There will be several times where you know clearly that the bullets in your weapon have made contact with the enemies, only for the game to indicate to you that you have failed to register a shot and deny you of a well-deserved kill. This glitch happens every few shots or so, and it can get terribly annoying. Perhaps this bug can be addressed by a future patch, but for now, you will just have to put up with this problem.

On to the A.I., I am actually surprised it posed quite a challenge overall. Even on normal difficulty settings, the game can get a wee bit difficult in some parts and you will find yourself dying often. Not puzzling given that Travers, the character whom you will be playing as, also has a relatively short health bar – a few shots could see you biting the dust. Enemies do use cover intelligently and often, you will find that the A.I. does not mind firing blindly or throwing grenades from their backs. Faced with such an A.I., utilization of cover is a must. And thank the developers for not making friendly A.I. just spectators. In fact, they are just as quick-thinking and smart as their counterparts.

Graphically-speaking, Airborne isn’t amazingly exciting. It looks just like any other WW2 shooter game, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. More important is the atmosphere. Being a WW2 game, Airborne MUST capture the chaos and intensity of WW2 (of course), but to my utter disappointment, it is in this department where Airborne falls short. Other WW2 shooters have done it much better than Airborne, but at least Airborne could have managed something decent. What you get is a cheap imitation of the war and it just doesn’t feel right. When I am fighting in a war, not only must the crack of my own weapons be heard, but the surrounding on-goings as well. Surprisingly, there are no frantic shouts and screams to be heard in Airborne, no barking of orders, and neither is the sound of bullets reflecting off and hitting objects present. All you can hear in Airborne are the sounds of your weapons firing, which isn’t 100% awesome, by the way, and the (distant) sound of your platoon mates’ weapons. And to my horror, as I move away from the main battlefield into a near-by little room in a house, everything becomes silent – as dead as a graveyard. There must be some kind of sound, right? It is a war, afterall. Airborne, simply speaking, does not capture the essence of WW2 – at all.

The game’s single-player campaign is also short. It is a good guess to say that you will finish it within 7 to 9 hours, but each level is quite lengthy - usually, you would take between 1 to 1 and a half hours to complete each level. Multiplayer is added in for good measure.

Final Comments
A new way to approach a WW2 shooter is what Airborne has done – something unique, something refreshing. You are the decider – you choose where to land and it is fun to test out the different landing spots to see which one is the most effective. Overall, the game does have a more ‘open’ feel than other WW2 shooters, but Airborne is not totally void of linearity. Luckily, the action is intense, but I would prefer more vehicular portions. As in BioShock, all weapons are upgradeable in Airborne, and I enjoyed that thoroughly. The A.I., both the enemy and friendly ones, are intelligent. What hurts Airborne seriously are the poor hit detection system and the lack of a proper atmosphere. Ouch! Nice animations, though.


The Good:
- New way to start a WW2 shooter – parachuting!
- Parachuting to the right location becomes more important in the later levels – at least it is not a gimmick!
- Game has a more ‘open’ feel to it.
- Varying scenarios that require different approaches to each
- Upgradeable weapons
- Smart A.I., both hostile and friendly ones
- Nice animations throughout

The Bad:
- Could have use more vehicular action
- Weapons hit detection terrible
- Does not capture the atmosphere of WW2 at all
- Game is short


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