In the world of WWII shooters, it’s hard to stand out from the pack. In fact, at this point many gamers loathe anything even related to WWII, save for grandma and grandpa. To combat gamers” WWII fatigue, EA has introduced a new element in Medal of Honor Airborne: the ability to parachute into the battlefield and thus determine where your level begins. This freedom is a nice new addition, and it’s generally quite a bit of fun, because players can determine the challenge of their experience simply by selecting which objective to tackle first. The open-ended gameplay takes a much more linear turn, though, once the paratroopers actually hit the ground.
Before each mission, players receive a well-produced briefing that highlights the various objectives and enemy strongholds in the landscape at hand. Most games use this type of sequence to hide a level-loading screen, but in Medal of Honor Airborne it actually serves a purpose. By identifying the objectives and enemy locations via a top-down map, players can determine the order in which they want to attack the level. Then, after jumping from the C-47 aircraft, players can maneuver their parachute to the appropriate location and carry out their strategy.
Anti-aircraft fire and spotlights are just a few of the minor obstacles players must avoid in the air, and as their chute gets closer to the ground, enemies themselves will occasionally look up and open fire. For those who are sadistic and curious: yes, it is possible to land on top of an enemy. Landing on rooftops is also an option, and in some cases that strategy opens up new paths to certain objectives. But by and large, once the paratrooper hits the ground, things get much more linear than the air-drop sequences.
Each level spans an area equivalent to dozens of city blocks, and the number of alleys, rooftops and open spaces would seem to indicate massive battles with multiple paths to the next conflict. But going from one objective to the next is often a point-a-to-point-b experience, which is ironic considering the full freedom of that initial drop. Doors on buildings are locked. Many streets have dead ends and impassable objects. It’s fully understandable that opening an entire level would take massive processing, artistic and rendering resources, but the level design often involves more handholding than we had anticipated seeing.
Fortunately, the weapons-upgrade system adds a bit of variety to the otherwise-standard first-person-shooter fare. Rather than just being able to pick up enemy weapons, Medal of Honor Airborne also lets players boost every weapon’s power, accuracy and functionality based on the number of times it’s used. For example, players find a sniper rifle early in the game, and it starts out like a glorified pea-shooter. But the more enemies a player kills with the rifle (or any other weapon), the more they fill a meter on the right-hand side of the screen. This meter is much like a leveling-up bar in a role-playing game, and once the meter maxes out, the gun gains power, accuracy or functionality. In turn, each gun can “level up” several times, so by the end of the campaign, players can really dish out the pain.
This rewarding weapons system is somewhat necessary, because the enemy AI in Medal of Honor Airborne is phenomenal. Enemies actively seek cover, lay suppressing fire for their mates, rigorously seek turrets and, when cornered, have no problems unleashing a few brutal melee attacks. And that’s just on “Normal.” Suffice it to say, this is not a game for casual gamers.
Taking the game online also provides a few new experiences as well, mostly due to the game’s open-ended airdrop mechanic. Normally gamers hear “Team Deathmatch” and “Objective-based modes” and set their expectations accordingly. Not so with Medal of Honor Airborne. This time around, Allied troops begin each deathmatch game by jumping into the level from above, basically eliminating the spawn-camping habits of many online gamers and introducing a new element of surprise. This goes for the objective-based mode as well, as gamers fight for control of three flags by dropping into the level from on high. These things may sound minor, but in a world where most online games feel the same, Medal of Honor Airborne shows some long-overdue ingenuity.
On the whole, in fact, Medal of Honor Airborne introduces some new things not just to the WWI scene, but to the first-person-shooter genre. The weapons-upgrade system rewards both diverse gunplay and “playing favorites,” and the open-endedness of the airdrops lets players try different strategies at the beginning of each level and after dying in combat. The game doesn’t stray completely from the norm, though, which renders a few levels feeling surprisingly linear. Still, the elements the game does introduce are more than enough to warrant giving Medal of Honor Airborne some playtime, and we’re eager to see what EA can do to up the ante in the sequel.
– Jonas Allen