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Medal of Honor: Airborne

The latest incarnation of the WWII shooter has a few strings attached

Between all the bullets and fire, the blood and the remarkably manly shouting, believe it or not there was a point while reviewing this where I was almost struck by something poignant. Almost.

Bear in mind this was before I'd realised quite how much action EA were keen to pack into this, the latest iteration of their single-player, lone wolf WII FPS... actually, packing action into a lone wolf sounds perverted. Let's just say it was long before Airborne had introduced the insane turbo-Nazis who take four shotgun blasts to the face to kill.

It was on the first level, after making my first airdrop into a little Italian town and blowing up one of the anti-aircraft guns. I was Boyd Travers, champion of the United States 101st Airborne division. I was also cocky, and promptly got my brains emptied out by a sniper. And I respawned... in the air, parachuting back down to earth again, but my objectives list told me the AA gun was still blown up.

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For a while I thought that Airborne had made a bold move - that every time you died you'd slip into the boots of just another grunt, plummeting down from the skies into the meat grinder.

I began to wonder if my reckless heroics as Travers were indicative of the way many young soldiers had died during World War II. Then as soon as I touched down in the midst of a group of friendly soldiers I heard a chipper bark of "Hey Travers! Glad you made it."

The clue's in the title. This is a Medal of Honour game, which means it's WWII lite, but this time it's... airborne. So you can choose where to land at the beginning of each level (and after most of your deaths) as you guide your parachute down to earth. The airdrops themselves don't play as large a role as you'd think.

Your speedy descent and limited control (not to mention some invisible walls) mean there's only a set circle, or 'dropzone' where you can land, and the drop itself is over in a few seconds. What's significant about Airborne is, perversely, what happens on the ground.

This is a series which has always been as linear and organised as an English queue, and when you let the player start anywhere, even if it's only within one chunk of the level, for that chunk at least you're going to have to do something different. And Airborne does, with aplomb.

It scatters pockets of fiendish Axis troops in houses, on streets, by strategic objectives and up towers, puts them behind machineguns and sandbags, then randomly drops a couple of dozen American troops down and lets God (and you, natch) sort it all out.

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Refreshing isn't the word. It's hugely satisfying to bypass the kind of fortified machinegun posts we've wrestled with a hundred times before by landing on an upper balcony or - and this is a crazy concept - going around the damn thing.

And when you've just started a mission and have plenty to get on with it's nice to steal away from a firefight to do something else when you don't fancy your chances. Which you'll find yourself doing quite a bit, because within the drop zone the level designers don't have their trademark omnipotence, so the fights aren't always fair and don't just have the odd tough scrap thrown in to keep you on your toes.

In other words, the chaos will occasionally cough up instances where victory in a linear game would be a nightmare to achieve. But this is a good thing, because we're not playing a linear game and anyone with a dose of smarts can usually figure out a way around the problem.

We've seen wide open singleplayer FPS games before, but they've never had this pace or this lust for physical player freedom where every building and every rooftop has been designed to work like a bullet playground.

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