Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault
This is the third time Iíve tried to write this review. This either means that Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault (Pacific Assault from here on out) is a very challenging game to review or that the nasty cold/sinus infection that I have is reducing my already limited attention span to new, all-time low, making it hard to focus on writing. Iím voting for the latter. Pacific Assault is certainly an interesting game, no doubt about it. Pacific Assault is definitely better than its console counterpart, Medal of Honor: Rising Sun, and it does a lot of things well. But while it does do a number of things right, when it does get something wrong, it gets it really, really wrong.
The Medal of Honor franchise has always been known for its scripted, linear action, so if you donít like that, stop reading, you arenít going to like Pacific Assault, because in that sense this game is just the same as all previous versions. You might have read that Pacific Assault is different than the other games, but even with a few tweaks, it is still all about triggered events and you are still a one-man-army. Of course, if you like all the other Medal of Honor games (like I do), thereís a lot to love with this one. Itís more of the same game, but itís bigger and feels more involving because strides were made not to reduce the linearity of the game but to hide the linearity of the game.
For those unfamiliar with the background of this game, Pacific Assault is a first-person shooter in World War II. Now, I suppose I should be more specific, because at this point, everyone and their mother (oh man, such a crappy line, ďeveryone and their motherĒ) has played a first-person shooter set during World War II. Pacific Assault is quite ironically (the irony here is that it isnít ironic at all) set in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Not many games have done that. In fact, (as far as my memory goes back) this is one of the first games to feature the Pacific Theater and Iím not really sure why. This was Americaís war. We were attacked when we had our backs turned and fought not for moral reasons or because it was the right thing, we fought for revenge. Christ, we dropped atomic bombs on them in retaliation. Thatís how pissed we were.
But enough small talk, lets get on with this reviewÖ
In Pacific Assault, you play as Tommy Conlin, a fresh marine whoís just been stationed at Pearl Harbor. The game opens with a quick drive-around the base, getting a tour of the place and meeting up with some of the locals. Everyoneís having a grand old time. But we all know what happened at Pearl Harbor, and it just so happens that Tommy arrives on the day we now remember as Pearl Harbor Day.
As Pearl Harbor is getting the crap kicked out of it, Tommyís superior officer decides that it is probably best that Tommy get somewhere safe so he doesnít die. No wait, thatís not right, he tells Tommy to get on one of the sinking boats thatís being attacked by Japanese planes. My mistake. So your first job as Tommy is to get aboard one of the sinking ships in the harbor to rescues some seamen. Most of the rescuing requires you to find someone who is hurt or injured and bring them to a medic who is usually about 30 feet away and not doing anything, making you wonder the whole time why the medic just couldnít go get them without involving you at all.
This fetching of wounded soldiers below the deck comprises most of this mission, and it isnít fun, at all. You finally get to leave the innards of the ship and go topside after about 15 minutes of carrying around a bunch of useless guys, and then the game gets impressive. Youíll man a couple of guns and youíll be shooting down planes while the gameís particle effects engine delivers stunning explosions and smoke as far as the eye can see. And thenÖ.
Just like that, the whole mission is abruptly over.
We donít meet up with Tommy again until after the Battle of Midway. We find out through narrated letters to his mother and father that Tommy misses his family a whole heck of a lot but heís making a new family of men he is fighting alongside. Weíre introduced to all of these characters through cutscenes describing them, but honestly, the only one that youíll ever care about is the medic, because while youíre fighting, heís going to be the one keeping you alive. Sure, the other ones will do their part, shooting at and occasionally killing an enemy, but the medic is the one that is most important. See, the developers of Pacific Assault pretty much did away with the whole medkit idea (all of about ten exist in the game) and instead make you rely on the medic for all your healing needs. He can heal you up on the fly when you call for him, but to keep it balanced he only has a few sets of bandages to heal you with, so you have to ration them out to yourself.
The new squad elements really donít add all that much to the game. You can issue simple commands to them, telling them to go forward or retreat, but I donít think I ever needed them once because theyíll follow you everywhere you go even if you donít order them to. They really canít shoot worth shit; youíll end up doing a lot of the killing and itís always you they send on the most dangerous solo-missions. However, the squad mates joke around with each other and talk about girls, so it adds a sense of realism to the game that wouldnít be there if it were just Tommy alone in the jungle, all Rambo II-style (which is a movie that does not mess around and is quite awesome, might I add).
The squad bantering back and forth is about as realistic as it gets though. Tommy is still the ďspecialĒ soldier that will always be the one to brave Japanese fire on the battlefield to rescue a wounded soldier and heíll always be the one who winds up with the most challenging assignments. Some of these tough assignments include having to shoot torpedoes out of the water that are about to strike the ship youíre on and another includes flying an airplane and taking out some Japanese targets. The torpedoes mission was a blast, no pun intended. The airplane mission, well, that almost ruined the game for me.
The airplane portion of the game is absolutely indescribably bad. I take notes while I write my reviews, and most of my notes on this section of the game are filled with expletives that I canít include in a review. Hereís my attempt at describing it, so please, bear with me. Though you play as a marine, during a brief moment of rest and relaxation, Tommy was taught how to fly a plane. So, when youíre on your way to Tarawa Attol for the final portion of the game and your pilot bails during an attack, no one even thinks twice about letting you handle the plane or fight with it. Now, I would think that since Tommy isnít in the Air Force and he has the least flight experience that theyíd have him stay in the back and theyíd defend him, but no, they make you fight.
Dog-fighting sucks ass in this game. The entire sequence takes place in first-person, even though it very obviously would be more playable in third person. Instead, youíre stuck inside a cockpit, forced to look out an extremely small window thatís surrounded by tons of useless gauges and random metal. Of course, since youíre a jack-of-all-trades, Tommy is told to bomb targets on the ground and to take out ships in the sea. Again, why the hell they would make a guy who has hardly any experience behind the stick of an airplane do all this is beyond me, but well, here you are, bombing boats and shooting random ground targets.
I died a good 20 times or so during these four objectives. I could seriously write three pages of complaints about it, but I donít want to whine. Take my word for it, it blows, and it blows to the point where I almost wanted to stop playing. Sadly, this isnít the only time Pacific Assault does this. Though the game only consists of four levels (Pearl Harbor, Makin Attol, Guadal Canal and Tarawa Attol), you are given a lot of objectives and they all take place at different times of the day. One sequence during the Makin Attol level has you sneaking through a jungle at night time and there are snipers in the trees. Since this is World War II, you donít have any neat gadgets like night vision, so basically you have to let them shoot at you because thatís the only way you can see where they are. This is a ridiculous ďstrategy.Ē
These missions are my main reason for taking so many points away from the overall score of Pacific Assault. There are more than just the previously mentioned objectives which just plain suck, and for some reason they seem to comprise a sizeable portion of the game. The sad part is that Pacific Assault, underneath these terrible objectives, is really a good game. The fighting is fantastically entertaining, and the big-explosion scripted gameplay is really engrossing, but thereís always a cruddy mission around the corner just waiting to ruin your day.
At least I canít complain about the graphics. The character models are pretty nicely animated, and the new Havok physics make for some realistic dead bodies. One of the things I found to be most impressive is how real the jungle feels. As you creep along through foliage, bugs make bug noises, branches rustle, and you really feel like you can get lost. Lots of side-paths are laced throughout the jungles, so it feels like thereís a lot more to explore than there really is. Accompanying you along your travels is an impressive orchestrated score and some solid voice-overs complete with war-era dialogue.
Pacific Assault will turn heads because of its fancy graphics and original settings, but inevitably itíll frustrate you beyond belief for a few game ruining missions. Itís by no means a bad game; itís just hampered by some truly poor gameplay decisions that should have been taken care before the game was ever pressed. As it stands, Pacific Assault delivers lots of great action, but it just canít overcome its flaws.
Now, letís hope I get over this head cold sometime soon, eh?
Six out of ten