|Developer: EA Los Angeles||Publisher: Electronic Arts|
|Release Date: March 27, 2007||Also On: PS2 & Wii|
Game Freaks 365 was recently invited by Electronic Arts to a Community Day event for the latest in their Medal of Honor franchise for the PS2 and Wii, known as Vanguard. On February 28 and March 1, 2007 I was in Los Angeles, California to get some hands-on time with the game, speak with developers and soak everything in on a long, sleepless plane ride home. I'm not going to pronounce that this will be the best Medal of Honor ever released, and it's too early to say whether it will be worth $50. I can say that from what I have played, things are shaping up pretty well.
After a disastrous outing with Medal of Honor: Rising Sun (EA employees don't even like being reminded of its existence), the franchise was moved back to the European theater in European Assault. In many ways, European Assault was a Medal of Honor game that never really felt like it belonged. The game played well enough, allowing more freedom than ever before in a Medal of Honor game, but it sacrificed that for a more “arcadey” feel, as EA puts it.
Vanguard combines elements from European Assault and Frontline, steering clear of Rising Sun almost altogether. Electronic Arts Los Angeles is trying to return the Medal of Honor franchise a little more to its roots. As Associate Producer Joe Fielder put it, Medal of Honor Vanguard is the spiritual successor to Frontline. The game gives up open missions in favor of the more linear approach of Frontline while allowing players a little room for creativity and choice.
Medal of Honor Vanguard's single player campaign is going to drop you (literally) into the action of World War II Europe, starting in Sicily and working your way to Germany. You play as Frank Keegan of the 82nd Airborne Division. The story plays out through black and white cut-scenes and takes advantage of historical World War II footage. Altogether, you will play through ten various levels across several operations, starting with Operation Husky. Other operations include Neptune, Market Garden and Varsity.
The Allied invasion of Italy began with the largest amphibious landing of World War II on Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky. The invading forces from sea were no other than the 1st Infantry Division (or the “Big Red One”), for which rival company Activision based a Call of Duty game on. As part of the 82nd Airborne, you parachute into a port town in Sicily in the first level of Operation Husky. These airdrops have you land at various spots on the beach, changing the way you experience the level from the spot you land. Strategic drop zones will offer you weapon upgrades, such as higher ammo capacity.
One of the big differences between the Wii and PS2 versions is obviously in the controls, but things like the airdrop have a totally different feel to them on the Wii. Instead of controlling your character with analog sticks you are holding up your hands with the Wiimote and nunchuk. The concept is easy enough: just imagine you are parachuting from an airplane, holding the straps, controlling the speed of descent and angle of your landing. Moving one hand forward and the other backward will change your parachute's direction, while reversing the movement will move you in the opposite direction. It takes some getting used to, but it is both fun and intuitive.
The default control setting of Medal of Honor Vanguard is similar to Red Steel. It's workable, but it can also be erratic. Thankfully, EALA allows you to freely choose between control options. I prefer the control setting known as the “constrain view”, which limits the viewing area, preventing you from looking up or down all of the way. With some Wii games you do that and your camera starts spinning around uncontrollably. Vanguard is the first game I've played to fix this. You can also “lock” the aiming, which means your camera and gun don't move independent of each other. There are also dead zones that allow for precise aiming within a certain area without the camera moving.
The AI is more intelligent than in past games (that's not saying much though when you look at games like Rising Sun). The AI has some stupid moments still. For instance, they will run from you when you are low on health or are greatly outnumbered. Taking cover is always a must for an affective computer opponent, but they take it to the extreme sometimes. That said, some of the annoyances of past Medal of Honor games are gone. You are not going to have computer enemies spawn behind you like in the past, although they may make their way around you if you aren't cautious.
As for some random observations about the game, EALA has gotten rid of squad mates from European Assault. Looking back, that's probably a good thing, as they were often fairly stupid and could be used to clear out areas without much effort on your own part. They have also gotten rid of adrenaline and health packs. Instead you recover health by playing smart, meaning using cover and the Rainbow Six-like aiming system that allows for peaking around corners. Enemies can throw grenades back, giving an incentive to cook them, but unfortunately human players can not. While I did have a chance to play the multi-player elements of the game, I am under a non-disclosure agreement and may not discuss it at this time. I will say that I enjoyed blasting away at each other with four players on EALA's giant theater screen.
My overall impressions of Medal of Honor Vanguard are positive. I found the Wii experience to be much more enjoyable than on PS2. Not only are the controls more fluid and precise, they just feel more natural. The PS2 game is fun to play as well, it just seems like it's something we have played a hundred times over. At least on the Wii World War II shooters have the illusion of being new. There is a very good chance that Vanguard will prove to be the most competent shooter on Wii to date. The development team has had time to divulge the good and the bad elements of Red Steel, Call of Duty 3 and yes, even Far Cry. From what I have played, they have done a good job combining these elements to make a solid experience.