Medal of Honor was once the ultimate in War games. Nothing bettered it, and Frontline cemented its place as the best War series around. Along came Infinity Ward with Call of Duty, and it all began to change. As CoD began the rise to stardom, Medal of Honor slipped right down into the forgotten realms as a has-been. Rising Sun was the start of the descent, and the sequel merely added to its misery. But now, back on new generation hardware and with fresh ideas, EA return with the once-great series to make a fresh start. Do EA get it right, or does Call of Duty continue to reign supreme?
The story centres around Private First Class Boyd Travers, a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne division. As players follow his story, they will traverse across Europe, from Italy to France to the Netherlands, ending up of course in Germany. Along the way there is a lot to do and a lot of Germans to kill as players fight their way from objective to objective.
This isn’t a typical Medal of Honor game though. Gone is the linear gameplay of running in what is effectively a straight line, and in its place is a whole new idea of choosing where you start to fight. The whole point of Airborne is the parachuting. Playing a paratrooper, it is necessary to jump from a plane each time a mission starts, and occasionally when you happen to die. This allows for the player to roughly choose where he wants to land on the map, making each new attempt at the mission a fresh one. It allows for you to go behind enemy lines covertly, or just go in gang-ho if that’s the preferred style. EA have made this even more interesting by placing five “Skill Drop” points across each of the missions, where players attempt to land there for better positions over the enemy and of course to go some way to getting Achievements.
Parachuting isn’t an easy task though. Much like real life, it has to be done the correct way to make it successful. If Travers is off-balance, he will “botch” the landing. Time it right and hit the analog stick up as he touches down, and Travers will get a “greased” landing. There’s “flared” landing too, which is considerably harder to do as Travers’ parachute has to open just before he hits the ground. Movement in the air is all controlled with the left analog stick as well, and the right analog stick will allow the whole area to be looked at. It’s even more spectacular if Travers can land on the enemy, as a swift click of the right stick will make him kick out as he comes to the ground, allowing for a melee kick to knock the German out.
Parachuting works well once you get the hang of it, and it’s a mean challenge trying to land on all the skill drop zones; more often that not it’s a tad difficult to get Travers into the exact position required for the skill drop kudos, as even the training is a challenge.
It’s a shame then that this well-implemented, revolutionary idea isn’t capitalised on more. There are a mere six missions to conquer, and it’s only the last two that put up any challenge. Each will take about an hour to complete, possibly more on the “Hard” difficulty. The rest can be done within thirty minutes; forty minutes is perhaps the longest for the first four missions on Normal. The last two are frustratingly hard, as new German soldiers are introduced and turn up in large numbers. As frustrating as it may be, it’s refreshing knowing that the game has lasted just a bit longer.
Naturally there are several objectives that need to be completed per mission, and thanks to the new parachuting idea, each objective can be done in whatever order the player wishes; the player can freely run around the map doing whichever one they prefer first. One objective too hard? Next time you die you’ll parachute in again so land Travers somewhere else for a different challenge. This is vastly superior to that of Call of Duty, which is very much a linear game. Of course all objectives need to be completed for the mission to end, but thanks to the expansiveness of the levels and the multiple routes through the map, it means it isn’t a chore to do.
It’s a shame then that with such a strong backing, the gameplay contained within each of the maps is so frustrating. The hit detection is truly awful. More often that not a well placed head shot will not fell the German infantry, and often three body shots are required. This is frustrating because it makes the whole War experience a lot less believable. The enemy AI too isn’t as great as EA made out before the game shipped. German soldiers will often simply run past Travers as if he doesn’t exist just to get to cover, when surely firing at him is the better option. The German soldiers also make a bee line for the machine gun emplacements, when it’s clearly not always a viable thing to do. It doesn’t make sense and shows EA haven’t got it right.
The framerate too is incredibly poor in places. At one point it became impossible to go forward as the game seemed to dip to about 10 frames per second, and a new route had to be made that avoided so many enemies on screen at once. This is simply not good enough for the new generation; there must have been five soldiers present when the framerate just gave up. It didn’t happen all the time, but when it did it’s obvious there’s a problem. The graphics too are slightly disappointing. This is certainly no Gears of War (Airborne also uses the Unreal Engine 3, although modified), and it could be argued that this looks worse than CoD 2. Certainly CoD 3 looks considerably better. With all the time EA had with the game, it only seems right to expect more. Keep an eye out for randomly spawning Germans too as it happens a lot. They magically appear and immediately attack, often leaving you wondering how the hell you just got killed. Again, very annoying.
All is not lost in the single player though. The atmosphere is terrific. EA have certainly nailed the aeroplane noises, whether Travers is jumping out of the plane or whether the planes are flying overhead, they sound spectacular and really make the room vibrate. Bullets whiz past too and again helps to immerse the player in the dog fight that takes place on screen. Fellow team mates shout too; often words of encouragement towards Travers, but they also let you know which side they will be covering and so on. It’s always nice to hear some support, and the team AI does actually help out a lot. They shoot accurately and the enemy does go down. If a team mate dies, they parachute back in a few moments, which again is a nice touch from EA. There’s a brand new health system too, which is divided up into four quadrants. If you lose an entire quadrant, it’s only possible to regain it with a health pack. However if only a part of a quadrant disappears, then it is automatically regenerated in a few seconds. It’s clever and works surprisingly well.
The objectives are a mixed bunch, but usually consist in either planting some explosives or wiping out some tanks. There’s a whole host of weapons to do it with, and it’s here where the game gets a whole lot more interesting. As Travers fights his way through the non-stop onslaught of Germans, the weapon he uses to kill them gains experience. As more experience is gained, the HUD image of the weapon in use fills up. When it is full, the weapon gets upgraded. This is possible three times for each weapon, and even pistols and grenades can be upgraded. The upgrade varies from weapon to weapon, but it usually consists of a larger ammo clip, a faster reload speed or better accuracy. It’s great fun to see what each new weapon will bring, and the Thompson is particularly great as it will make you feel like an Italian mobster from the Seventies, thanks to the massive fifty round drum it attaches. This is saved from mission to mission, so every time you pick up a weapon, it will keep the experience gained earlier. It’s a neat touch and one that will definitely make the game’s replayability extend, as there’s an Achievement for fully upgrading all the available weapons.
Sadly though, all weapons are usable in the multiplayer. This means that every three matches it becomes a rocket launcher fest. Rocket launchers in multiplayer games such as these simply do not work; there are no vehicles to destroy so the weapon is useless. The multiplayer is far more enjoyable when the weapon is not in use, but that will require several like-minded players to play with and against. Even created rooms cannot limit what weapons are used, so unless you state otherwise, people may still whip out the rocket launcher.
There are three modes in the multiplayer which all offer something slightly different. There is no Deathmatch option which is a little surprising, only Team Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch Airborne and Objective Airborne. Team Deathmatch is self explanatory; two teams that have to kill one another for the most points. Pretty straightforward. Team Deathmatch Airborne throws a little bit more into the mix. While it is still the usual Team Deathmatch idea, the Allies have to parachute in rather than just spawning on the ground somewhere. They can parachute down and attempt a melee kick, but they can also be shot out of the sky before they even land if players have a sharp enough aim. Or a cooked grenade for extra “pwnd” moments can be used to take Allies down in the sky. Objective Airborne plays almost identically to the popular War mode in CoD 3, although in Airborne there are only three flags. One flag is harder to capture than others, as it will require two people to stand in an unspecified zone in order for its capture. It can get tough when there are twelve playing to try and maintain each position long enough to score a point, especially when Allies again have to parachute in.
There’s very little lag in the online games which is excellent. There may be the odd hiccup sometimes (one time it became impossible to look left or right and all the sound disappeared for some reason), but for the most part the experience is a smooth one. Weapons again can be upgraded as the online battle rages on which will give you the edge over your enemies. The multiplayer is a lot of fun, however the matchmaking for ranked matches seems slightly strange, as it will often not bother to even up the teams, or will take an age before the game kicks off. It could have been done better, that’s for sure. There’s not a great deal here that is brand new or revolutionary, but what it has got it does right. Variety isn’t the spice of life here though as there are only six maps playable, and more often than not you’ll find the game (in Ranked Matches at least) picking the same map over and over. It can get a touch tedious because of this.
Airborne tries very hard to offer something new to the worn out FPS War theme, and but for the parachuting, not a lot has changed. With AI that require two headshots before they go down, and a dodgy frame rate that for some reason drops when not a huge amount is going on, it lets itself down. The multiplayer is good fun if there’s a room without people using rocket launchers continuously, but again apart from the parachuting the whole affair is pretty generic, although good fun in small doses. Travers and his 82nd Airborne Division get the job done, but it’s a messy affair and one that he won’t want to repeat too soon. Call of Duty 2 set the bar too high for Medal of Honor this time around despite being two years old now on the 360, and as such Airborne pales in comparison. The campaign is far too short despite being less linear than other games in the genre, and the multiplayer simply can’t bring it back up from the botched landing.
Final Score: 5 out of 10 - Below Average (How do we rate games?)