They say that E3 is always a crap place to get a good look at a game, but my time with Medal of Honor Airborne takes this to a new extreme: I can't actually pick the enemies out from the scenery. Such is the depth of rubble, and the density of similar colours on the textures that wrap the fallen tiles, halves of bricks and half-buried window frames, that I have to put on my glasses to spot the German movements further up the street. It's absolute chaos. A few seconds later I'm dead. And then it's back in the aeroplane for another attempt.
Airborne's headline feature is that you start off in the sky, parachuting into the level, and that this lets you approach missions however you like. Obviously, then, if you die before you've completed any objectives, you respawn in the plane and try again. It's a key distinction, because the death-rate can be quite high if you're gung-ho, or a poor judge of enemy concentration. In a sense, it also mitigates against the usual agony of death; here, if you're confident of your plan, you can target the same landing zone with a renewed vigour, but if you're sure you'll just die again you can try something different.
Feeling I was somewhat in the latter camp, my second attempt (glasses locked on), sees me arcing toward a cluster of rooftops. As I descend I can glance quickly over the city, which is vast, and struggles relatively little with the amount of fully formed houses, bridges and town squares it's rendering - so much so that it's hard to believe that Unreal Engine 3, king of the corridor shooters, is pulling levers behind the scenes. Anyway, I skid across the tiles of a church or something similar, which towers in partial ruin over a Nazi-infested street. Presumably a man with a giant bedsheet strapped to his back landing smack bang in the middle of a bright red roof is slightly conspicuous though, because in my exposed state I'm dead again pretty quickly.
The next time I benefit from a bit of instruction from the developer. The game separates hot-zones and safer areas on your mini-map, which also indicates objectives in yellow, and enemy troops in red. Targeting a safe zone proves to be the trick, guaranteeing a certain amount of reinforcement on the ground. Hotter areas have put me under fire from ground troops, or sprung me into buildings infested with difficult-to-see Nazis. I even had rockets fired at me. Not so here. Another benefit to this attempt is being shown how to land properly, cutting my chute smoothly just before my feet hit the ground so I can be up and running, gun-in-hand, rather than tumbling and then having to get my head together before taking full control.
Levels progress in as linear a fashion as your entrance suggests - that is to say, they're completely freeform. Your objectives can be tackled in any order, and enemies will continue to reinforce those areas for as long as they're not completed, eliminating the older feel of simply having to clear the area and then running around vacuuming up health and ammo-packs before moving on unopposed. Indeed, AI is described as much less scripted than in past Medals of Honor. It's hard to discern exactly how clever it is in a few minutes of play during a crowded E3 showcase (not least given that it was opposite the Rock Band stage), but on one occasion I could swear a pack of Germans attempted to draw my troops into an alleyway. They also attempt to retake positions, we're told.
The other thing about your in-game objectives is that you might not be strong enough to capture them at the first time of asking. You may need to reconsider your pre-level weapon load-out (two main weapons and a side-arm), or simply focus on other objectives to accumulate reward points to upgrade your kit. Upgrades will do things like reduce the amount your SMG's barrel leaps up with each shot. Weapons in general seem to have benefited from more thought, too - the sniper rifle, for instance, now involves squeezing the trigger to stabilise your shot before pulling it the rest of the way to release the bolt. And you thought your digicam skills would go to waste.
Meanwhile, if you get shot (I do - I get shot all the time), you quickly learn that the health system is similar in some senses to Resistance: Fall of Man, with four bars that individually regenerate if they're only partially dented, but disappear completely if taken the whole way down - necessitating the acquisition of a good old-fashioned health-pack.
Interestingly for an E3 demo, the producers are happy to discuss other elements - that it's made up of campaigns like D-Day, an Italian rescue operation and a mass airdrop into Germany at the end, for instance. But most curious of their reveals is what happens in the final mission, Der Flakturm. Flakturme were concrete fortresses designed to stop the Allies gaining aerial control of certain cities, and, if you believe Wikipedia, were effective enough that the Russians didn't bother trying to attack them at all and simply beat the rest of the town up before sending an emissary round later to negotiate the occupants' surrender. Not that you'll be doing that in Airborne, mind. For a start, you're an American called Boyd Travers. And for a second (or maybe an 82nd - ho ho), you'll get to assault one instead, either landing on top of it or falling into the streets around and having to overcome masses of sniper fire on your approach.
In many senses the same, then, Medal of Honor is nonetheless refreshed by its Airborne evolution. With the full game due out in September, it won't be long until we know whether it's refreshing, too.
Medal of Honor Airborne is due out on PC and Xbox 360 this 7th September, with a PS3 version currently to-be-dated.