Back in 1999, when the first Medal of Honor game marched onto the crusty old PlayStation, the notion of setting a first-person shooter amid the realistic shrapnel and mud of World War II, as opposed to the gloomy corridors of a monster-infested space station, was as close to radical as the genre got.
Since then, gritty World War II shooters have become as common as battlefield muck, and the Medal of Honor brand has been tarnished by numerous less-than-stellar sequels - including the critically derided Rising Sun. So with the likes of Call of Duty and Brothers in Arms taking the Medal of Honor template in bold new directions, a drastic reinvention of the original wartime FPS was clearly required...
Thankfully, it seems that reinvention is just what we're going to get when Medal of Honor: Airborne hits the shelves. Customised weapons, free-roaming environments and the small matter of parachutes are just some of the new ideas being drafted into active service as EA stands to attention once again.
The clue's in the title - and as it suggests, Medal of Honor: Airborne will dress you up as a paratrooper and chuck you out of a plane for the first time in the series. You'll drop behind enemy lines like a sack of potatoes from pant-soiling heights, and this shift in focus is more than just a nifty animated introduction to each mission - how and where you parachute will drastically alter the way you play the game.
"We're going for as seamless an experience as possible, from the airfield briefing to the plane, to the jump itself," explains Patrick Gilmour, executive producer of this latest MOH. "You control everything a soldier would control, including the actual exit from the plane and the drop from that point forward. From the air, you will be able to see every objective in the operation, but the extent to which you can reach them will depend upon your exit point and the altitude of the jump."
Yes, that's right, you get to choose when to take the plunge, you'll be able to control your descent, survey the area below and plan your assault even before you drop and roll onto solid ground. So on the way down, you could opt to stay with the rest of your squad for a quick regroup and then push forwards as one, or you could aim for a prime sniping spot and set yourself up to provide covering fire.
"A level in our game corresponds to a campaign in many others," boasts Gilmour, throwing down the gauntlet to other war shooters. What we do know is that you'll be playing the same soldier throughout the game, but fans of the franchise may get to see some familiar faces before the fighting stops. "You play as Boyd Travers, a member of the 82nd Airborne division", explains Gilmour. "Although we wouldn't rule out the inclusion of some old favourites."
Compared to the plonking-you-in-a-warzone-and-pointing-you-in-the-right-direction approach of old, it's hard not to feel a tingle of excitement at this new direction. Our main concern when we hear about such an open-ended plan is that it'll be a nifty idea that gets fudged in the process. Will the developers have to sneak in a few restrictions to prevent us from straying too far from a linear path, perhaps by supplying only a handful of useful areas where you'll actually be able to land?
Not so, says Gilmour. "It's entirely up to the player to read the battlefield. You can land on rooftops, crash through windows, in alleys, on top of walls and so on. The entire space is playable." We'll hold you to that! of course, allowing players to choose what part of the level they begin their mission in surely means lazy gamers will opt to land right next to the primary objective and finish it off in a matter of seconds? Again, the team has taken this into account. "The choices you make in the air will dramatically affect what kind of gameplay you get once you hit the ground," states Gilmour. "You have full control of the parachute and will be able to drop into the encounter wherever you choose - on a rooftop, an orchard, or even right on top of an enemy AA gun position."