EA sure is trying its darndest to get us all fired up about Medal of Honor: Airborne, and with good reason. Parachutes have routinely proved themselves to be the most fun ever when they appear in games, and the idea of them being the focus of one gets us giddy. We can't wait to be part of one of those dramatic WW2 airdrops that movies love recreating, dropping through a sky heavy with planes and flak fire and bright with searchlights and tracer rounds. And the chance to choose exactly where you land in a freeform level that dynamically adapts to your location and plays different every time? Just superb. And then you've got the whole thing topped off with the ability to customize your weapons, just like real GIs did. So that's all well and good for the gamers who've fork(lift)ed over the cash for a PS3 or 360 or have a top-notch PC, but what about everybody else?
Medal of Honor: Vanguard is EA's answer, although it's an odd name to give something that's technically bringing up the rear. Coming out later this month for PS2 and Wii, Vanguard's going to give us the same kind of Medal of Honor we're used to, using design that's already been honed over several games this generation, plus a spattering of Airborne's features. So it's kind of Airborne, but not. Anyone having trouble with this concept should try imagining a hovercraft. Kind of airborne, but not.
Players step into the hefty boots of US Corporal Frank Keegan, one of the brave, insane or money-hungry individuals who volunteered to be part of the experimental 101st Airborne Division during WW2. Over a short opening cutscene you're given an abridged version of their story then before you know it you're inside a rickety looking plane roaring through the night, waiting for that ominous red light to turn green and signal you to take part in one of history's first mass airdrops.
The game starts with the invasion of fortress Europe. As part of operation Husky you're dropped on Sicilian shores with the task of paying back some coastal batteries that are giving your ships hell. First you and your squad have to make your way through a sleepy town while fighting the resident Italian soldiers every step of the way, which makes for a pleasant warm-up before you come to a head with the crack Nazi troops surrounding your target. After that are more airborne assaults for operations Market Garden and Neptune, before you eventually take a leading role in the final push of operation Varsity.
The key way Vanguard differs from Airborne is how limited you are as you parachute in. You come in so low, hard and fast you don't have much choice as to where you touch down, and the game's more about trying to make the most of your set landing site. For instance you could aim for a roof, behind some cover or generally anywhere that won't result in German marksmen giving you some quick and crude ventilation. You might see green signal flares as you fall which are positioned to indicate special spots you might want to aim for such as holes in the roofs of fortified houses.
After these first few ultra heroic, gravity defying seconds, you're back on terra firma and things get a lot more familiar. The truth is the parachute drops are more here to add a bit of colour to the proceedings rather than change the game significantly, and on your second operation you don't even get the chance to jump before your plane comes under fire and crash lands. The mainstay of Vanguard is pure WW2 FPS: strictly linear action fighting beside an unending stream of friendly troops and a loud, invincible commanding officer for order-shouting and door-kicking.
Speaking of yelling, a bit of work's being put into MoH's dialogue. Voice acting in our preview code is as gruff and desperate as ever, but EA says it has spent some time making sure the yelling of your allies and enemies always fits the situation you're in. It's difficult to tell exactly how much is scripted, but we did have our ass saved on several occasions by nearby AIs yelling the second they caught sight of bad guys on balconies or poking out of windows.
A feature that's hidden even better is Vanguard's own limited weapon customisation - something we didn't notice for our first few hours of play possibly due to us being rubbish. Weapon modifications like sniper scopes and clip extensions are scattered around maps and get attached to your weaponry instantly when you find them, acting as little mechanical powerups and helping to make levels a little more interesting.
Finally a collection of 4-way split screen multiplayer modes are planned, including one new idea called ‘Scavenger Hunt'. In keeping with Vanguard's theme supplies will be airdropped into the map and you'll have to get to them before your friends then escape death while you take them to your drop-off point.
If this is sounding disappointing because you were hoping for a more significant change to Medal of Honor, we can think of one solution: pick the Wii version up. As well as looking a little prettier and running a little smoother it boasts an all-new control scheme using the Remote and Nunchuk. Put simply, aiming involves pointing the remote, moving uses the analog stick on the Nunchuk while jumping, reloading, swapping between weapons, shooting and the all-new sprint ability use buttons. Throwing grenades has you bringing the remote back then casting it forward, and guiding your parachute involves gripping the remote and Nunchuk in front of you like the straps. Best of all, a quick flick of the Nunchuk to the left causes Frank Keegan to execute a sharp 180 degree spin to face whatever's behind him, a move that's absent from the PS2 version. Whether these controls will make us more efficient Nazi battlers remains to be seen, but there's just no question they'll make this tried and tested formula feel a little more fresh.
Medal of Honor: Vanguard will be released on PS2 and Wii on 30th March from EA