Medal Of Honor: European Assault
Developer: EA LA
Publisher: Electronic Arts
System: Playstation 2 (Also on Xbox & Gamecube)
Players: 1 – 4
The Medal Of Honor series used to be seen as the standard bearer of quality when it came to WW2 first person shooters. When Dreamworks Interactive first created the original game Medal of Honor, much was made of the desire to treat the subject matter with great respect. It seems that as time, sequels and competition have marched on the subject matter has gotten a little bit stale and the urge to spruce up gameplay with more arcade like features has been succumbed to. Does European Assault continue this or have they realized the error of their ways and righted the ship?
Right from the get go, if you’ve been paying attention to the development of this game you might have had fairly high hopes for the story of this game. John Milius, the writer/director of Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn, was signed by EA to write the story for the game. Myself, I had forgotten about Mr. Milius’s involvement until after the game while I was watching the credits, and I can say that this isn’t one of his better efforts.
The game takes you from St. Nazaire France to North Africa to Stalingrad in the USSR to the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes, on the border of Germany and France. Along the way you will save the inept British, turn the tide of the war AND hoodwink the incompetent Russians, and then finally join forces with your American colleagues to finish the job and stomp out the last real German resistance. I played a game that did this sometime last year, and it did it much better. It was Call of Duty. The story wasn’t all tied together in some desperate attempt to justify an American OSS agent in the middle of the Soviet Union. When you were in Stalingrad you were a Russian. When you were operating with the UK forces, you were get this, British. Same thing goes for the American operations. As much as I admire the American contribution to the war, they didn’t win it by themselves.
Had the story been a little better developed, enemy wise, it might have been acceptable. But right from the start you are given some mysterious mission where you have to eliminate a German officer, and it continues right through to the end of the game, every level you have to find and assassinate a German officer. There were the makings of some good villains, or some reason to have each officer on your hit list, but instead the story just says ok you go there, kill him and move on with your mission.
I got the feeling right from the start that things were going to be different from how I remembered the graphics in most Medal Of Honor games. Weapons and ammunition, health packs, all have little floating icons above them that I’m sure the soldiers in WW2 found extremely useful while fighting. I’m amazed I never saw anything like it in any war footage. Now I know some of you are thinking to yourselves, “Dude it’s just a game.”Â Well to you I say “Dude, EA already has an arcade style WW2 game, it’s called Battlefield 1942, they don’t need to ruin their more serious effort.”Â
As for the level and character design, I found this game to be much easier on the eye than Medal of Honor: Rising Sun. Germans were far easier to spot than their Japanese counterparts were in that game. I don’t think EA could have done any better with the effects of war, such as tanks or artillery shells exploding, on the current generation of hardware, but with the Xbox 360 and PS3 on the horizon, they had better get it in gear, because I’ve been seeing the same explosions for the past 3 PS2 games.
If there is one area where this game shines, this is it. EA have been going all out in terms of production for their games, and this one’s no exception. You will not find a better sounding game on the PS2. It could be on all systems, but at the very least the PS2 version is magnificent. The soundtrack/score are immediately likable, feeling quite dramatic and epic. From the opening screen to the final battle, the music will pipe up at the appropriate time making for a truly inspiring experience.
It’s not just the soundtrack that really hits it out of the park either. The implementation of the sounds of battle in Dolby Surround have to be heard to be truly believed. One mission has you in a farmhouse surrounded by attacking Germans, and eventually you realize you are surrounded by enemy tanks. Not because you can see them, but because you can hear one rolling behind the building, and another one in front of the building. Just outstanding use of the audio. If you ever wanted to test out your stereo, heres the game to pop in.
I found the controls to be very forgiving, almost intuitive. You have one button to go from standing to kneeling to prone, another to from prone to kneeling to standing to a jump, a button to perform any action that might be required, and two buttons to switch your weapon, one from primary weapon to primary weapon, and one from gun to grenade and back again. You use the D-Pad for health and Adrenalin, and the Analog Sticks for movement and aiming. You also get a button to bring your gun up so you can look through it’s sights, either through a scope or through the gun’s own iron sights. This feature is very well implemented, and it also makes excellent use of the analog sticks. When you have the gun to your eye, you can use the analog sticks to duck, lean to the sides, even look up and over a ledge, as if on the tips of your toes. It’s not a mouse and keyboard, but it works pretty well. The need to switch between weapons and grenades got to be a little tedious after having a button specifically for it in Halo and the like, but as this is one time where the game actually did decide to stick with realism I’m not going to penalize it.
There are some changes to the gameplay that is found in the game this time around, none of it good I’m sad to say. You are given a squad of soldiers who follow you around and soak up bullets for you. That’s really all they are good for. Actually thats not true, they are excellent at coming in and killing whatever it was that JUST killed you, but otherwise they are meatbags there to be wasted by enemies. You can heal them, and the more of them that survive whatever mission you are on the more healths you receive at the start of the next mission.
Starting with the first game, the Medal of Honor series has been known for its difficulty level. Most of the games were hard because they were relatively realistic (or at least, as realistic as a videogame can get). They were able to get away with this because they allowed for the fact that some players might wear down after a certain amount of time. They included checkpoints, or on the PC side they allowed you to save where you wanted. Not so for European Assault. For some reason that is beyond me, EA decided that they would reintroduce the concept of having lives, as in you play until you die and then revive where you fell. When you lose all your lives that’s it, you start back at the beginning. You can earn more revives by completing objectives during the mission, but even this has been poorly implemented, as you need to wander back into the warzone to pick up your pretty revive icon power up. No wonder we won the war, we had zombies fighting for us. Bad bad idea EA. All you succeed in doing with this is pissing me off. Repeatedly.
The levels are long and it is very easy to find yourself dead if you don’t take each threat seriously, so I give the developers credit for that, but the lack of checkpoints just kills it.
You do earn medals for completing every objective on the maps, but there isn’t much incentive to put yourself through the game more than once, unless you’re really into it. Past games have had a battle you could play over and over, like Frontline or Allied Assault’s Normandy landings. In European Assault all of the levels are about as difficult as that D-Day landing, and yet I can’t say that I really want to play them over, due in part to the fact I probably had to play each level at least 3 times before I finished the game due to a lack of lives.
Well, personally I wasn’t looking forward to playing yet another FPS based on WW2, but I said that last year when I tried Call of Duty, and I wound up playing a fantastic game. So I went into this hoping for a similar result. Sadly, I didn’t find it. The presentation is fantastic, the gameplay not so much. I think its safe to say the market has been saturated by first person shooters based in the WW2 environment, and this one does very little to distinguish itself in the crowd.
This is, counting the PC games and expansions, the PS1 versions, the 9th game that EA has published bearing the Medal of Honor nameplate. If you go even farther, you could include Call of Duty which was made by people who made Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, so that’s 10 games with much the same formula in the past 8 years or so.
The developers know they are milking the cow dry, and have in the past attempted to do different things to spice up the gameplay. In Rising Sun and Pacific Assault they took the war to the Japanese. In European Assault they try to change things up by giving you the squad mates, losing the saves and checkpoints, and by taking you all over the world in the different theaters of the war. Had they done this properly and had the gameplay not been so flawed I might have loved this game. Instead I find that what’s original in this game is what makes the gameplay flawed.
If this game hadn’t tried to rework the formula to appear fresh, it might have been very addicting. If your squadmates had any kind of good AI, instead of the stand there and soak up bullets routine they have right now, it might have been addicting. If the storyline was well thought out and not as it is now, it might have been addicting.
The one saving grace this game has in the addictiveness department is multiplayer, but with all the games on the market that offer multiplayer, and online multiplayer at that, why would you play this expect for the occasional change of pace?
There were some nice touches in the game, above the soundtrack and control scheme. Manon, the French operative you controlled in Medal of Honor: Underground on the PS1 returns to make a guest appearance, so I thought that cool. In addition, the developers included a list of all the relatives they had lost in the war. I found that to be a really nice touch.
Replay Ability: 5/10
Short Attention Span Summary
Oh how the mighty have fallen. What was once a magnificent beast of a game franchise has withered away to almost nothing. This isn’t a game that couldn’t have be saved. It isn’t a franchise that I won’t ever look at again, but it is a game that I’ll look back on sadly and think about how the best thing about it was the soundtrack.