Medal of Honor: Allied Assault Breakthrough
Less of a 'breakthrough' and more of a 'breakdown', really.
Even though we only saw them moving for the first time in May, it won't surprise too many people to learn that Medal of Honors Rising Sun and Pacific Assault are already flying in like a couple of kamikaze pilots on a collision course with the top of the charts. With that particular sales explosion something of a formality, it seems odd to be reporting on the release of a second mission pack for the game that started all this nonsense - Allied Assault - and yet here we are. Thrust into the virgin arms of TKO Software, MOHAA Breakthrough abandons Northern Europe in favour of a trek across the sandstorm-swept Kasserine Pass in North Africa, followed by a botched landing in Sicily and a final confrontation at the battle of Monte Battaglia in the heart of Italy. Four levels each, all MOH clichés present and correct sah!
By now, Medal of Honor has taken on a very specific shape, and despite a couple of vague improvements and one valiant stab at something different, TKO's autumn expansion doesn't do much of anything exciting. Beginning in Tunisia, the North African campaign has Rommel on the run, and this time it's the job of US Army Sergeant John Baker - the latest in a series of muted MOH superhero soldiers with advanced healing powers - to tear around the deserts, rocks and bunkers of the Kasserine Pass shooting at Jerry.
The composition is entirely unsurprising. We're briefed on the back of a jeep as it flies through a sandstorm into battle, and then without much ceremony we're kicked into a swirling sea of orange with a rifle and a compass and forced to crawl from crater to tank trap. As with every MOH game so far, we face Nazis with superhuman vision picking us out of the storm, even though we can barely see beyond the end of our guns.
Fortunately, after staggering around for a bit in the fairly well realised sandstorm, hunting enemies based on where their bullets came from and collecting some of the numerous water bottles to top up Baker's health bar, we're then let loose on a German tank. By pressing E, the view is transplanted to just above the barrel of the cannon, allowing us to drive around with the left hand and turn and fire the gun with the mouse.
But unlike Halo or BF1942, the vehicles in Breakthrough feel sloppily implemented. The controllable tank - and latterly AA guns - pack such a wallop that we assume we'll be able to take out swathes of troops with splash damage alone, and yet apart from a few scripted exceptions throwing up sand or toppling trees, the environment buckles for nobody, and infantry actually proves more troublesome than armour. Back to Tunisia, and we're out of our tank almost as soon as we're in it, clearing out a few dugouts and then dodging Panzerschrecks on the way up the road to safety. Same old, same old.
Sun, sea and sand
The rest of the African missions pilfer different MOHAA templates, but still the disappointment reigns. There's a convoy section, in which a mine-clearing tank needs to be guarded by your trusty sniper rifle as it trundles through the rocks, followed by a quick trip into a standard issue German bunker - deep and ready to receive your explosive payload. Then there's a mission across a canal to rescue some bally British POWs and secure a fort with them, only to have it overrun shortly afterward. After that, it's a quick trip through town with an undercover agent to fetch some uniforms, and then lots of pressing 7 to wave your papers during an excursion aboard an anchored German boat.
Although the settings and scripted events work slightly different angles in Sicily and subsequently Italy, Africa really sets the tone for Breakthrough, with far more lows than highs. That said, we were fairly impressed at one point towards the end of the fourth mission when our explosives seemed to go off before we could escape the ship - only for us to stop throwing our hands up in disgust at the lack of warning, and discover we'd woken up again with the ship on its side and the whole thing thrown into an awkward perspective. Ducking through half submerged corridors climbing over piles of boxes with the walls as floor and ceiling, before eventually hauling ourselves up some rigging and onto the side of the listing vessel was a definite highlight. But this was a massive break from the norm. And all it did was remind us of the Pearl Harbour section of Rising Sun, which we'd much rather be writing about.
Shot from behind
Far more representative was the maddening rooftop dash with sympathiser Klaus on the way to fetch some uniforms. Having dodged a couple of Nazi patrols on the street, Klaus and Baker are spotted and pursued through a house and onto the rooftops. Caught in the open, we run into a locked door, which Klaus apparently needs 30 seconds to open. Faced with an endless stream of pursuing guards, it seems obvious which way to face, only for a couple of grenades to come soaring over our heads from a balcony behind us a fraction of a second later.
Yes, in the strongest tradition of unfair FPS levels, this one has us facing an endless barrage of machine gun fire on one side and unstoppable grenade-chuckers on the other. As it's impossible to get rid of live grenades once they've been thrown, and Klaus takes just one explosion to die, this rapidly degenerates into a quick save/quick load marathon, and in the end we got so fed up of running out of ammo we spent a good 45 minutes replaying the preceding section to make sure we had the largest amount possible. And of course in the absence of any new AI algorithms, TKO's implementation of difficulty levels is restricted to giving the player virtually no supplementary ammunition, so this proves harder than it should be.
Lots of effing and blinding later we're onto Sicily, and although we can't speak for Baker and he makes very little effort to speak for himself, we're already bored and frustrated to the point of giving up. Perhaps the "Breakthrough" they're referring to is more to do with the scissors we're trying to lodge in our windpipe?
Infinity welcomes careful soldiers
Persistence proves fairly fruitless. The Italian levels follow a similar template to those we've already seen, forcing us to destroy a series of AA guns, take up an on-rails shooter and frame the allied victory of Monte Battaglia in spent shotgun cartridges. Within about seven hours of first installing Breakthrough, we've vanquished the game for good. And although some will complain that seven hours is a bit less than the 12 EA promised, we're just glad it's over.
With the war done and dusted and our medals shining happily on the wall though, it would be harsh to say that Breakthrough is a bad game. The level design is pedestrian by the series lofty standards, but there are a couple of additions and clever ideas at work here, and fans of Allied Assault simply wanting for more of the same will have no complaints.
But having tasted the fury of Infinity Ward's Call Of Duty, with its adaptive, intelligent AI enemies - and squad mates - and its brighter, more vibrant and expressive visuals, Breakthrough just feels like a waste of time. Enemies strafe the can-can as they reload weapons, and make little or no effort to seek cover unless their scripting says so, whilst allies are thicker than a bunch of lobotomised village idiots.
A losing battle
What's more, it still looks like MOHAA and the Quake 3 technology is ageing fast - best personified by shadows painted on the walls in Tunisia and hilariously inorganic animation. The menus are the same, and the stuttery wartime footage between chapters is unremarkable and filled with all sorts of unintentional irony - stuff about "the days that lay ahead" when "men will speak with pride of our doings". Unlikely.
And finally, as with Spearhead, EA is promoting the "enhanced" multiplayer offering, which you can try for yourself thanks to a 204MB demo version. The main change here is Liberation mode, in which defeated players must be rescued by surviving team-mates to continue. That's right, MOHAA robs classic Quake mod Jailbreak. We somehow doubt this will save it.
Of course the extra artillery strikes, minesweepers (with their funky metal detectors) and various vehicles will make some difference to the multiplayer game, but we can't imagine anyone choosing to play this online instead of the vastly superior Battlefield 1942. If you absolutely must be press ganged into EA's battle, then do at least go for a proper Battlefield.
Dodge the draft
It may seem like we're merely tired of Medal of Honor at this point, but that's really not true. But what Allied Assault and Frontline had that Spearhead and Breakthrough seem less concerned with is the feeling of a battle raging all around you. Fighting up the beaches into France with men dying all around you and bullets flying everywhere becomes a larger push into the heart of Europe, and it feels like war. In contrast, Breakthrough's trek to Italy almost feels isolated and distant.
Whether it's the less recognisable conflicts, the repetition of the same objectives with a different palette, or something else entirely, the significance of your actions seems to have dried up. And Baker's zombified soldier isn't about to conjure a Hollywood touch and keep you interested.
As you can tell by all the advanced coverage we gave it, and the size of this 'ere review, we really wanted something more out of MOHAA before we kissed it goodbye and made our way to the Pacific front, but instead we're faced with more of the same. Nothing exciting, then: just another short, sharp and fairly unremarkable trip to the lines. One for fans, and patriotic Americans. The rest of you should wait for Pacific Assault.