Medal of Honor: European Assault Review

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Graphics: 7.0
Sound : 8.0
Gameplay : 7.0
Multiplayer : 5.0
Overall : 7.0
Review by Stevie Smith
Life as a successful gaming franchise can be difficult. Yardsticks of quality are hard to surpass, and the burden of consumer and industry expectation can be crushing regardless of the final product. Electronic Arts’ opening Medal of Honor console title, Medal of Honor: Frontline, enjoyed a largely successful tour of duty across all major platforms; though it didn’t emerge completely unscathed thanks to sporadic bursts of critical flak. By contrast, Rising Sun, as both a direct sequel and EA’s second foray onto the crowded WWII battlefield, was widely regarded as an intense gaming disappointment when compared against its predecessor and the wealth of alternatives available upon release. In this case, though, the critical flak was far from sporadic, and each thunderous explosion that rocked Rising Sun was well aimed, well delivered, and well deserved.

However, wars are not won based upon the outcomes of singular conflicts. And though the poor execution of Rising Sun was perhaps an ill-advised tactical move by the commanding officers at EA’s Battalion HQ, the tide of battle had not yet turned. While Medal of Honor could no longer claim to be the unfailing flag bearer for WWII authenticity and immersion, surely any succeeding edition would be the defining critical moment and irreversible consumer decision for the destiny of the franchise.

Thankfully, EA has deployed its considerable forces with thorough strategic planning, and Medal of Honor: European Assault cunningly flanks the competition as a welcomed return to form for the long-standing FPS franchise. That said, any resulting glory bestowed upon European Assault will need delivering via the field hospital as—like Frontline before it—there are minor shrapnel wounds to be carried from the battle.

First-person shooters don’t generally lend themselves to a free-roaming environment. Indeed, today’s players are now more than accustomed to running on gameplay rails while applying the ‘one-man army’ philosophy to wave upon wave of death-hungry opponents. Through cramped alleyways, tunnels, and factories, or along restrictive jungle paths, and set-piece clearings, the Medal of Honor series suffers the label more than most. European Assault actively addresses this gameplay failing by throwing its central protagonist, OSS (Office of Strategic Services) agent, Lt. William Holt, into massive and consuming open battle arenas that admirably camouflage the linear mission structures. Furthermore, Holt is not expected to destroy the Axis war machine with nothing more than an expansive arsenal and a generous smattering of health packs. A small squad of troops (usually three) is at his disposal for the majority of the game; though, occasionally mission objectives temporarily separate Holt from his compatriots. The squad follows without question, supplies valuable multiple-point covering fire in most situations, and also forges forward (a little blindly) to whichever on-screen location the player chooses to highlight.

In terms of variety and asset, European Assault’s limited squad mechanics are somewhat disappointing, especially when assessed beside those available in the likes of Brothers in Arms or Full Spectrum Warrior. Arbitrarily sending the squad in its entirety—singular separation is not an option—from corner to corner provides substantial health coverage for Holt (the filthy coward!) but soon reduces his faithful squad to mere blood-soaked memories. There’s little chance to utilize squad members in suppressive actions while stealthily seeking to outflank imbedded enemies, and in actuality, sending the team on last-gasp victory charges are often the player’s only tactical possibility. That said, the very existence of your squad is not without purpose. Keeping them alive during missions provides the player with bonus health packs upon completion—one for each surviving squad member—though this does tend to feel tacked on to force player interest rather than inspire a genuine need for squad interaction.

Through 11 expansive missions based across four separate historic instances within WWII’s European archives, it’s Holt’s mission to track and eliminate high-ranking German officers attempting to execute nefarious plans to swing the pendulum of fate in favor of the Nazis. Though not an overwhelming number of missions, each one is set upon sprawling and open battlegrounds, all of which skillfully sidestep the cloying sensation of linear direction. Holt is dispatched to every location with core primary objectives relating to the overall narrative, which must be successfully completed in order to progress. And outside of these varying primary requirements are non-specific secondary objectives that are uncovered by accessing certain parts of each mission’s landscape. Though not a prerequisite for advancement, completion of the secondary objectives will grant a ‘gold’ assessment on Holt’s service record and directly contribute toward his attaining mission-based medals.

European Assault’s open arenas provide a new dimension of frenetically emotional player involvement to the Medal of Honor franchise and, if built upon, could certainly provide an evolving gameplay facet to further renditions. The game’s unmistakable feeling of stark vulnerability amid torrents of death and destruction is perhaps never more apparent than during the final mission where crossing perilously long stretches of no-man’s land is required before storming a heavily guarded bunker. Navigating through barbed wire, trenches, craters, and dead bodies is made all the more parlous by the unrelenting attentions of multiple mounted machine-gun emplacements, imbedded tanks, and mercilessly accurate enemy troops. The now-legendary opening beach invasion from Frontline has been equaled here—if not bettered—and, more importantly, the emotional tension encapsulated within this final mission is recurrent throughout the entire European Assault experience.

Also, freshly added to the Medal of Honor gaming mechanic is the new Adrenaline meter. Players can fill the small on-screen meter by successfully executing head shots, dispatching multiple enemies with well-aimed grenades, healing squad members, and even battling opponents in melee attacks with their rifle butt. Once full, a simple button press unleashes the stored adrenaline, temporarily blurring vision and slowing time around the player, granting unlimited ammo and also invincibility as “courage you never knew you had” bursts forth. While thoroughly entertaining to use the Adrenaline meter to achieve moments of advantage, its inclusion is both gimmicky and misplaced in a franchise that continually strives to reach new levels of historic accuracy. Sadly, EA still sees little call for Live facilities on the Medal of Honor series, which, in terms of the experience offered by European Assault, is a mistake not rectified by the inclusion of a stunted, and still bot-less, split-screen multiplayer. That’s a point knocked off the overall score.

Graphically, European Assault further reiterates EA’s gritty and battle-scarred stance to produce a visual experience devoid of unnecessary gloss and polish. From its hellish and bloodied skies to the deeply satisfying explosions and smoke effects, every detail is crafted to be apparent and complementary, yet cleverly integrated so as to never outshine the next moment of spectacle. NPC faces and speech animations are still below par considering the power of today’s consoles and the character achievements in other genre titles of this caliber, but not so heavily as to incur moments beyond flash frowns. As you’d expect with the Medal of Honor series, all in-game weaponry is lovingly crafted, from metal texturing all the way to individual muzzle flare; and artillery weaponry conveys unmistakably extreme power, especially tanks, which project an ominously lumbering weight of strength and movement.

The musical score running throughout the game swings superbly between the haunting and sublime choral pieces accompanying scenes of ravage and desolation, and the rousing, pulsating anthems driving your crusade ever forward during moments of extreme tension. The peripheral effects are no less powerful or involving as huge resonating explosions rip effortlessly through artillery emplacements, the forebodingly incessant crack of mounted machine guns track your movements, or screams of terror and agony pierce chilling moments of battle silence. The entire narrative package is delivered in an obvious homage to HBO’s Band of Brothers (as was Brothers in Arms). Each level contains a dialogue preamble from a much older William Holt, spoken across actual pictures and footage from WWII, which in turn, blends into the voice of the younger Holt before the opening of the mission. The similarities to both the HBO series and Ubisoft’s genre title are certainly forgivable, especially as the vocal leads thoroughly accentuate an already involving premise.

A.I. successfully keeps you alert during missions, and the enemy’s ability to actively seek cover and take pot shots at your position while utilizing protection also boosts the authenticity of the game. There are some moments of lunacy on display from both Axis and Allied troops alike, most notably whenever kicking live grenades to safety comes into play. Should a misplaced pineapple or well-aimed potato masher land by your feet or those of your squad, you can swiftly attempt to kick it clear rather than seek cover. This is certainly a useful addition to battlefield control, but tossing a grenade into a bunker full of Germans only to watch in horror as one of your troops rushes in after it to ‘kick it to safety’ plays out as one of the game’s more unintentionally amusing moments.

The only other point of criticism worth mentioning resides in European Assault’s relative brevity and the resulting difficulty ramp. Eleven missions, regardless of substantial secondary objectives, is too short by today’s standards (and prices), and it feels as though EA unfairly ramped the difficulty level across the final two missions in order to drag out player involvement. The frustration this promotes is further compounded by a game-wide lack of save points. Should you run out of lives before completing a mission, you’ll be stuffed right back at its beginning, and some missions can take up to an hour to complete if primary and secondary missions are your target. Though not an obvious problem on the game’s lower difficulty levels, the emergence of broken controllers, cracked TV screens, and stiff blue air may well prevail once you opt for a more expert setting.

However, Medal of Honor: European Assault is still a fine example of FPS action, successfully striking its fleshy targets more times than deflecting off stubborn armor. EA’s decision to move away from the stilting influence of closely confined conflict in favor of expansive battling proves its worth in a game of high tension and prolonged immersion. With the very success of Frontline spawning the failure of Rising Sun, we can only hope that the directions emerging through European Assault are expanded upon rather than merely relied.