Thursday, June 20, 2024

Replay Review - Medal of Honor: Airborne [2007]

By 2005 there was a trench war going on in the World War II shooter sub-genre. Electronic Arts' original WWII FPS, Medal of Honor which first debuted on PlayStation in 1999, reached great heights, but during its run, games such as Call of Duty stole a lot of the series' thunder. EA took a different direction with Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, opening it up with larger, wide-open spaces, giving choices to players, where there was simply a single trail before. Medal of Honor: Airborne took it one step further, offering players the chance to drop from airplanes into the battlefield.

As PFC Boyd Travers, a soldier in the Army's newly-minted Airborne division you parachute drop into combat from the air. Travers' war takes him through every major Airborne operation of WWII; his story is the story of the birth of the Airborne, which continues to help define American combat forces to this day. Airborne as a game was fundamentally about freedom and player choice. From the first step out of the plane, the player was in control of how the experience plays out. The player defined their landing spot, angle of approach, tactics and style throughout the game. It was a very refreshing difference to the single-path shooting galleries of shooter, of which many still exist today. Indeed the commitment to make a more choice-driven game required EA to change the way they designed levels, and the way NPC interactions were crafted. 

While the freeform Airborne mechanic and level design was welcome, the game sadly suffered for a near total reliance on it. The revolutionary feature was developed at the cost of nearly everything else that EA had been promising and teasing since the game's first announcement. Early reports included the inclusion of drivable vehicles (which had now been done in Halo and Far Cry) in the form of a Jeep and were so hyped up I even wrote about it here back in August 2006! Sadly by the time of release the game had significantly shrunk in scope and level size due to the parachuting preventing the logic of large enough levels that would benefit from drivable vehicles. 

The product that was eventually delivered was, in my opinion, a little disappointing when compared to both Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and Pacific Assault. I recall that I never purchased the game, I just borrowed the DVD-ROM and decided against buying it after. As I had a couple of days before my EA Play sub expired after playing STAR WARS Jedi: Survivor last month, I decided to take Airborne for a spin to try to remember why and properly document my experience.

Unlike Pacific Assault's excellent intro/tutorial, Airborne's was very poor. It only demonstrated parachuting down into different surfaces to get used to the mechanic but showed nothing else like combat or throwing grenades etc. While I certainly didn't need to be told how to play an FPS in 2007 anymore than I do now, the immersion of being in a training environment before going off to war that was so excellently captured in the previous instalments was a serious omission. The ability to chose your weapon load-out before starting a mission was and excellent feature but upgrades for your weapons were XP-based, mandatory and permanent upgrades to your weapons once earned and which for some were an unwelcome addition; especially the scope on the StG 44 forcing you to play the weapon differently for the remainder of the game!

With the exception of the first level, where you're shooting Italian Blackshirts, you're shooting German Nazi's. The problems I had with the shooting mechanics came back to me before long. Some Nazis would drop quickly but others appeared to be pretty tough. This is apparently not the case however - it was in fact an issue with accuracy, the player's accuracy was possibly coded as piss poor with some weapons and this reduced the 'joy' of shooting... in an FPS! Later in the game you also encountered a "Nazi Storm Elite" enemy, a huge figure in a black trench-coat and gas-mask able to hip-fire an MG-42! It was like something out of Wolfenstein's alternate reality as opposed to the normally reality-grounded Medal of Honor series and it was clear EA were a bit desperate at this point to include it.

The levels and objectives within them were nothing new, some were much larger than others but due to the way they were designed and the types of objectives you had (usually demolitions) each one took about an hour to do which was a long time for a single FPS level, the issue was there was only 6 levels in total. The first three levels were quite unremarkable, the fourth could have been excellent as was it was for Operation: Market Garden (with visuals that could have been from A Bridge Too Far) but instead of logically making it a sniper mission, you had to blow up a tank in the village below and kill German rocket troops up on a bridge! It wasn't until the fifth mission, in an industrial train-yard during Operation: Varsity that I felt the game opened up and was actually worth playing, that and the excellent finale where you landed on and subsequently destroyed a German flack tower in Essen, Germany were the only missions I recall playing originally, I forgot the others entirely.

Just three months after Medal of Honor: Airborne hit the market, Activision dropped Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and the rest is history. Airborne despite having a revolutionary mechanic was still a jaded WWII game with less than stellar shooting mechanics, OK multiplayer an no real story or connection to its main character. CoD4:MW in contrast is credited as one of the greatest FPS games of all time. 

Final Verdict: Medal of Honor: Airborne is a disappointing substandard experience that's really only offers any worthwhile gaming in its final two hours. While it's a good two hours, they're not worth buying the game now.

Technicals: 6h 8m playtime though EA App in 3440x1440 @ 175FPS on RTX4070Ti in Windows 11.

Bugs: Weapons would occasionally disappear from view. This behaviour was corrected by applying VSync in the game's launcher. A stuck spot in the geometry of a stairwell meant a reload. Some minor instances of audio not playing.

Availability: Medal of Honor: Airborne is only available through the EA Store for €4.99. Review copy was installed at no extra cost from a one-month EA Play subscription in May 2024.

Medal of Honor franchise:

  • Medal of Honor [PS1] (1999)
  • Medal of Honor: Underground [PS1] (2000)
  • Medal of Honor: Allied Assault [PC] (2002)
  • Medal of Honor: Frontline [PS2/Xbox] (2002)
  • Medal of Honor: Rising Sun [PS2/Xbox] (2003)
  • Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault [PC] (2004)
  • Medal of Honor: European Assault [PS2/Xbox] (2005)
  • Medal of Honor: Vanguard [PS2] (2007)
  • Medal of Honor: Airborne [PC/PS3/X360] (2007)
  • Medal of Honor [PS3 / X360 / PC] (2010)
  • Medal of Honor: Warfighter [PC/PS3/X360] (2012)
  • Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond [PC - Oculus VR] (2020)

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