Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault
You're witnessi ng a scene from hell: tracer fire is whizzing about your head; Japanese soldiers run at you, teeth and bayonets bared, screaming angry death; planes fly overhead raining bombs and missiles; a fellow soldier is cowering behind a wooden pillar too frightened to move; dozens of bodies float lifelessly in the sea. As the final level in EA's new WWII FPS Medal Of Honor: Pacific Assault, the island raid on the fortified Tarawa Atoll could be the series' finest hour, eclipsing even the epic Omaha Beach landings from the first game.
Pacific Assault is very chaotic, says EALA's product manager Ben Kusin. One of the most important things we've realised conceptually and put in the game, is that war is a manic, hellish experience. A lot of shooters are simple -they put you in a situation, and you move forward very quickly. However, in real war, bullets are coming behind you from the left and right, bombs are flying in; so you always need to have your head on a swivel, checking everywhere around you at all times.
Welcome To The Jungle
The sequel to the 2002 smash hit Allied Assault bravely moves away from the European theatre of operations towards the bitter fight against the Japanese in the Far East. As new recruit Tom Conlin, you begin your battle for survival at Pearl Harbor and end your tour of duty with the brutal assault on Tarawa, described above.
There's a reason most other shooters stick in Europe - the Pacific is very difficult to recreate, continues Kusin. You have dense jungle environments, with vivid colour schemes. The graphical intensity needs a big team, which is why we have more than 100 people working on it. It's paid off though, as we feel we're on a par with the Doom 3s and Half-Life 2s, although the game will be scaleable so we don't alienate any fans with lower-spec machines.
The visual splendour on show is demonstrated aptly by one of the first missions we get to play. The River Walk level had me and my squad yomping through beautifully realised misty jungle, teeming with different trees, flora and fauna, grass that flattens as you crawl through it, changes in light from the forest canopy, flowing rivers with varying currents, waterfalls, and tropical birds that fly off when you disturb them.
Yet the one thing that becomes immediately apparent when you play Pacific Assault, is that this isn't a straight run-and-gun shooter. You have an Al-controlled squad that you have to work with to complete missions, with an icon popping up in the right-hand corner when your captain wants you to carry out orders. Kusin: We're taking the game off-rails with our new non-scripted dynamic Al system that's based around morale. You'll notice this, for example, if your squad goes into a situation and kills the Japanese captain. Although there's no actual number displayed or anything, the enemy's morale would drop and your squad would want to move double-time and charge them.
In practice, this means a much more open and fluid push-pull' aspect of combat, with levels never playing the same way twice and events during skirmishes determining you and your enemy's battle strategy and mental state. This was proven in a later part of the River Walk level, when I threw a grenade into a formation of Japanese soldiers killing and scattering many of their squad. As almost a last resort, they suddenly performed a banzai' attack, running suicidally straight at my squad with bayonets bared, requiring a quick barrage of machine-gun fire to see them off. Even after the shoot-out, I had to carefully check the bodies, as any surviving Japanese soldiers will attempt to set off a grenade as a final act of defiance.
If you or any of your squad do get injured, then you're going to have to rely on your medics - part of developer EALA's wish to jettison some of the more obvious videogame devices. In the real world you don't just come across medipacs and rations when you need them at the end of a level or at strategic points," says Kusin.
It's now vital to properly look after your squad - go storming off Rambo-style into the jungle, and your Corpsman may well be way back tending to injured soldiers, leaving you stranded. Also, if you do get shot or hurt, it's best to take cover first before you call for a medic, or you may be asking the poor doc to risk his own life getting to your position.
However, if your health does reach zero, you'll experience another innovation in Pacific Assault - Verge of Death' - when you start breathing heavily, hear disembodied voices, and the world slowly fades to black. In this short window of opportunity, you could be saved by a medic, rescued, killed by an enemy; in fact a range of outcomes, depending on the circumstances. It's perhaps overly cinematic, but the Verge of Death is hugely effective in giving those desperate moments a real tension and a terrifying feeling of life slipping away from you.
I was mightily impressed (and slightly shell-shocked) after getting my hands on MOH: Pacific Assault. The EALA team is developing a WWII shooter that promises a huge range of different gameplay experiences, from epic island beach landings involving hundreds of soldiers and vehicles, through missions to rescue a downed comrade in dense jungle, to the tense seeking and destroying of silent snipers hiding in treetops. With a raft of new weapons and gameplay features, plus new squad-based multiplayer (see A Different Class', below), Pacific Assault could be a tropical paradise for WWII FPS addicts. We'll find out if it's mission accomplished with an exclusive review and playable demo next month.
A Different Class
Pacific Assault Introduces Different Soldier Classes To Medal Of Honor
EALA is planning major additions to the multiplayer side of Medal Of Honor with the addition of four classes of soldier Infantryman (basic soldier), Corpsman (medic), Engineer (demolition expert) and Ammo Tech (handles heavier weapons and ammo). As with other such online games such as Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, the most successful squads will have a mix of classes for a well-balanced team.
Also, in addition to basic Deathmatch and Capture The Flag modes, Pacific Assault introduces the Invader game type, where spawn points will move back and forth throughout a map. There'll also be instant server select and Punkbuster technology incorporated, to hopefully put a stop to the mass cheating that happened with Allied Assault.
Download Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault
- PC compatible
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Here's a little remembrance for you, lest we forget: Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault was a great game. We wouldn't play it in a fit these days, because it's been thoroughly superseded, but at the time it was truly marvellous - genre-defining, you might say. It kick-started the war-shooter craze that grips us to this day, introducing the celebrated movie-like set-pieces and ramping up the intensity to gut-rumbling levels. Unlike most shooters of the time, it shifted the emphasis from single-handedly killing your head down and simply surviving -looking out for your buddies, moving from cover to cover, shooting only that which popped its head up inadvisably from a fortified bunker.
Hopefully by now you know the story that ensued. The core of the Allied Assault team went off and made Call Of Duty, the others stayed behind and made Men Of Valor: Vietnam, and EA was left with a Medal Of Honor franchise and nobody to make it. So the company took the sequel in-house, re-imagined the whole series in the Pacific, and started again from scratch.
Now of course, the genre is thoroughly overcrowded. Call Of Duty, once the pretender, is now the genre benchmark: if Medal Of Honor: Pacific Assault was expecting a hero's welcome, it had better wise up. It's come to market very, very late, and now has a hell of a lot to prove - especially in the wake of the excellent Call Of Duty: United Offensive add-on.
After months of expectation, we've received some lovely single-player code for the game, and it's time to answer some of the big questions. What does it bring to the party? Does it do enough to justify its existence? Is it, to put it bluntly, an irrelevance? To settle the last one straight off - no, it's not irrelevant. In fact, it does a few quite interesting things with the war format, and with the right tweaking in the next month or so, could be a serious contender for your FPS attentions (after you've finished Half-Life 2 for the second or third time, of course).
However, we'd be lying if we said it was going to be the defining moment the first game was. From what we've seen, Pacific Assault is going to have to rely on last-minute polish to match Call Of Duty. At present, it just doesn't have the same levels of excitement, intensity or scale.
But don't switch off just yet. The game has a definite charm of its own, and provided you reassess your expectations, there's plenty to look forward to here.
Walking On Sunshine
For a start. Pacific Assault takes a different tack from Call Of Duty in a couple of key areas. While the basic gameplay is very similar -deliberately intense, highly scripted recreations of real- life historical battles, with a number of Al chums running at your side - the atmosphere is very different.
Most obviously, you've got the sun-drenched tropical setting. And I mean soaked. Some of the daytime missions are so bright and sunny, you actually think your gamma settings are screwed.
The developer has created a super-saturated look where the light burns out a lot of the detail and colour from the environment. It's an unusual effect, but striking once you stop fiddling with your monitor settings.
There's also the jungle itself. After the initial excitement of Tarawa Atoll (a shameless revision of Allied Assault's Omaha Beach mission) and Pearl Harbour (a short but hurricane-force conflagration), the game settles into a long series of jungle-based skirmishes. Unsurprisingly, the dense greenery has a profound impact on the way the game plays. Simply spotting the enemies through the foliage becomes a difficulty, and considerations such as cover, camouflage and surprise all take on new significance.
There are definitely a few problems here too. For a start, it's far more difficult to create walls' in the environment to delimit the play area, often resulting in glaringly obvious foliage corridors. A careless bounding box on a tree or shrub occasionally throws up an invisible wall between you and your target (very frustrating). Worst of all, the whole thing can simply become monotonous. In its favour. Pacific Assault does manage to keep the tempo up with a variety of action set-pieces. An ambush in a swamp, a village raid, an escort duty on an airfield. True to formula, you also get the occasional high-paced on-rails section - riding shotgun in a stolen jeep or manning a mounted gun on a boat, for example. Overall though, the jungle theme is a lot less exciting than, say, a war-torn village in occupied France, and the choice of location seems more suited to small-scale clashes than grand Call Of Duty-style affrays. Luckily, the game eventually moves out of the tight confines of the jungle and begins to climb to the levels of bullet-riddled ferocity we've come to expect.
One area where Pacific Assault does top Call Of Duty is in the area of characterisation. One of Call Of Duty's great strengths was that it didn't just represent the US role in the Great War, taking in Russian and British missions in equal measure. The advantage of that approach was variety (and historical veracity), but the weakness was a lack of identifiable characters and ongoing narrative. Here, Pacific Assault pounces, taking an active interest in character and working to build up the central figure of Tommy, the scared yet plucky young marine raider.
It's a real contrast to Call Of Duty. Where that game had an international flavour, Pacific Assault is resolutely American, portraying Tommy as a small-town boy who just wants to get home to momma's apple pie. Your squad-mates are also fleshed out to some extent in the grainy cut-scenes: the loudmouth leader, the bookish medic, the country bumpkin who's a mean shot with a sniper rifle. Despite the fact that they're oddly indestructible on the battlefield, it works pretty well, creating a real feeling of identity and comradeship.
At the outset, you're the rookie, fresh from a post-Pearl Harbour furlough and a few months' hurried training. You're initially looked on as a liability, the rook', and there's a genuine sense of gratification as you prove yourself to the more hardened raiders. Of course, it's manufactured that way, but ignore that fact and it works nicely.
An even stronger feature of the game is the new Corpsman' function. Rather than scattering health packs through the undergrowth, Pacific Assault introduces a corpsman or medic character that you can call on by pressing H' (for, er, Help).
It works much the same way as the equivalent character in a class-based multiplayer bout, except that this medic is actually obliged to come and treat you when called upon. Of course, there are some caveats. If you're in the middle of a blazing firefight, the medic may not be able to reach you (likewise if you stray too far from your squad). Your doctor's appointments are also limited in number, so it's not a licence to go on a rampage and then limp back for medical attention (though that's exactly what I did throughout, to my cost).
To complement this feature, you also have to patch yourself up on occasion. Suffer a serious wound and a loud heartbeat sounds, meaning you have to bandage yourself quick smart or bleed to death. It's an old idea, pioneered in ancient Quake mods such as Action Quake II, but it still works wonders as a way of adding tension to the proceedings.
Despite these extra keys, however, Pacific Assault definitely has a more arcade feel to it than Call Of Duty. It's less hardcore, a little more forgiving; it has a touch of the Boys' Own Adventure to it. It's not a criticism - anything that distinguishes the game from its rivals is more than welcome, but if you were hoping for a harrowing trial to match, say, Stalingrad or Kursk from CoD, you might be disappointed.
A Little Help Here
Unfortunately, in the present build, there are some real concerns to be had. The Al, for a start, is all over the place. It does display some high points, such as the banzai charges of the Japanese troops and the aforementioned Corpsman, but it's also worryingly inadequate in some areas.
One time, I was being stabbed in the back by a Japanese bayonet and my squad-mates just looked on, unconcerned. Occasionally, one of my boys would yell, they're flanking us'', but I'm sorry Jimmy, they really weren't. In fact, they were just floundering around being useless or bobbing up and down rhythmically behind a rock. The fact that headshots don't seem to count for much is also frustrating (and don't give me the I was wearing a helmet' line either Mr Samurai -1 shot you full in the face).
Other issues include an annoying cursor lag, something a lot of people have been complaining about from the demo. It's a small thing, but there's a perceptible pause between you pressing the mouse button and Tommy pulling the trigger, or indeed between you pressing R' and Tommy starting a reload.
Hopefully both of these issues can be addressed before launch, although that November release date is worryingly close. Thankfully, EA certainly has the resources to achieve a great deal in a short time, and if it can resolve some of these problems it will have a great little war-themed FPS on its hands. And that's not even mentioning the highly promising multiplayer game. I just hope for all our sakes that the game isn't rushed out - that would be to inflict great dishonour on the untarnished Medal Of Honor legacy.
Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault is more immersive history lesson than video game and I mean that in a very, very good way. The game opens up with you storming the beach on Tarawa Atoll with a bunch of fresh-faced kids, but then begins to flip back and forth to different times in your storied service. You'll go through basic training under a Marine-loving leather-necked sergeant whose performance is right up there with the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket. After basic, you flip to your first assignment in Hawaii on the day Pearl Harbor is attacked. And that is where it all begins.
The thing that is so amazing about these levels is the unbelievable level of detail. The attack on Pearl Harbor is particularly amazing. You will spend a chunk of the level tooling around in a PT boat attempting to locate your ship as Zeroes buzz down around you attack your ship and the city of vessels around you. You actually get to watch as some famous battle ships catch on fire and slowly sink.
The game doesn't stop with just amazing sea and ground battles. You will also take to the air as you relive and play through the famous battles of the 1940s pacific in some of the two dozen single player missions. The game plays mostly like the original Medal of Honor with a few twists; for instance you now need a medic to heal you instead of just relying on scavenged health packs and canteens. In addition, a new, realistic setting removes all of the game's on-screen displays, making it hard to judge your health and even aim.
The multiplayer mode includes three game types; invader, free-for-all and team deathmatch, and can support up to 32 players in nearly lag free play.
The game is on a DVD and seems to access it quite a bit for cut scenes, which really adds to the load-times, but it is worth it. The Director's Edition comes with an exclusive light machine gun, music from the game, a timeline presentation, interviews from actual veterans, propaganda videos from both sides and a behind the scenes video of the making of the game.
This game is a must for fans of history or gaming, offering up a blend of both in a package worthy of Medal of Honor's excellent reputation.