Medal of Honor Airborne
WWII games are a dime a dozen, with new ones coming out on a regular basis. In such a crowded genre, developers have to put a stamp on their games, to make them stand out from the crowd. The creators of Call of Duty decided to take the series into modern times, an area currently dominated by Battlefield 2. Valve, creators of Half-Life, focused on an intense online multiplayer experience for their WWII entry, Day of Defeat. And EA has taken their series, Medal of Honor, to the skies.
Medal of Honor: Airborne focuses on, you guessed it, paratroopers. You parachute your way into six different levels to rid the world of Nazi tyranny. Six levels might seem short, but each one has layers and layers of goals, and all together will last between an hour to two hours on average. Thus, you're looking at anywhere from six to ten hours altogether. The game may be longer or shorter depending on if you're playing it on easy, medium, or hard.
The basic goal of the game is pretty simple: Kill Nazis and save the world. What makes Airborne unique is that instead of appearing at a predetermined spot on the map, you parachute in from above, landing wherever you please. Well, not really [i]anywhere[/i]. There are specific spots on the map marked by green smoke, and these are designated as safe drop zones. You don't necessarily have to land in those areas, but you're going to get killed pretty quickly if you don't. There are hidden spots called "Skill Drops" where, if you land on one, you get some kind of in-game trophy (I can only presume that if you land in all of them, you get an achievement). I guess these were included to add replay value to the game, as you can only find the skill drops once you're on the ground.
Once you have landed, you get to tackle the level's various objectives in whatever order you please. Although the reality is that this isn't much more than a token nod to truly open world games. It doesn't matter what order in which you complete the goals because the game won't give you any new ones until the previous batch are all finished. In other words, the concept is better than the execution.
What works better is the theme of taking the high ground. There's almost always some kind of advantage to staying above your enemy, and the levels really allow you to get to some great positions. There's almost always some kind of tower or balcony for you to hang out on and take out the opposition. In fact, if you don't, the game becomes significantly more difficult. One of the big problems with the game, though, is that long-range hits are uneven in that sometimes they'll kill the enemy in one shot, sometimes they'll get hurt but keep going, and sometimes they won't even act like they've been shot at all. This is even if you take the same shot three times in a row. The Nazis, however, can hit you from all the way across the map the moment they see you. It's an annoying inconsistency.
The multiplayer uses the basic concept a little better. Here you really DO get to drop in wherever you want, and it's a nice freedom to have. It certainly cuts down on people waiting at spawn points for instant kills. And if you survey the scene correctly, you might be able to land in a strategically advantageous position for your team, turning what looks like certain defeat into a surprise victory. At the same time, you can't stay in one place for too long, which prevents cheaper players from taking over the maps. However, sometimes you find yourself getting shot by enemies you can't even see, because they're dropping in behind you, and that in and of itself can become a cheap tactic. When you get right down to it, the new features of Airborne are little more than window dressing, made to repackage a game that EA has sold us many times before. All that leaves is the quality of the basic gameplay, which I always found lacking when compared to Call of Duty. Airborne is missing some essential quality that could put it near the top of the pack. Instead, it hangs back, content to rest on its laurels, with just a nod to the advancements made in the genre. This wouldn't be my first choice for a WWII shooter.
Perhaps part of what makes Airborne feel so middle of the road is the low-rent quality of the graphics. The character models look recycled from the PS2 games in the series. The textures are muddy and lacking in detail. It's often difficult to figure out if the soldier running towards you is an Axis or an Ally, which can get really confusing if you've landed outside of a safe drop zone. Also, the aiming is often made more difficult by the graphics, especially if you're using some kind of zoom.
If there's one thing Airborne gets right, it's the sound. From the first moments, as you drop into battle with gunfire blazing all around you, the levels are alive with sonic details. Both sides have a lot of incidental dialogue that can be heard as you accomplish your goals, and often they respond to your actions, making you feel like you're actually interacting with them. The rattle of gunfire sounds authentic to the period and in your face. There's plenty to like about the sound design.
Medal of Honor: Airbone isn't a bad game so much as it is a cash grab. EA, not a company known for pushing the envelope, have repackaged their Medal of Honor series once again, with a few new tricks that sound more impressive than they actually are. Aside from the powerful and dynamic sound mix, everything else about Airborne is thoroughly pedestrian. Rent It.