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TVG grabs its rifle and bayonet to head off to WW2’s Pacific Theatre of War, forget the Nazis, this time it’s the Eastern Empire…
2004, specifically, the final 6 months of 2004, has been overwhelmed with a multitude of FPS releases across both the PC and the console platforms. Weâ??ve had to fight the Vietcong, the Covenant, the Vietcong, the Helghast, the Vietcong, the Combine, and the Vietcong; and now we find ourselves thrown back to World War 2 to fight the Japanese Imperial Forces.
Since the very first Medal of Honor title was released on PlayStation several years ago, the franchise has tried to develop over the various incarnations but with very little success, and now the series, whilst still proving popular, is seen as having been left behind thanks to recent FPS releases such as Half-Life 2.
A couple of years ago, the Medal of Honor series jumped over to the PC platform under the guise of MoH: Allied Assault, which took the basic framework of MoH: Frontline and manipulated it for the market to great effect. Coincidentally, the developer of Allied Assault was 2015, which recently spearheaded the Vietnam FPS Men of Valor.
This year the MoH series is back on the PC with Pacific Assault, which follows the campaign from the viewpoint of Private Tom Conlin of the US Marine Corps, as he and his fellow soldiers island hop, liberating the people from the Japanese Imperial Forces; but can the title even begin to realise the mammoth task of matching up against Valveâ??s genre obliterating release, or even 2015â??s Valor? For that matter, has EA learnt from its previous developerâ??s MoH and pushed the MoH boundary set by Allied Assault?
The game begins in 1943 on D-Day at Tarawa Atoll in, surprisingly enough, the Pacific, where Conlin finds himself on a landing craft heading towards the beaches of the island. As youâ??d expect, the atmosphere is hectic and confused, with gunfire coming from the beaches whizzing passed your head faster than the speed of sound, and spray from the ocean soaking you to the bone.
Conlin provides some voice-over explaining that rookie soldiers are trained for just three weeks and that their life-span on entry to the battlefield lasts for, in general, a nominal amount of time before mounting the heavy machine gun on the landing craft, and gunning down Japanese Zeroes flying overhead, and soldiers on the piers.
When a mortar hits the craft, the crew (including Conlin) find themselves thrown into the water, struggling for air and desperately trying to find some cover from the bullets. After a brief battle, Conlin experiences a flashback that takes him back two years to San Diego where he underwent training. The landing at Tarawa Atoll serves as a taster for the intense action to come, and thrusts players into the fire fight from the off, before dragging them back to training. Although it may be an unusual strategy to take, EAâ??s plan to introduce gamers to the war zone at the beginning of the game, even BEFORE the training tutorial, does help convey the utter confusion that soldiers must have felt when confronted with such an explanation. The fact that the event occurs just minutes after Conlinâ??s voice-over describing the fear that is felt in battle, a fear felt even greater by rookies, strengthens the point that it was EAâ??s objective to do so.
Ordinarily, the past couple of MoH titles, such as Frontline and Rising Sun, have kicked off with an almighty explosion of highly intense action, before settling down into a virtual by the books FPS title. The developers seemed to have realised this when it came to producing Pacific Assault, and the first couple of missions after the Training Camp are all intense, splitting the action and events of Pearl Harbour with several key objectives. Pacific Assault does this to a much greater effect than Rising Sun ever did last year, and the attack on the Hawaii military base was pretty intense in that title.
The armada of Japanese Zeroes that puncture the air around you is reminiscent of a swarm of wasps or hornets, diving towards you and the US Navy Fleet, and the confusion that you experience in these first few levels, especially when you find yourself in the bowels of the USS West Virginia with the ship on the verge of sinking, fires raging around you, and only emergency lighting illuminating your path (and even that isnâ??t strong enough for you to see you way through easily.) The claustrophobia at times is almost palpable, with scripted explosions that launch fireballs down the corridors towards you blocking your route effectively managing to reinforce the idea that you are on a ship close to plunging towards Davey Jonesâ?? locker.
As with Allied Assault, Pacific does contain missions that are very reminiscent of the console equivalent, but it is a different game â?“ much like AA was, and the additions and tweaks that they have made to this release has meant that the MoH franchise might have been given a new lease of life.
For fans of 2015â??s recent release comes the news that EA have integrated the â??Bleedingâ?? detail into the game. In MoV, this pushed gamers into thinking and biding their time before they shot back at an opponent, the polar opposite to the gung-ho â??Dirty Dozenâ?? approach that the MoH series essentially implemented from the start, back in the day when Dreamworks and Spielberg created the franchise on the PlayStation. Although the detail can be switched on (its default setting is â??offâ??), gamers would do well to switch â??bleedingâ?? on, as it really adds a level of depth to the game that is lacking in the previous games. But this isnâ??t the only detail implemented in Pacific Assault that made its debut in Men of Valorâ?¦
For the past several years, fans of the FPS genre have gotten used to having the ability to crouch and jump through the environments, whether this is to dodge a bullet or leaping over low walls. What 2015 added to MoV was the ability for players to make their character crawl through the jungles of â??Nam. In the game, it enabled players to think low, and use trunks of fallen trees as cover as you worm your way out of danger. For the first time ever, this detail has been added to an MoH title, and the result is very similar. The jungles of the Pacific Rim islands and atolls prove to be very useful for players to crawl around and attempt to blindside Japanese forces.
Also implemented for the first time in Pacific Assault, is the Squad Combat system, which allows Conlin the ability to command some of his fellow Marines in times of trouble. Although restricted to just four commands (Forward, Retreat, Covering Fire, Assemble), the integration of such a system into the series adds a whole new level of depth that has been lacking in the franchise previously. The use of the system isnâ??t absolutely necessary as the other members in your group have a good level of AI and they donâ??t just run straight into a hail of lead, but the ability to have some control over the group can help kill a concentrated group of Japanese soldiers.
Medical help in Pacific Assault comes in the form of Corpsmen, who patch you up in times of need, just as you start to feel your life ebb away â?“ something else that has been implemented in PA. If Conlin requires a health boost, players just need to press the â??Hâ?? key and if a Corpsman is available, he will come and return your health meter back to 100%. Conlin can only call on a Corpsman five times in a mission, so watch your back. A Verge of Death Mode has also been added to the game, which tries to simulate the shock of being close to death â?“ voices from the past simulate your life before you. If your health drops to a critical level, Conlinâ??s vision will start to blur; time will slow, and his heartbeat will pound out of the PC speakers â?“ press the â??Hâ?? key if you can, else heâ??s a goner.
All in all, these implemented tweaks and improvements have created a game that is fuller and more rounded than any of its MoH predecessors. They certainly raise the standard of the franchise to that of 2015â??s Men of Valor, released last month, and in some ways, it actually surpasses it.
Graphically, the Medal of Honor series was much more superior than its console equivalents, and to a certain extent, that is true with Pacific Assault. The graphics look all the more refined, and crisp than Frontline and Rising Sun were, especially when you compare the PlayStation 2 releases. Of course the titles is far behind the FPS boundary setter, Half-Life 2, although the use of the Havok physics engine has increased the interactivity between Conlin and some of the environment â??propsâ??.
One the things that stick in our mind about the gameâ??s visuals, is that effect of waves lapping on the shores of the beaches. Whilst we are now used to having quite good water effects in the current generation of platforms, the multi-layered waves really do have a certain realism about them.
Visually, one of the little niggles that the game contains is when you use the secondary attack, most often a rifle butt melee attack; you just donâ??t feel as if you are actually making contact with the enemy/tree truck/wall. It feels as if there is a barrier between the two. Even when contact is supposedly made, it just doesnâ??t feel right, whereas in games such as Halo 2 or Killzone (review coming soon), you can almost feel the thump of gun against skull.
All together though, these are but minor complaints, and the game does look good â?“ The character models and the environments look nice enough, certainly on a par with 2015â??s MoV - they donâ??t exactly have the â??wowâ? factor that the environments and graphical elements in Half-Life 2 has, but then again, PA hasnâ??t been in production for six years either. The production values of the title are what you expect from an EA release â?“ slick, in the Hollywood sense of the word.
The sound effects and music in all of the MoH games have always been able to recreate the 1940s style, and Pacific Assault is no different, from the moment that the installation runs and the war movie music plays (lets face it, only EA could get away with doing such a thing), to the main menu where a period radio station announces some of the recent news from the 1940s, and into the action itself with a cacophony of noise so intense at times, that youâ??ll have to let your neighbours know that a war hasnâ??t literally erupted!
Apt and very American John Wayne WW2 cinema, the sound and music of Pacific Assault manages to vary in volume from the pre-assault tranquillity, to the all out attack on Pearl Harbour, which gives a certain rhythm to the game.
Right from the beginning, when a certain Steven Spielberg came up with idea of Medal of Honor, the series has always had close ties to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, which was formed in 1946 to recognise the very bravest US soldiers from armed conflicts. This acknowledgment to the CMOHS adds a certain realism to the events portrayed in the games, although the off-shoot of that is that the franchise leans too heavily on the portrayal of American making the big stand against the world, leaving the odd token Brit to help along some of the missions.
It does have to be noted that the main character in the second outing of MoH on the PlayStation, MoH: Underground, focused on the French Resistance, but it must also be noted that a final â??fantasy missionâ? was added at the end of the game where players play an American G.I. storming a German castle to build a robot, which was quite frankly, weird.
In order to strengthen the ties between the series and the CMOHS, players do have the option to have WW2 facts displayed on the HUD from time to time, which again add a certain credibility to the franchise â?“ although it must be said that the facts do have an annoying habit popping up on the tip of the screen just you line up a shot and prepare to pull the triggerâ?¦
At times claustrophobic, with intensely quiet and loud moments, this is a game that fans of the series will welcome. Rather than completely break with tradition, the game builds on the foundations set by its predecessors, like an extension to a house. Let’s hope that 2005’s MoH releases for Xbox and PS2 will include some of the details added to Pacific Assault.
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