Medal of Honor: Airborne Review
Medal of Honor has been a long running staple series at Electronic Arts since 1999. It helped invigorate the first person shooter genre on the PlayStation, taking away some of the focus from Nintendo 64's amazing GoldenEye 007. The series would, arguably, hit its peak with the PlayStation 2's Frontline, and the PC's Allied Assault. Since then, the series has struggled, finding itself trapped in a web of redundancy. It's no secret that World War II FPS games have become such a commonality that gamers largely began to ignore them. For three iterations, Call of Duty dethroned Medal of Honor as the best WWII FPS out there. But now with Call of Duty moved to a completely different direction, Medal of Honor remains standing still in its era. But the difference with Airborne is that, like many other next-gen games we've seen thus far, there's a solid foundation here marred by poor execution.
As soon as you begin your campaign, you find out that level progression isn't linear. While, yes, you are confined by the tasks/objectives you are required to complete, you aren't confined in how you get to them. For instance, if you're parachuting down at the beginning of the stage, you don't necessarily have to drop down to the green smoke marker. You can actually chute down elsewhere and start your fight from a completely different placement, something I found to be a very intuitive choice in design. Now the drawback here is that when you do land and start making your way, you'll quickly find that your objectives don't require you to do anything terribly different, dropping the interest of the game considerably.
Moreover, I quickly found myself having problems with the aiming. The recoil of each gun is far too violent and prevents you from being able to land precise shots, even if you take careful aim using the L2 trigger. Worst of all, aiming prevents you from any type of movement, even a slow walk. All you can do is peak left or right which makes the feature only suitable for when you're taking cover. Attempting to get some precision when you're not taking cover will be incredibly difficult, as the recoil will still make you lose your mark, forcing you to re-center. And aiming in the game is a bit of a pain, because if you aim too slow you'll get shot, but if you try to speed up, you won't make your mark and still get shot at.
And then there's the A.I., which is just about the most inconsistent artificial intelligence I've encountered yet. From a distance, where you can't see them, their aim is pretty sharp and solid. But up close, they're about as accurate as Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles assisting each other on open heart surgery. And weirdly enough, so are you. Medal of Honor: Airborne just feels like it's way too lose, the aiming is wonky, and the recoil is a little too crazy. The mechanics need to be tightened down a bit to feel more like Call of Duty 4, and less like a 10 year old firing a shotgun and flying ten feet backwards. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but that's sort of the amateur feeling I get from Airborne. And it's a shame, because by simply tightening down the shooting, Airborne would've easily been a much better game for it.
Ultimately, there doesn't seem to be much depth behind Airborne, either. If you can muster the gameplay, then the campaign will last you no more than 10 hours, and perhaps even much less. There are six stages to play through, all of which are fairly lengthy and allow for saving in between. It's nothing terribly long, but neither was Call of Duty 4. What I do like is the ability to upgrade my weapons, and being able to carry two rifles, a handgun, and an assortment of grenades. Furthermore, unlike every other FPS game, in Airborne your health doesn't magically restore itself completely - the health bar will only fill up the last quarter depleted (similar to Resistance). So yes, health packs are still a necessity for survival.
So, the single-player stuff isn't much fun. And normally, first person shooters save themselves with their multiplayer efforts. Alas, Airborne can do no such thing. In a genre where we've got anywhere between 16-40 players competing simultaneously online, MOH: Airborne offers a measly 8. And the online community here is rather bleak, sporting just over 1000 users as I write this. Furthermore, as opposed to letting me choose a match from a list, the game automatically pairs me with one - an archaic choice to make. Worst of all, you get to choose from only three online modes: Objective Airborne, Team Deathmatch Airborne, Team Deathmatch. Pale. Very pale.
To make matters worse, Airborne falls into the same trap that so many other first person shooters fall into...framerate. It's rather disheartening that with all of the power behind today's consoles, we're more worried about bad framerates than ever before. Airborne's framerate is jerky, and the blur effect used for when you're panning around your view merely masks what's clearly there. When you aren't swinging your perspective around and simply making your way through the stages, you'll notice how choppy the framerate is. In fact, if you stop and very slowly move the camera, you'll notice the choppiness.
Framerate aside, Airborne's visuals are also problematic. While I particularly like the fact that we can upscale to 1080i and 1080p, the resolutions are fairly pointless as they only make the framerate worse. Aliasing is especially obvious when in 720p mode, but slightly subdued in either of the upscaled 1080 resolutions. Texture detail could use some love, as up close they look far messier than they really should. And character detail seems rough around the edges, missing that level of polish found in games like Unreal Tournament III and COD4. The lighting is pretty nice, and each gun shot looks quite convincing. Additionally, the lighting around the locales is also pretty impressive, and the fireworks only begin to look prettier as you progress through the game. But ultimately, MOH Airborne doesn't live up to that level of detail that a lot of EA's products are known for.
One of Medal of Honor's most profound features has always been its audio, dating way back to even the first game. Airborne is no different, as it boasts superb sound effects that make every bullet pop with aural precision, with the ability to make full use of a surround setup by featuring Dolby Digital. Playing in Dolby Digital will demonstrate the power of immersion via sound. An orchestrated score continues to play on during parts of the game, adding color to the ambiance. And your enemies will yell and speak among themselves, as will your teammates. All of that aural chaos you've come to expect out of MOH games is alive and well here in Airborne, but it's a shame that it's been paired with gameplay full of shortcomings.
It's unfortunate that Medal of Honor's decline remains intact, because Airborne had potential to be one of the better games released since Allied Assault and Frontline. But the game is marred with gameplay that features a number of annoying quirks, such as aim issues and lifeless artificial intelligence. Moreover, variety isn't a strong point, and the multiplayer is horrifically barebones and limited to only eight gamers. The audio shines through, but the framerate wrecks any chance at life that Medal of Honor Airborne had. Hopefully EA finds a way to take the series into another direction and revitalize it, because there's definitely a lot of good stuff to work with here.
12/10/2007 Arnold Katayev