Picture this: You're running through an open, depressingly colorless landscape. You enter a decrepit yet structurally sound building and spot two armed men, one taking cover behind a metal barrel, the other behind a wooden crate. Immediately taking stock of the situation, you casually fire bullets at each of them. Almost simultaneously, both of them collapse on the ground, and with the very same motion, they vanish. Pop quiz: Which game am I describing? Goldeneye, the classic N64 FPS now showing its age? Or Medal of Honor Heroes 2, an FPS developed for a platform two generations N64's successor? More game savvy, or merely younger, readers have no doubt answered, You're describing Medal of Honor Heroes 2, which is a perfectly competent FPS, with one army boot unfortunately placed firmly in the past.
You'll perhaps notice I only mentioned the boot presumably belonging to a game with two feet. Well, the other boot is indeed blazing trails into the future — specifically in Wii motion control. In only a few minutes of the first level, you'll have already acquired the knack for peeking around corners, tilting the Nunchuk controller with a leaning motion; this little control technique quickly becomes essential to your survival. And, just when you become accustomed to a particular control innovation, this game throws a new one at you. A few examples, hardly all-inclusive: the sniper rifle scope magnifies when you tilt the Wiimote; the rocket launcher switches from over your shoulder to a firing position with a flick of the Nunchuk; and there are few things more cathartic than inflicting shrapnel-packed death on enemies with a grenade, tossed with your hand as if you have, in fact, tossed it with your own hand. In this way, few shooters are as lifelike as Heroes 2.
Yet not all the motion control is so well implemented. For every, "Hey, that's actually kind of cool," moment, there's a, "What the hell just happened?" to match it. Melee attacks are performed by shoving both the Wiimote and Nunchuk forward. In theory, it's brutal and satisfying, but in practice this actions often shifts the Wiimote out of the sensor bar's tracking range, consequently causing your character to fly on screen into a spinning, dizzying whirl. As mentioned, the simulated grenade toss works on occasion, though more often the only satisfaction is in the throw: Accuracy is inconsistent.
Generally, however, Heroes 2 controls better than any other FPS on Wii, save Nintendo's own titles. The way the aiming and movement controls are calibrated just feels right, and, even though you'll initially be wishing for the more familiar pastures of an Xbox 360 or Sony SixAxis controller, you'll soon find that the Wiimote is exponentially more precise than these old standbys — actually, it wouldn't surprise me if the keyboard/mouse purist broke a little sweat after watching Heroes 2 in action.
It's too bad, then, that this buttery-smooth control scheme is the only exemplary feature in an otherwise mediocre game. It's no exaggeration to say that the title feels like it was created in the N64 era. Levels are claustrophobic and confined, leading you down a single, straight path, just as the developers intended. This would be fine if the scenarios created by such linearity were cinematic and exciting, but they're really not. Instead, they feel like uninspired retreads of every other World War II shooter you've ever played.
Worse, the enemies in Heroes 2 won't be beating champion chess players or passing any Turing machine-detection tests. Simply put, they're downright moronic. They never advance their positions, flank, or work in groups; sometimes they won't even react to your presence. It's obvious they were programmed merely to fire their MP40s, then slump over in one of a few rote death animations. To offset this problem, the Nazis can take more bullets than hip-hop musician 50 Cent alleges he has survived. Head shots hardly faze them, and the sniper rifle is the only firearm that delivers a modicum of realism, yet even that's marginalized by the rifle's ability to score one-hit kills on enemies, with that shot being square in the foot.
Most egregious, however, is the lack of change in the game's enemy placement. If you die, likely due to a sudden, unpredictable rush of enemies from a magical Nazi-manufacturing vortex, your character will respawn at the most recent saved checkpoint only to find that enemies attack from the very same positions as your last run through the area. This means any problem you may encounter can be solved purely via trial and error, and the developers seem to have realized this. Nowhere is it more apparent than in a gun emplacement segment about one-third of the way into the game. After dispatching the enemies guarding that gun, you must rotate the stationary firearm and fire it at an enemy antiaircraft gun, promptly causing it to explode.
Just as that happens, numerous enemies, uniforms brown as they seemingly sprouted from the soil itself, immediately appear and focus fire on you like magnified sunlight on an ant. On your first attempt, you're by default torn to shreds. It's unavoidable without prior knowledge of that segment. That's not just lazy game design: It's an instance where lazy game design — almost nonexistent AI — gave birth to positively lethargic game design in entirely trial-and-error driven levels. The game remains quite playable, but in this aspect, it feels more like a pure commercial product than a lovingly crafted piece of art.
In fact, the only area in which Heroes 2 really exudes a palpable enthusiasm for its creation is an area that doesn't directly affect gameplay: music. As usual for Medal of Honor titles, the soundtrack is a booming, intense orchestral score that still manages to be beautifully solemn when it suits. Voice acting, however, doesn't fare quite as well. The mission briefings are acceptably delivered by a generic-sounding military type. Other than that performance, the only lines you'll be hearing will come from the mouths of your hilariously expendable fellow soldiers. Or I say, line, singular, as during their elite training, the other soldiers were instilled with a single lesson: "Keep your head down!" If you ever, even for a moment, stand up or dart from cover, the soldiers will bellow that line as though they themselves indeed use this technique which they so adamantly advise. Yes, in an instance of delicious irony, your allies frequently will run into the line of fire. Before you can even yell, "Heads up," to comically counter their earlier advice, they'll fall in a hail of enemy gunfire.
Like the music, Heroes 2's graphics are quite nice, even in their oppressive grayness. Environments look especially war-torn, and, really, the lack of color serves to accentuate the game's depressing setting. Before you get your hopes up, Heroes 2 is far from a graphical tour de force; it's not even comparable to Metroid Prime 3, much less to a high-def title like Bioshock. Characters are bland and uniform, and their lackluster appearance in such detailed environments (for Nintendo Wii) is jarring.
Heroes 2's packaging proudly advertises its 32-person multiplayer, so you're probably wondering why I haven't mentioned it yet. Well, while 32-person multiplayer is quite an accomplishment on Wii, the game only features a few basic modes (deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag), and multiplayer maps are uninspired at best. On top of that, the weapons balance is very odd — let's just say that five shotgun blasts fired point-blank aren't enough to bring down an opponent — and of course, voice chat is not supported.
The Medal of Honor series is in an unfortunate position. Today, it constantly lives in the shadow of the Call of Duty series, and it's clearly falling behind. In a telling way, Medal of Honor Heroes 2 characterizes the franchise's current plight. Just as Medal of Honor: Airborne, developed for the two competing HD consoles, tried to innovate with its parachuting gameplay concept, Medal of Honor Heroes 2 tries to innovate with its motion controls. Yet like its Airborne big brother, Heroes 2 falls short in gameplay fundamentals. If Electronic Arts would just step back the next time around and retool the basics of their level design, and enemy and allied AI, they may have a real winner on their hands. As is, though, the game is merely another "me, too" WWII shooter.
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