Medal of Honor: Rising Sun was quite clearly a disappointing introduction to the Pacific theatre of World War II, and, despite widespread commercial success, Electronic Arts clearly recognises that its next release, PC title Pacific Assault, will have to do a lot better. Twice the game has been set back, and now even the demo has been delayed so that the mega-publisher can try and make the best impression possible. With a few months left until the game's November release target though, we're starting to hear - and, more importantly, see - some of the changes that EA's development team is ringing in.
Indeed, our best view of this so far comes today in the shape of a 67MB trailer, which features the smiling face of executive producer Rick Giolito as he walks you through the various new features and technology behind EA's "first next-gen PC product". You can download that from Eurofiles here, or, for the choicest cuts of EA's spiel and our thoughts on it, read on.
Band of Brothers
The walkthrough movie focuses on the Henderson Field level in Guadalcanal, and right from the start it's clear that technologically this is no mere expansion for existing Medal of Honor products, with an abundance of high detail models, specular lighting effects and environments and real-time shadowing to name just a couple of things. But, according to Giolito, technology is by no means the only focus of EA's extensive development effort. "The most important thing to notice here," he says, "is that unlike Medal of Honor games of the past, what you're playing is a squad-based shooter, and you have to work with your squad."
The demo begins as the player is dragged out of his bed and informed by the local CO that the Japanese have made a foray into the encampment again, something that Giolito says "happens all the time". Still rubbing his eyes (well, they haven't animated that actually), our young charge is thrust into a fight with the locals in his own back garden - darting around and sticking to cover to avoid the attentions of Japanese bullets, as his squad-mates do as Giolito says and take up covering positions and yell orders at one another.
Of course, previous Medal of Honor titles have featured scripted co-combatants, but very few of them have lasted more than a few feet, and you had little or no influence on them. In the meantime we've seen Call of Duty, which placed a greater emphasis on preserving your squad, and games like VietCong which just gave them near-invincibility, but ahead of Gearbox Software's Brothers In Arms next spring, this looks like one of the most involved squad mechanics on the PC. Typically, EA exec Giolito boils it down into a few key points - "dynamic procedural AI for your squad and the enemy squad, as well as adaptive AI dialogue".
Saving Private Ryan
"Both your squad and the enemy squad react in real-time to what's happening, the type of battle tactics being used, and your squad and the Japanese will call out tactics, what's going on, what's happening, where to go, based on your interaction," he says. Naturally it's an attempt to do away with the heavily scripted approach of previous instalments, and it's something EA reckons will give the game tremendous replay value.
Another new idea is having to worry about the health of your squad-mates, calling the company medic over to tend to their wounds and get them back on their feet. That applies to you too - there are no health canteens this time around. "We've done away with all the arcade elements in an effort to give you a more authentic and immersive experience," says Giolito. Soon we see some evidence of that, as a medic steps up Half-Life: Opposing Force style and sticks a needle in your arm. Ah, morphine.
Next we catch a glimpse of the game's Havok-based physics, as the player shoots the end off a compressed gas canister and it flies off into the jungle, smashing its way through the undergrowth. The player then dives into a firefight with a distant Japanese soldier on the other side of a mess tent, sending pots, pans and metal trays flying in the melee. And according to Giolito, the AI won't just play along with this; it will actually take advantage of these sorts of events and changes in the make-up of the environment.
Before long though, your enemies are cut down to a handful, and when they lose the rest of their squad, they race towards you screaming, bayonets aloft - a "Banzai Charge" according to Giolito, "because they'd rather die than surrender". This doesn't bode well if you're busy trying to ram another cartridge into your rifle, naturally, but fortunately the player manages to survive even this.
Death From Above
From here Giolito's playing pal races out onto the nearby airstrip, where the allies are trying to make it into the air as the Japanese Zeroes rain fire from the skies. It's hair-raising stuff, particularly when explosions send GIs flying Havok-style onto the wings of taxiing aircraft, shrapnel blows the lids of gas canisters, and Japanese soldiers are camped behind barrels taking pot shots - barrels that, obviously, you can shoot out of the way without too much difficulty.
There's a sense that the whole demo is geared towards addressing things people have complained about in Medal of Honor titles since Allied Assault. Perhaps it's just a happy accident, but then the demo does conclude on a turret section that actually looks vaguely engaging. Thrust behind the controls of an AA gun on the runway, our hero starts picking some of the Japanese planes out of the sky as they circle and strafe the planes and men on the ground. As the bullets rip through them they burst into flames and disintegrate as they tear towards the ground, and - in a bit of scripting the designers presumably couldn't resist - one flies smack bang into a wooden observation tower and smashes it to pieces.
But, more interestingly, we're told that none of this, the aforementioned tower-bashing notwithstanding, is scripted. Indeed, before long the Japanese pilots refocus their attentions - dragging the crosshairs away from the sitting ducks on the deck and targeting you instead, since you're just about the only person on the ground having a pop at them. Fortunately our resident player manages to hold his own for a while, but it isn't long before Giolito chimes in with an eerily prescient observation: "These planes are real, they're actual physical objects," he says, "and you need to be aware of the debris that's falling from them; it will hurt you." As if on cue, a severed wing cartwheels through the air and leaves our hero dead in the grass. It's a family product, of course, so there's no severed head rolling out of the camera's view, but it's a clear demonstration that Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault is doing things differently.
Admittedly some areas of the demo walkthrough - like the occasional sprite-based foliage that the player tries hard to avoid running past, and the squad-mate who gets in the way for a spell on the airstrip - look a touch ropey, and the interspersed marketing sound bites and occasional cuts break up the action, but on the whole it definitely looks like a better bet than the execrable Medal of Honor: Rising Sun. And on that basis, unlike EA's most recent Medal of Honor mission packs and titles, we're looking forward to seeing how it stacks up, and whether Giolito's assertion that it's "the most relentless and intense World War II first-person shooter ever created" carries water.
Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault is due out on the PC this November, with a playable demo due out sometime beforehand. To see the game in action for yourself, head here to download the demo walkthrough movie from Eurofiles.