It seems that gamers simply can't get enough of World War II. And who can blame people for wanting another chance to shoot Hitler's Axis of Evil right in the mush? This time around, Electronic Arts is, somewhat wisely, going back to the series' Frontline/Allied Assault-era roots to deliver what promises to be one of the most accessible titles in the series' eight year history.
With Airborne due out shortly on Xbox 360 and PS3, Heroes 2 caters for the Wii and PSP, and both boast 32-player online play, with the Wii version also boasting an on-rails light gun-style mode that will support the recently announced Zapper peripheral.
Due out later this year, we grabbed an exclusive interview with lead producer Matt Tomprowski to tell us more about this latest installment.
Eurogamer: Over what period of time is the game set over, and in what locations?
Matt Tomprowski: The game takes place shortly after D-Day, all in one continuous area near the Normandy beach landings. We chose to design the game in one large, focused location with a lot of depth to build on the immersion rather than have the player traveling across a lot of scattered, disassociated areas. With this design, players will get to experience a lot of diverse battlefields and war zones in much greater detail.
Eurogamer: Is there any particular reason EA chose to focus on Normandy again, as opposed to, say, focusing on a battle that's never been featured in a Medal of Honor game?
Matt Tomprowski: We've focused on creating an immersive single player campaign that features the player as an operative of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor to the CIA and the special forces arm of the military during WWII. As OSS agent Lieutenant John Berg, the player will carry out secret missions and experience the battlefields around Normandy in an all new way, different from previous Medal of Honor games. We were excited about this location and this time, shortly after D-Day, because we're able to put the player right into the most pivotal and intense time and place of the war. Given that the Axis army was at the height of its power in France and the success of the Allied invasion was by no means certain, the player's missions take on major significance in the outcome of the war.
Eurogamer: How many missions are there, and roughly how long would it take the average player to get through first time?
Matt Tomprowski: We really tried to address some of the feedback we received on the somewhat short length of the first Medal of Honor Heroes campaign, and have built out an all-new campaign that is as long and as deep as other traditional FPS campaigns found on other consoles. In Medal of Honor Heroes 2, there are seven levels that span the campaign on the PSP - we estimate will take an average player a good 6-8 hours to play through on medium difficulty. Of course, there is a more difficult setting that will lengthen the length of the campaign, and the time doesn't account for the hours of replayability that will come from the 32-person online multiplayer.
Eurogamer: How have you approached the subject matter and gameplay this time? How have things moved on since the days of Frontline and Allied Assault?
Matt Tomprowski: We are really big fans of the early Medal of Honor games like Frontline and Allied Assault, because they really created and defined the WWII shooter genre. Some of the elements that we really enjoyed from these classics were the sense of adventure and the secretive nature of the storyline and missions. Thus, in designing Medal of Honor Heroes 2, we've really tried to go back to the roots of Medal of Honor and tap into those great elements of adventure and espionage, while adding new gameplay elements and some of the gritty realism of battle that WWII FPS gamers have come to love.
Eurogamer: How are you handling the iconic beach landing sequence?
Matt Tomprowski: While there is plenty of tough enemy resistance on the beach landing to contend with, the experience is unique and follows a different storyline from the D-Day beach landings we've seen in previous WWII games. In Medal of Honor Heroes 2, Lieutenant Berg is inserted with a group of the 5th Rangers infiltrating a small coastal town shortly after the D-Day landings. So while the player is fighting alongside the Rangers against enemy troops, he also has his own top secret objectives to carry out while he weaves in and out of the frontline of battle across beaches, cities, rural villages and many other unique environments. To further immerse the player in battle, we've worked hard to improve the game's visuals over what was achieved in the original Medal of Honor Heroes. All these elements come together to create a compelling experience of one of the most iconic times in our history.
Eurogamer: Is there much of a requirement to cover squad mates, or can you focus fully on your own goals in the game?
Matt Tomprowski: While you are fighting alongside squads of Allied Ranger soldiers who are trying to liberate the area from enemy occupation, your main focus is to carry out your own top secret OSS objectives. The gameplay focus is on your objectives and goals.
Eurogamer: How do you keep things fresh for people who've played several WWII shooters in the past?
Matt Tomprowski: As a resourceful OSS operative, you'll be expected to make use of whatever equipment you can commandeer in battle and you'll come across a variety of weaponry and equipment on the battlefield. There'll be moments when you capture enemy machine gun and artillery gun emplacements (along with other heavy weapons that you get to use) to turn the tables in combat and to mix up the action.
Eurogamer: Tell us about the weapons and general combat system - is there anything new to report here, or will it go for the tried and trusted loadout and game mechanics that we're used to?
Matt Tomprowski: Medal of Honor Heroes 2 will feature the classic, authentic weapons from WWII. In addition to these weapons the player will also get to interact with some new, unique emplaced heavy weapons that really have an impact, and will also have unique abilities and devices at his disposal that have not been featured in previous WWII games.
Eurogamer: How are you handling the health system? Good old fashioned health packs, or magically recharging health?
Matt Tomprowski: We've designed a regenerating health system to allow the player to focus more on the intense action of battle and to use cover and tactics rather having to spend a lot of time scouring environments for health packs.
Eurogamer: What is the thinking behind making separate Medal of Honor games for different platforms? First Heroes for PSP, then Vanguard for PS2 and Wii, now this...
Matt Tomprowski: Without trying to speak for the entire Medal of Honor franchise, I can say that with the original Medal of Honor Heroes and now in Medal of Honor Heroes 2, we have really focused on designing and building Medal of Honor experiences that are truly unique to, and designed for the platform. We've tried to listen to what consumers have said about wanting these unique experiences for their platform of choice rather than just having one game to play that has been ported to every platform. While there are some core tenets that are shared by all Medal of Honor games, like authenticity, heroism, action, and storytelling, there are definitely great opportunities to deliver unique experiences for the different platforms like the PSP and the Wii. We agree with the feedback we've received and think that these platforms deserve their own unique game. Also, with the fascinating history of WWII, the courageous and heroic battles, the unique weaponry and the tremendous drama of the Allied versus Axis, it's a time period and genre that has many unique stories to tell.
Eurogamer: The Wii version of Heroes 2 has Zapper support we note, and an intriguing 'on rails' mode that essentially lets you play it like an old school arcade lightgun shooter. Did you decide to do this purely because the controls lend themselves so well (especially in 'Zapper' form) to the console, or because of the demands of the Wii audience demographic?
Matt Tomprowski: We are really excited about our new a new mode for casual gamers in Medal of Honor Heroes 2 for the Wii. We definitely wanted to design something that was unique for the Wii controls, and when we discussed the Zapper peripheral with Nintendo we all saw a perfect fit. We've designed the new mode like the old school arcade shooters so that anyone can pick up and play right out of the box, regardless of skill level or experience with shooter games. We feel this will appeal to casual Wii consumers and we've designed it in a way to help train and bridge them to the more traditional single player FPS experience found in our campaign and multiplayer modes. We also think the fast-paced, intense action of this mode will appeal to existing Medal of Honor and FPS fans who are looking for a "quickplay" type of mode that utilizes the Wii controls or Nintendo Zapper in a totally immersive and intuitive way. It's a lot of fun and in our focus testing we've found that people can't seem to put it down, which is very encouraging.
Eurogamer: Will the on-rails version of Heroes 2 still be set in the same locations as the fully-fledged single player campaign?
Matt Tomprowski: While the new mode shares the same levels as the campaign mode, they have been totally re-designed to suit each particular game mode, so each level plays out quite differently depending on which mode you are in.
Eurogamer: Given that the PS2 has a well-established market for light gun games, why didn't you do a PS2 version as well?
Matt Tomprowski: We wanted to leverage the experience and technology of the Medal of Honor Heroes development team and that led us to the PSP and Wii platforms. The Zapper peripheral actually only became an option much later in our development cycle so the decision to develop on the Wii was not based on the Zapper peripheral at all.
Eurogamer: We didn't hear any mention of co-op multiplayer in the on-rails version. Can you confirm it won't be in there, and if so, why?
Matt Tomprowski: We wanted to focus our multiplayer efforts on delivering the best 32 player online multiplayer FPS experience for Wii gamers. We also feature full support of the Zapper in all of our game modes, including multiplayer.
Eurogamer: The PSP version will have the same single player campaign - is that correct? What compromises had to be made to get the game on the handheld?
Matt Tomprowski: We haven't had to make any compromises in designing the levels for the different platforms. The Wii version does have unique gesture-based moments that are not in the PSP version, but other than that the levels play very similarly. There are of course technical differences between the two platforms which require some PSP optimizations and controller differences, but with a console-length single-player campaign and 32-player online multiplayer we think the PSP version stands on its own as the definitive FPS title for the PSP.
Eurogamer: Has the lifting of the PSP's CPU speed cap helped you raise your ambitions? In what way has it helped?
Matt Tomprowski: The game runs at a solid and smooth frame rate without any changes to the CPU cap in both single player and in 32-player multiplayer so fortunately we have not needed to make any changes there. This worked out well for us since these updates probably came too late in our development cycle to integrate them
Eurogamer: Does the lack of a second PSP stick cause a problem? We've had major issues playing action games because of this, so how have you overcome this on PSP?
Matt Tomprowski: We were really happy with the controls established in the original Medal of Honor Heroes on the PSP and received a lot of good feedback from consumers. However, there's always room for improvement so we've continued to fine tune the controls and to use focus testing to ensure we have the best possible controls for an FPS on the PSP and we feel we've achieved that.
Eurogamer: 32 player on-the-move multiplayer for the PSP eh? Sounds impressive - how have you pulled that off, and what modes can we expect? How many maps?
Matt Tomprowski: While establishing 32 player online multiplayer on the PSP with the original Medal of Honor Heroes was a great accomplishment for the team, we approached Medal of Honor Heroes 2 with a mindset to learn from the previous version, build on its strengths and to improve it as much as possible. With those goals in mind we looked at the online user stats and forums from the original Medal of Honor Heroes and decided to focus in on the most popular game modes - Deathmatch and Infiltration (Capture the Flag) while also adding the much requested Team Deathmatch mode. We've also fine-tuned the weapon balancing and added six all-new maps that vary in environment and size. Of course, we still support continuous-joining servers so players can jump in and out of games anytime, anywhere and we also still have super customizable server options and support a ton of online stats and leaderboards.
Eurogamer: Which development team(s) were responsible for the game, and did they have a hand in any of the previous Medal of Honor titles? If so, which ones?
Matt Tomprowski: Medal of Honor Heroes 2 was designed and developed by the team at EA Canada, the same team that created the original Medal of Honor Heroes in collaboration with the Medal of Honor franchise team at EALA.
Medal of Honor: Heroes 2 is coming to the Nintendo Wii and Sony PSP later in 2007. The game will be published by Electronic Arts.