Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: March 26, 2007
The Medal of Honor franchise has been around since the PSOne days, as acclaimed film director Steven Spielberg and his company DreamWorks teamed up with EA Games to make a WWII FPS around the same time as Spielberg's award-winning film, "Saving Private Ryan." The original games were highly regarded at the time, though compared to the PS2 Medal of Honor games, they were very restrained, technologically. As the years have come and gone, more and more MoH titles have appeared across multiple platforms, and with each episode, the quality has progressively gone down. With the last MoH offering, European Assault, EA made a lot of changes to the series' gameplay— some better, some worse. They did realize, however, that the series needed a complete overhaul, since the amount of sales diminished with each release. Thus, they announced Medal of Honor: Airborne for the PS3 and Xbox 360 — a new game that would change everything we knew about the Medal of Honor franchise. But, before that, they decided to milk the last generation of consoles for whatever they could get. Enter Medal of Honor Vanguard.
The good news is that it's honorable of EA to still support the PlayStation 2 format. The bad news is that the support this paint-by-the-numbers, generic game has to give isn't necessarily something to be pleased about. European Assault was nowhere near the same quality as the PS2's initial MoH release, Frontline, but it was still a moderately fun game to play, albeit rather short and forgettable. Instead of sticking with the new mechanics introduced in European Assault, EA has pretty much scrapped the formula of the games of old. However, the new game will feel instantly familiar as soon as you start the campaign. You may not be able to put your finger on it right away, but you'll know that you've played this game before. In fact, the sinking feeling of familiarity will overwhelm your senses, much like a dog trained to hold an RPG would, if it were standing upright and launching rockets at your head. But that would never happen, right? Surely, not in a Medal of Honor game — or would it? Hmmm....
Actually, with all silliness aside, you'll more than likely recognize the gameplay immediately, since the game is an exact clone of the Call of Duty franchise to an almost embarrassing degree; even down to the on-screen interface. Vanguard uses the same compass, the same gun sight view, and, for the most part, even the same control scheme. Gone are the original map checkpoints and your life bar, which are now replaced by the compass and star markers seen in Call of Duty, and your health now regenerates, while the screen turns red as you take damage. At its roots, Vanguard is a Call of Duty game, although it carries the Medal of Honor name instead. I honestly don't think was the best route to take, since they're supposedly working toward giving the franchise a brand new direction. This is more like a slap in the face to anyone who has religiously followed the MoH series through both good times and bad.
Aside from the blatant rip-off, Vanguard unfortunately plays more like a sub-par, inferior Call of Duty game than a competent shooter. The controls are very slippery, no matter how you tweak the sensitivity in the options, and the hit detection is even worse. More often than not, you'll have to line up your targeting sight directly over an enemy and squeeze off three or four rounds before any of your bullets will actually connect. The enemy soldiers don't seem to have the same gun sight issues as you do, though. If you're stuck in a situation where you need to peek out from behind cover to try and land some quick headshots to thin out a crowd of Nazis shooting hot lead your way, you can't stick your head out for too long, or they'll drop you like a sack of bricks. You'll also find that you're vulnerable to unexpected grenade attacks when ducking, since the on-screen grenade indicator is very suspect. Going by where the indicator's pointing, you may think you're safe, only to find out your ass is sitting on it when it explodes.
Despite how frequently you'll die playing Vanguard, the game's not very long. There are 11 missions, in total, and you can blow your way through the entire game in seven hours or less. Your mission objectives are very clichéd, as you'll mostly be running and gunning from one point to the next, in order to destroy some object or other with an explosive charge.
The final two missions are ridiculously difficult, though. You'll be repeatedly thrown into wide open spaces with enemies coming at you from every angle, and you won't have anywhere to shield yourself from their gunfire. The checkpoints are also very few and far between, so every time you do happen to take a stray bullet to the dome, you'll be set back a good 15-20 minutes. After countless attempts of trying to proceed to the next checkpoint during an overly difficult portion of one of the final missions, you may be willing to swallow your pride and drop the difficulty setting down to "easy." Otherwise, you might end up breaking a few of your controllers in a violent rage.
The only new mechanic introduced in Medal of Honor Vanguard is the ability to control yourself in the air while parachuting to the ground. You play the role of Corporal Frank Keegan of the 82nd Airborne Division, known as paratroopers, who were the first military soldiers to ever drop out of planes and parachute onto the battlefield. While it's very interesting the first few times you're able to control the parachute, in the end it feels more like a gimmick than a welcome addition to the series. There are still select locations where you're expected to land, and sometimes you'll accidentally drop into the middle of a hail of enemy fire and hit the ground as a corpse.
Vanguard also offers multiplayer for up to four players on the same console, but, sadly, it's just not very good. You're only given the cookie-cutter modes present in every shooter, with death match, Capture the Flag and the like, and there's absolutely no online play. Even if you do manage to put together a group of friends willing to play, you'll still need four controllers and a multitap peripheral to get the full experience out of the multiplayer modes. With a game that's already ailing in so many areas, giving it some online play could've exponentially raised its overall value, so it's a shame that EA opted not to do so.
Visually, Vanguard is quite impressive for a PS2 game. The opening scene looks pretty fantastic and has you in a plane over the battlefield, as the plane is torn apart by gunfire and you're sent spiraling out toward the ground. Your fellow soldiers and the enemy Nazis models look as good as any other FPS on the console, and they animate proficiently. The game moves at a steady frame rate also, no matter how much action piles up on screen. Some of the level designs border on the edge of banality, and a few of the textures here or there look strangely washed out, but for the most part, you'll really feel like you're fighting your way through the streets of Sicily and Germany. The only effect I'm not very fond of is the overuse of fog and smoke. While it does help add to the game's intense atmosphere, the PS2 just doesn't have the power to properly handle the effects, and you'll frequently find yourself unable to see or make out anything in your surroundings.
All of the warfare sounds present in the previous Medal of Honor games are here and accounted for, along with the series' orchestrated score. The voice actors are mostly passable, although there are a few that sound as if they were bored out of their helmets while they were recording their lines of dialogue.
Overall, Medal of Honor Vanguard doesn't do anything to elevate the series in any way. It's almost as if EA gave up on their WWII series after the success of the Call of Duty franchise and decided to try their hand at their own CoD game. With shoddy aiming, bad enemy A.I. and mission objectives vapid enough to induce a coma, the Medal of Honor series has seen better days. Unless you're either a WWII fanatic or you just can't get enough digital Nazi genocide, there's no reason to go out and pick up this game. However, if you're curious and have nothing else to play, you might get a few hours of entertainment out of Vanguard with a rental.
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