Monday, October 29, 2007

Review: Drop in to fight more Nazis in "Medal of Honor: Airborne"

I don't see anything wrong with jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. Just ask EA.

EA's latest first person shooter on the Xbox 360, "Medal of Honor: Airborne," lets players literally jump into some intense WWII action. The game puts players in the midst of real WWII battles and offers players a good amount of freedom to complete your missions. When you exit the C-47 cargo plane and fall to the ground, how the battle unfolds is up to the player. The common thread is - you have objectives you have to nail - and the final objective, you get the kitchen sink thrown at you. Basically, you can start your mission anywhere you land, which is a cool departure. Yet, you soon realize that the open sandbox aspect isn't really there after all. More on that later.

When you start the game, you do a few jumps in North Africa. Listen to the instructor - his words of wisdom will help you in combat. This was actually my favorite part of the game - it was pretty sweet jumping out of the cargo plane without having to immediately start blasting folks.

After your training, you head to combat. Your character, Boyd Travers, is a member of the 82nd All-American Airborne division. His unit embarks on six missions (Operation Husky, Operation Avalanche, Operation Neptune, Operation Market Garden, Operation Varsity and Der Flakturm), with "Der Flakturm" as the final enemy defense. You will need to eat your Wheaties on this one.

The campaigns your player embarks on are historically rooted - and the D-Day mission, called Operation Nepture, is part of the famous Operation Overlord on June 6th, 1944, so faithfully recreated in the beginning of "Saving Private Ryan."

Once you hit the ground, you have several different ways (and weapons) to complete your mission. For instance, in the Operation Avalanche mission, you land and depending on your closest mission (disable fuel tanks, destroy ammo dumps), you aren't confined and can complete the missions however you want to. The enemy will respond regardless. They are relentless and defnitely take cover. I will admit when I compare this to "Call of Duty 2" on the 360, it's much, much easier to kill Nazis on "COD2" than "Airborne."

During training, you learn how to land near the green smoke. That's a great recommendation, and it's usually a safe area. If you don't land where the green smoke is, you stand a good chance of landing in the midst of a hornet's nest. On the first mission, I accidentally landed on top of the mayor's residence. Anti-aircraft fire greeted me and while I was able to disable the guns, the fight was truly intense.

Your Allies in the game are *pretty* aware of their surroundings, but they can be a wee bit daring at times. It would be nice if the AI, both enemy and Allies, would look for cover more often, offering a real challenge to gamers.

A very cool feature in the game are weapon upgrades. As you gain experience with weapons in the game, you earn weapons upgrades. They allow the players to gain weapon accuracy, increased ammo capacities, better aiming abilities, higher firepower, depending on the rifle/pistol/machine gun you use. The more you kill with a certain weapon, the better.

Another cool feature is the ability to use rooftops. There are some buildings you can scale and snipe the Nazis from above. Some of the rooftops also lead to easier entrances into building without that much of a fight.

I think the absolute coolest feature of the game is - it's unscripted. Sure, there are some things that are programmed to happen, but no two drops are quite the same. While this is definitely a good thing and keeps things fresh, it's still not quite open sandbox. It's linear in its approach on the ground. In the air, you are in control. But when you hit the deck, you definitely have some freedoms, but it's no Grand Theft Auto. You have multiple paths to complete your tasks, but you can't go completely around the bend to accomplish your tasks. Case and point - firefights. You have to be there for the mission to proceed. You can't just land, smoke a pack in the safe zone and just let your buddies do the fighting. You HAVE to lead them. Not quite my definition of nonlinear.

I would have loved to seen a mission where Travers does a high altitude, low opening jump. (HALO). I want to appreciate the beautiful scenery on the way down to earth, thank you.

The graphics are pretty sweet. It's will definitely look good on an HD setup. The shadows are good - and could contain a Nazi or two. The parachute drops during training are visually stunning.

The sound is dead-on, and the gun sounds are killer. The soundtrack, created by veteran composer Michael Giacchino, delivers as well. The game's score is very intense and driving.

Now, the bad news. Controls are ok - there's a lot to remember during a firefight. I would recommend studying the control scheme and learn before jumping into the fray.

I tried multiplayer modes a few times (which include Team Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch Airborne and Objective Airborne) and maybe it was my connection, but the maps were 2/3rds the size of the regular maps. The levels felt cramped and compact. And gameplay stuttered heavily. My soldier ran like he was in the Fat Boy program in the Army. And it didn't help that my soldier got popped quite a few times because of lag.

Usually, I am a fan of multiplayer games, but these modes made me long to watch Britney Spear's VMA performance.

There's not a lot of WWII competition on the 360 these days and "Airborne" definitely fills the void. The joke known as "Hour of Victory" was so bad, I was rooting for the Axis by the end of the game. "Call of Duty 2" is still potent, though it's a launch title and "Call of Duty 3" left gamers with a lot to be desired.

Flaws and all, "MOH: Airborne," like the 82nd and 101st Airborne in the U.S. Army, leads the way with WWII shooters on the 360.

Why should I care? 360 owners can jump out of airplanes and blast Nazis. The only other thing that would sweeter is having a light saber to dice Nazis with.

The good: Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, sweet graphics and music score, weapon upgrades - this rocks! - never the same mission - hit the ground running to start your mission - sick training mode (this should be replayable!) - totally unscripted

The bad: Multiplayer lag, compact multiplayer levels, daring, yet foolish AI at times, says it's not linear but ... surprise! It is ... to a point

The ugly: How my plump soldier moved on multiplayer.

The verdict: 8.25 (out of 10)
- Taking it to the Nazis is back again on the 360 and it's a good ride. Parachuting really sets this game apart from other FPS on the market and really makes this game shine. On the ground in multiplayer? Not so much. Still, as long as you aren't tempted to play multiplayer, the single-player campaign is good and solid. See you at the 'Flak Tower.' (you'll have to play it to understand my message!)


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