Medal of Honor: Airborne review

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Poor old Medal of Honor. The game that kicked off the historical World War II FPS has been languishing in the doldrums for years, watching sadly while other series steal its thunder. The old Saving Private Ryan set-pieces have become tired clichés, and the old bomb-this, attack-that routines have grown stale. How do you make gaming’s favourite war seem new and exciting once again?

Medal of Honor: Airborne review

Luckily, Medal of Honor: Airborne has a good idea – if throwing yourself into battle isn’t scary enough, how about throwing yourself out of an aeroplane first? Based loosely on the exploits of the US Airborne regiments during the assault on Europe in 1944, each mission begins with you and your squad in a crowded plane, preparing to hurl yourself out behind enemy lines. As your parachute floats down onto the game’s maps, you can steer your descent and land pretty much where you like. Choose carefully, and you’ll land with allies to protect you or with surprise on your side. Choose badly, and you’ll be riddled with bullets.

This alone wouldn’t make much difference had EA not decided to make Airborne a more open, free-flowing game than we’re used to. Recent WWII shooters, particularly Call of Duty 2, have hinged on orchestrated levels that funnel you through a series of dramatic set-pieces. Airborne just gives you a large map that takes in a hefty chunk of a city, town or battlefield and a range of objectives to complete. Although the game throws in new missions, how and when you do them is up to you.

A game like this stands or falls on the quality of the AI, but here it’s pretty good. Your own troops have a tendency to run into ambushes, and give them support or lead them further through the machine-gun nests and barricades, and they’ll lend you a hand in return. The Nazis, meanwhile, aren’t content to sit and do the old “duck and fire” routine. They’ll outflank you, reposition themselves in cover, or rush and attack when they think you’re vulnerable.

Airborne makes little pretence to realism, but it’s probably the better for it. A system of arcade-style rewards for feats of marksmanship or accurate parachuting makes you feel like you’re achieving something, as well as giving you weapon bonuses that help make your job easier. Airborne also rejects Call of Duty 2’s recharging health system in favour of a more traditional four-bar gauge that splutters out quickly under heavy fire. This keeps the tension high, but also leads to the game’s biggest black spot. Bar a handful of exceptions, the game only checkpoints your progress when you complete an objective. Die just before you reach it, and you may find yourself parachuting in once more and battling the same sequence of Nazis over and over again. This can make certain sections of the game slow-going, but on the plus side the unpredictable AI stops the game getting too repetitive.

In terms of presentation, Airborne is right up there with the best FPS games. The Unreal 3 engine delivers detailed characters and settings, and a range of fantastic lighting, post-processing blur and depth-of-field effects.

Meanwhile, both the frenetic sound effects and surging score do a brilliant job of building atmosphere. It’s a shame the in-game physics are restricted to rag-doll corpses and that so little of the scenery is destructible. Overall, however, this is a fine return to form for Medal of Honor. Even if we’re still blowing up the same old gun-batteries and repelling the same German counter attacks as before, Airborne has found a thrilling and compulsive new take.

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