Could Medal of Honor Heroes 2 be the first-person shooter Wii owners have been waiting for? Well, it's another World War II game, the missions are unoriginal, the levels are linear, the AI is terrible and everything is brown. So no. But for those Wii owners who aren't after a realistic, intense experience, who just want fast-paced arcade action, and who don't mind all the brown, Heroes 2 has a lot to offer.
It's certainly a lot better than previous Wii offering Medal of Honor Vanguard. Reviewing it earlier this year, Rob Fahey accused EA of shoehorning a PS2 game onto the Nintendo's console "with little thought for what the platform is actually meant to do". He described the game's control system as "badly conceived and badly implemented", not to mention "tooth-grindingly frustrating".
Heroes 2 isn't a PS2 port and it doesn't feel like one. It's been built for the ground-up for Wii and PSP. Without having played the latter version we can't comment on whether there's any shoehorning going on there. However, the version we have tried out does feel like it was designed as a console game first and foremost. More importantly, it feels like it was designed specifically for the Wii.
Shake and wack
The control system from Vanguard has been overhauled, thankfully. No longer do you shake the Nunchuk to reload - a difficult task as the Nunchuk was also used to crouch, stand and jump. Now you press up on the remote's d-pad. The Nunchuk's analog stick is used to move around and the remote to look and aim. The A button zooms in, the B button fires. There's no discrepancy between where you aim and where the reticule appears on-screen. In short, basic moving, aiming and shooting is intuitive and straightforward.
There are other contexts in which they've tried to make the most of the Wii's unique controls. Tossing grenades, for example, is done by pressing B to lock onto your target then performing a throwing move with the remote. When you're behind cover you can tilt the Nunchuk left or right to lean out and take shots. Reloading the pump-action shotgun is done by shaking the Nunchuk. It works because there's now no chance of accidentally crouching, standing or jumping. Best of all, it feels strangely cool.
Not all the Wii-specific control elements work well. Twisting the remote to zoom the sniper scope in and out is fiddly, while holding it over your shoulder to aim the bazooka feels silly. Because the remote also controls your point of view, it's not unusual to lose your bearings when you come out of a grenade-tossing or bazooka-aiming move to find the ceiling's whirling round. But these are minor issues which don't crop up frequently.
There are plenty of ever-present ones, however. The storyline (plucky young pup visits Normandy, kills Nazis) is clichéd, as are the mission settings (beach landing, U-boat docks, bombed-out village etc.). Routes through levels are linear and tight; you never get to choose your own path and you’re never left wondering where to go next.
The game runs at 60 FPS, much smoother than Vanguard, but all the environments are terrifically brown. The exception is the bombed-out village, which is grey. There is no blood and bodies disappear within seconds of being shot. Enemies are unfeasibly stupid, dreadful at taking cover and too deaf to hear you even if you're right behind them. Your squad mates aren't much use either.
There's no excuse for all that, and no denying that FPS veterans will find much to dislike in Heroes 2. But it might be different for more casual gamers - for those who haven't played through the D-Day landings a hundred times before, who don't expect cutting-edge visuals, who just want run-and-gun fun.
Heroes 2 is a casual first-person shooter, in essence. Ammo is plentiful, health recovery is achieved simply by taking cover, enemies don't offer much of a challenge. You can't just dash through every section with all guns blazing, but the pace of progress is a lot faster than in many FPS games.
If even that sounds too complex there's Arcade mode. It features the same settings as Campaign but this time you're on-rails, so all you have to worry about is killing Nazis. It's Time Crisis in a World War II setting, and it's fun as that sounds. There's a special control option for use with the Wii Zapper which is also available in Campaign mode. Our Zapper has yet to appear so we weren't able to test this out, but can report the game plays perfectly well without one.
We were also unable to try out what for some will be the main attraction of Heroes 2 - online battles for up to 32 players. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes are promised, along with six maps. There's no voice-chat support but you'll be able to issue commands using buttons on the remote. We'll be evaluating the online features properly in the full review.
As for the offline game, it's certainly an improvement over Vanguard. The control system is much more straightforward, makes better use of the Wii's unique functionality and is quite simply good fun to engage with. It is a shame some problems appear to have carried over - perhaps some of these will be ironed out for the finished version. Even if they are, it's unlikely Medal of Honor Heroes 2 will be the FPS all Wii owners have been waiting for. Some, however, might just enjoy it.