These days, the ever-present battle where first-person shooters are concerned is what can be done differently with the genre. EA’s latest addition to its hit Medal of Honor series introduces a slight spin on the norm by making the player a World War II paratrooper who has to drop from the skies into the battlefield.
Every mission begins with a jump from a plane, the challenge being to steer yourself down to one of several safe landing spots, flaring your parachute at the right time to land correctly. There are various “skill” landing areas that can be discovered throughout the game, some of which are very tricky to pull off; for example, dropping in through the door of a machine-gun pillbox.
Obviously, if a bit of acrobatic parachuting was all Medal of Honor: Airborne had to offer, everyone would be pretty disappointed. Luckily, it’s not.
As we sat through the opening briefing before our first live jump, we were immediately struck by the quality of the movie-style presentation. The dramatic cut-scenes, the sheer fury of the noise as you jump from the aircraft, which sharply changes to an eerie silence as you glide downwards, the swelling music as you capture a target emplacement and look out at the D-Day beach landing; the presentation values are simply top notch.
Graphically, it’s very smartly rendered too, featuring highly detailed landscapes and impressive explosive effects, particularly the grenades and tank shells. The atmosphere of a raging conflict is convincingly captured, as gunfire zings and bullets ricochet around, and your squad-mates act quite intelligently, diving into cover and shouting to each other about ammo levels and even which way to move next.
This is all superb stuff, and the only downside to this visual quality is that it takes something of a toll on the old graphics processor. On our middle-of-the-road PC, we had to run fairly modest detail settings to obtain a smoothly playable experience, and only those with higher end machines are going to be able to experience Medal of Honor: Airborne in its true graphical guts and glory.
So we have the parachuting and the atmosphere, but where the game really puts its stamp on FPS gameplay is with its emphasis on utilising cover. The game focuses on intense fire-fights where you’re constantly needing to take cover, and the controls are built to easily allow you to peek above or lean around objects, snatching a burst of fire off before ducking back down. This adds a subtle edge of realism to the battles, as you would imagine this is how a real war is fought; with a lot of hiding and mad dashing from one object of cover to another.
This realism is further underlined with measures like weapon recoil: when firing a sub-machine-gun, it’s best to do it in short bursts, otherwise the substantial recoil will pepper bullets all over the place. Soldiers can only carry two weapons (plus a side-arm), and it’s not possible to fire when you’re sprinting, either.
Fortunately, the developer wasn’t afraid to make concessions against this realistic bent when it comes to playability. The average paratrooper on the normal skill level can certainly take a few bullets, that’s for sure.
They’ve also made small tweaks to the standard FPS formula, such as a grenade indicator. In a normal shooter, half the time you don’t see these little beggars get thrown, but Medal of Honor: Airborne has a HUD icon which pops up to indicate a grenade has been chucked, and how near it is. We found this feature very handy, and what’s more when a grenade is close, you can tap the action key to kick it, hopefully back towards the enemy! That definitely isn’t realistic, but it is damn good fun.
This is without doubt a well designed shooter, although there is one noticeable flaw in its mechanics. Simply put, some guns seem inordinately tricky to aim using their gun-sights (there’s no HUD crosshair here), and it’s not just the clunky sights that are the problem. At times, you can be firing directly at an enemy and the bullets just don’t register. The hit detection system’s definitely a little buggy in places.
The campaign is also a little short, consisting of six missions. However, they’re fairly lengthy and involved scenarios, and you’re likely to replay them as trying to achieve all the skill parachute drops, top ratings, medals and weapon upgrades is quite a compelling exercise.
Of course, there’s the multiplayer as well, and this extends Medal of Honor: Airborne’s playing time considerably with two main gaming modes; straightforward team deathmatch and objective-based flag capture.