Yeah, we know Eurogamer should come with a "sponsored by EA" logo this week, but it's not our fault that the US behemoth happens to make the most commercially successful games in the business. Get over it.
And with that cleared up, allow us to deliver the latest of our Camp EA reports, this time delving into the world's first playable build of Medal of Honor: Rising Sun, another spectacular World War II inspired FPS.
Medal of Honor: Setting Sun?
Comprising of ten missions of Pacific Theatre based combat, from 1941 to 1944, the game is to be released in two overlapping editions that tell the story from differing perspectives; the first will be released later this year and follows the events surrounding Joe Griffin, who survives the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour and leads the assault of Guadacanal alongside his brother Donny until they get separated at an early stage in the conflict. The as- yet untitled second edition, meanwhile, aims to reflect a different side of the conflict and puts you in the boots of Donny, post capture.
Design director for the project Chris Cross (yeah, he knows), walked us through the eighth level (out of 10 in total) of the PS2 version, which he indicated would be used as the demo before its release later this year.
Set in a Thailand jungle near the river Kwai, and the level gave a good indication of EA's intention to improve the AI, increase the emphasis on your buddies, and increase the scripted events while making the game a less linear experience than previous MOHs.
Stab my face off
In terms of AI, Cross indicated that the enemies in Rising Sun would adopt a far more aggressive "rushing" tactic than the Nazis in Frontline, and that hand to hand combat would be particularly deadly. Certainly, in our brief play-test it was well advised to avoid close conflict wherever possible, lest you get a bayonet in the face.
The aiming system - possibly the most frustrating element of Frontline - has mercifully been given an overhaul, with a noticeably less erratic and more sensitive system that while not yet in the TimeSplitters realm of slickness was nevertheless a step in the right direction.
Halfway through the River Kwai level you hook up with a pair of friendlies; an area Cross insisted has been improved since Frontline. In previous MOHs, you'd rarely build up any affinity for AI buddies, as they'd either be cannon fodder or only accompany you for brief sections of one mission. This time around, however, Cross promises the character development will be far stronger.
The Dragon's Lair of FPSs?
The number of scripted events has received a massive increase in Rising Sun, with around 300 making it into the game - ten times more than Frontline according to Cross. During our mini sortie, one typical example was the ability to push a large boulder down the side of a hill, causing a passing convoy to dramatically explode. Another section tasks the player with derailing an oncoming train by causing an obstruction on the track, and gives the team room to deliver a more cinematic experience.
Visually, Rising Sun is - obviously - markedly different from previous Medal of Honors, and the team appears to be having no trouble coping with the dramatic change in climate and terrain, rendering a dense undulating jungle environment on the PS2 with some style. Some cunning twisty turny level design has helped the LA team max out the limitations of the console, and even at this relatively early stage there were no discernible frame rate issues or pop-up to speak of, despite the richly textured environment. The backdrop in particular give some stunning views - views which the team themselves took on their trips to South East Asia and mapped into the game.
In other respects, the Medal of Honor trademark is obvious, with similar character modelling, and of course the ability to shoot off headgear whenever you feel the need. Character animation has apparently been improved with a new system that uses inverse kinetics (whatever they are), which claims to be a more dynamic, fluid system.
An 'unforgettable' Elephant riding section. Never mind.
The most obviously impressive part of the level was the Elephant riding section, which takes the 'on rails' shooting element of the MOH series to a new ludicrously entertaining level. It's certainly a lot of fun, but we're not quite sure how tolerant Elephants are to the sound of gunfire (or being filled full of lead, for that matter). Next they’ll be allowing us to use their trunks to lob grenades. Ah well, all in the name of entertainment.
On the whole, Rising Sun is shaping up to be a fine looking game, with interesting, varied terrain, and some top-notch character models. The team's research trips to Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines have certainly been worth the effort.
The decision to allow players to take different routes within Rising Sun will go down well with those fed up with Frontline's spoon fed linear approach. Although the overall path joins up eventually, there are also a series of secret bonus objectives to complete for the determined explorer. Not only is there the incentive to solve various hidden objectives, but those who venture off the beaten track can also seek out a number of secret items including a machete, a lock pick and an entrenching tool. The former, for example, will allow you to hack your way into inaccessible areas in previous levels - increasing the replay factor immensely.
Save. Load. Save. Load. Save. Load
Meanwhile, a PC style 'save anywhere' system has been brought in to replace the checkpoint saves, but this isn't something we're greatly enamoured with given that it generally results in previously tense careful gameplay skill sinking into the skill free quicksave mire.
Finally, the multiplayer mode is possibly a little on the basic side for experienced fraggers, with just the usual Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture The Flag modes present, but its support for eight players online on PS2 will no doubt prove extremely popular for a console so far starved of online FPS action. Offline, all three console versions will support four player split screen, which will also be welcomed by PS2 owners who were denied multiplayer support in Frontline. Four PS2s were linked up in the Rising Sun room, but unfortunately the multiplayer element seemed way too early to provide us an opportunity to judge its merits, with a bug making it impossible to kill anyone. Ah well.
With Rising Sun entering its final phase of development, it'll be only another three months or so until we get a chance to put it though its paces properly. But from what we've seen of it so far, it's a game that should definitely rank high on your most wanted lists.