Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA LA
Release Date: September 4, 2007
The Medal of Honor series has been around for nearly eight years, and for half of that time span, it was the only real contender in the World War II shooter market. Over its history, the tone of the series has changed from title to title, ranging from realistic to fantastic, though always coupled with a gritty presentation of war. Medal of Honor: Airborne is the latest iteration, and while it has exceptional presentation, the title suffers from the lack of a unified theme, much like the series as a whole.
Medal of Honor: Airborne brings to the video game world the heroism and bravery of the 101st Airborne Division, who parachuted behind enemy lines in daytime and nighttime operations in WWII to seize or destroy key objectives and to pave the way for larger Allied offensives. At the start of every mission, the player must first jump out of a plane and parachute down to the battlefield, at which point he can choose to land in the "safe zones" marked with green smoke or land anywhere else on the map and take his chances with enemy fire.
This open map gameplay doesn't have much in the way of artificial limitations; if you can guide your parachute onto it, the player can land on any surface that he chooses. For instance, in the first level, the player can land in the safe zones with the rest of the squad and continue the ground assault from there, but he may also elect to land alone in the destroyed church bell tower and snipe off enemies to help clear the way for the rest of the squad. Every map has a set of objectives that can be completed in any order, and at times, the parachuting aspect can be used to great advantage in achieving them, such as collecting bazooka parts that are spread out over various locations, including the roof of a bombed-out house. Landing on top of the house would be much easier than fighting your way through it to get to the roof.
Once the player is on the ground, Medal of Honor: Airborne plays much like a standard first-person shooter. The player has a fairly standard array of actions he can perform, such as sprinting, using and cooking grenades, using your weapon to melee an opponent and aiming down the gun's sights. When playing on the normal or expert difficulty levels, the title plays out much like a realistic shooter that rewards taking cover and methodically moving up over blindly running and gunning.
The player has the impressive ability of leaning and altering his stance height while aiming down the gun sights. Moving the left stick to the left or right allows you to lean only as much as you want to expose yourself and see your target, while moving it up or down allows you to crouch down lower (if already crouched, it allows you to stand up a little bit or get down even lower, to a nearly prone viewpoint). The player can still move forward at a walking pace by pressing the key assigned to the sprint function while aiming, allowing him to move up and still keep his gun at his shoulder.
At the start of every mission, the player can choose his weapons loadout, and the choices available expand from mission to mission. Players can equip three weapon slots, two for primary weapons and one of the game's two pistols. The primary slot choices range anywhere from Allied to Axis weaponry, BAR automatic rifles to shotguns and MP40 submachine guns to Kar98k bolt-action rifles. As the player uses any weapon, he gains experience with it, and at three intervals of experience, the weapon gains an upgrade such as a faster reload speed, higher damage rounds or accuracy increases.
The first five levels of the six that comprise the single-player campaign are some of the best that the genre has seen thus far; the gameplay not only fully embraces the open map and game mechanics, but it also stays at an aggressive, yet not overbearing, difficulty level. The sixth and final level, however, revolves around a fictional airborne assault on one of the various Nazi flak towers. At the outset, it forces the player to land on the roof or the ground and complete the rest of the level in a largely uninspired corridor-shooter fashion. Also featured in the last level are the Nazi Storm Elites, soldiers who wear nothing more than a Nazi officer's uniform, fire MG42s from the hip with perfect accuracy and shrug off a direct rocket hit and multiple headshots. Medal of Honor: Airborne has never called itself realistic, but when the player goes from fighting in a quasi-realistic setting in the first five-sixths of the title to fighting Nazi super-soldiers in a dimly lit environment, one wonders if the development of the final level was passed off to a different design team who was completely unfamiliar with the game.
Medal of Honor: Airborne supports multiplayer matches with up to 12 players over Xbox Live (and online for PC) in either objective-based or capture the flag modes of play. Much as in the single-player campaign, the Allied forces parachute onto the battlefield, and combatants on both sides gain experience with their weaponry. A player's weapon experience level in multiplayer is separate from the single-player statistics, but like the experience does carry over from match to match. Players also gain ranks indicative of their skill, but the multiplayer mode suffers from being fundamentally unbalanced. While the Allied players can parachute onto rooftops and into any area of the map, the Axis troops always spawn in one of a handful of areas and have no means of getting onto the same rooftops or perches. Realism aside, the multiplayer in Medal of Honor: Airborne seems woefully tipped in the favor of Allied players.
Presentation is one area in which Medal of Honor: Airborne absolutely shines. Graphically, the game is a powerhouse that makes battles seem completely chaotic thanks to impressive explosion, smoke and debris effects. When the player sprints, the camera enters a slightly blurred shaky-cam state that only adds to the hectic feeling as you run from cover to cover, and the viewpoint realistically shifts as the player lands from parachuting and begins to unbuckle his parachute and harness. The music and sounds are mixed together very well, with music taking a back seat to the sounds of gunfire in normal combat, yet swelling when the action reaches a cliffhanger moment.
The attention to detail in the presentation is apparent throughout even the more mundane aspects of Medal of Honor: Airborne. Gunfire sounds realistically muffled and ethereal when heard from across a level, and jarringly loud and imposing when you're within a few feet of it. Before every level, the player sits through a quick briefing detailing the objectives, at which point he can listen to the quality voice work and look around the tent to observe the detail on fellow Airborne members. Dust floating around the room is even illuminated by the projector beam. Riding on the plane at the very start of a mission is a loud and chaotic affair even when the plane isn't taking fire from direct shrapnel hits, which makes the sudden transition to the quiet serenity of parachuting out of a plane quite startling.
Medal of Honor: Airborne is what one would expect of a cutting-edge World War II shooter. The title has great gameplay and presentation, but the issues that plague it — the sudden inclusion of out-of-place enemies and the woefully unbalanced multiplayer portion —tend to drag down the overall enjoyment level of an otherwise spectacular game. The enjoyable parts of the title ultimately do outweigh the questionable ones, and in spite of its flaws, Medal of Honor: Airborne is one of the more compelling shooters released in recent memory.
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