Medal of Honor: Airborne
To say that Medal of Honor: Airborne is the best game in the storied Medal of Honor franchise is an understatement. Airborne just may be one of the most compelling and entertaining World War II shooters ever coded. It has taken a long time, but it seems that the developers of this franchise have finally found the means to deliver the game that they’ve always wanted to create – a truly cinematic World War II game that is less about realism and focused on irrational heroism.
What that means is that one man can mean the difference between success and failure. What that also means is that one man can stand toe-to-toe with a tank, using fence posts as cover, and not get shredded to bits by the tank’s unstoppable machine guns. But, despite lapses into the illogical and implausible, Airborne delivers such a captivating, entertaining experience that you’ll be able to quickly brush aside your questioning and get absorbed into the story of Boyd Travers and the men of the 82nd Airborne.
In Airborne, you no longer suddenly appear at makeshift bases outside of towns you need to control. Instead, you begin each level by parachuting in from the skies. From there, you have your choice of where you want to land in the target area. In the opening mission, I chose to land on the roofs of houses in the combat zone, since I knew that I would be doing a lot of fighting in the streets. From my vantage point, I was able to easily pick off several Germans from a safer position, without having to worry about an ambush from behind. When I finally did drop down into the streets, I was able to help my fellow comrades secure the streets in (relative) safety.
But this one example should in no way imply that most of your fighting will take place without risk. Airborne loves to throw you into the fray and take chances. You’re often forced to sprint across open fields while machine guns fire bullets at your heels. You’ll jump into a crowd of Germans to avoid two (or even three) grenades that have landed at your feet. Fortunately, you’re not entirely at a disadvantage. Like previous Medal of Honor games, you’re still a one-man army and though you do have AI controlled soldiers running around, you’re clearly the best in your division. Your brothers in arms aren’t completely cannon fodder, but you’ll really only need them around to take some of the attention off you. They also have a nasty habit of occasionally running into your line of fire and stopping, which means you’ll waste your ammo shooting them in the back instead of your enemies in the face. This can be annoying, but it wasn’t all that common.
It can be particularly annoying if your shot is interrupted by your teammates because of the new weapons upgrade system that has been implemented in Airborne. If you continue to score kills with a particular weapon, your skill with that weapon will increase. That can mean a bigger magazine or improved accuracy, but it always means that Germans will die faster from your bullets. Even your grenade capacity can be increased if you shred enough Nazis with shrapnel. This is an excellent new addition and I was quickly addicted to improving my skills with every weapon in the game. I found myself choosing my weapons for my missions based on how much I had improved my skill, which ultimately meant that I utilized every weapon in the game instead of just a few I was comfortable with had this addition not been implemented.
And not only does Airborne encourage you to use every weapon, but for the first time in the series, it also encourages you to explore alternate routes. When you parachute in, you’ll be given the choice to land anywhere you want (though it is suggested that you land in designated landing zones, marked by green smoke). Upon hitting the ground, you’ll then be able to move through your objectives in whatever manner you see fit. The environments, while still linear, provide more alternate paths towards completing your goals as well. All in all, it makes the game feel much more open and you’re far less likely to stumble across invisible barriers that prevent your progression and ruin your immersion in the game.
Your superhuman capabilities will allow you to a few more hits than your enemies, but they can still get the best of you at times, especially in the later levels of the game. One of the last portions of the game was an epic struggle as you attempt to take control of a German fortification swarming with Nazis. Even worse, the hundreds of Nazis you’ll face per mission are also smart. When you’re pinned down, an enemy soldier will frequently try to flank you, pumping lead into your back while you were focused on shooting his comrades. If you somehow survive this, you’ll then have to worry about being blown up by tanks and Panzerfausts or ripped to shreds by machine guns. The final level was a challenging, excellent conclusion to an incredible game.
Another definite plus are the impressive graphics. This is easily the best looking World War II game on the market, thanks to EA licensing out the Unreal engine. The attention to detail is unrivaled. At times, I really felt like I was sprinting through real, bombed out European cities. While flames and explosions will certainly attract your eyes, what is most impressive about the look of this game is the sheer size and scope of the levels – each city feels massive and alive and is never interrupted by awkward loading screens. Furthermore, if you look out into the country side from a high vantage point, you’ll see actual houses, many on fire and partially destroyed instead of typical pre-rendered backdrops. Touches like these really enhance the experience.
Of course, all this comes at a price. The system requirements are very steep and even though my computer more than met the requirements, I could only handle things on “medium” settings. Airborne still looked amazing, but I can’t help but wonder if it could have been optimized better. And while there isn’t any loading when your boots are on the ground, there is an awful lot of loading before you jump out of your plane. I think it’s a worthy trade-off, but I really think some work could have been done to save players from having to stare at a loading screen for several minutes.
And while we’re on the subject of time, I also have to point out that this is a fairly short experience. With only half a dozen cities to conquer, you’re going to finish this game in about 6 hours. Inexperienced players may spend some more time with the game, but if you’re a diehard looking to get some longevity out of your purchase, I strongly suggest that you crank up the difficulty beyond normal. The desire to upgrade your weapons and to also earn medals (earned by completing missions on various difficulty levels) may encourage you to continue playing for longer, but ultimately the only real reward for spending the extra time is a warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart.
Despite my few complaints, Airborne is still an excellent game. From start to finish, I was absolutely hooked and couldn’t stop playing. The Medal of Honor series was reborn with this entry. The series was definitely getting stale and though the developers tried to mix up the franchise with entries like Pacific Assault, the results simply weren’t as good as they are here. Airborne isn’t without fault, but ultimately it’s a blast to play and it feels really fresh, regardless of the familiar setting.