In defence of Airborne: a fresh perspective

So, recently I have had what could be called a drought of new games. In an attempt to fend off boredom I started to re-visit some older games for shits and giggles. And doing so made me want to re-visit a review of Medal Of Honor: Airborne I did last year.

One of the games I played was Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault, and after playing that for the last couple of weeks I happened to return to Airborne today, and realised that my earlier review may have been a little harsh.

The original review – which, due to technical issues with the old dogblog, is only available on facebook here, along with the rest of the old blog – was not really that harsh, I suppose. But it was critical of a number of things that, now I have had time to get used to them, are not that bad.

I was amazed by a number of things in my return journey to Allied Assault. The first thing that shocked me was that I thought it was much older – I looked on the back of the CD-Rom box and realized it was released in 2002/2003. The last time I had played it was after release, and because of all the things I have done since then, I thought in my head that it was much older than that. Secondly, my memories of the visuals were not forgiving – I remembered really crappy graphics. But I was amazed to see that with all the settings at max, the game actually stands up pretty well – aside from character faces and muddy textures here and there. And the fact that everyone is doing some strange shit with their arms all the time, of course. But then I remembered – last time I played it, I had a PC that couldn’t cope with anything more than the lowest graphics settings. D’oh!

Looking again at Allied Assault I found myself intrigued by the death animations of the NPC’s. Some were quite gruesome, and although a little speedy, they were all really good. Some of the muzzle flash lighting effects were very nice, and overall it looked great for what it was. I was pleasantly surprised.

Of course, there were many things about it that, by today’s standards just sucked – all the animations were heavily scripted, there was no iron-sights option – a feature that today is lamentable if excluded – and some bloody awful sounds. The in-box M1 Garand sound was like some big, booming cannon, and made me want to avoid that weapon at all times (I resolved this by screwing around with some of the excellent user-created mods out there that add better sound effects, blood, better explosions and better textures. Oddly, people are still creating and adding .pak files and mods for the game even today. One source of note is Medal Of Honor Files, which covers all Medal Of Honor Games. I would recommend the High Definition (Fixed) Pack and the MoHAA New Light Pack, both of which spruce up the whole game in a single mod).

I began to remember why this game caused such a stir when it was released – not just for the Saving Private Ryan-esque Omaha beach landing level. And then I began to think about other Medal Of Honor games, and started looking for other stuff to play. I am a firm believer that videogame Nazis are without expection the absolute best ultimate bad guys to fight in an FPS. I never tire of World War 2 shooters, and had the urge to spill more Wehrmacht blood. I thought that I could slum it a bit and get Vanguard for my old PS2 – that wouldn’t make too much of a dent in already tight finances. But then I read the reviews and realised, hmmm, maybe not. But that started me thinking – after Allied Assault and Frontline, pretty much every Medal Of Honor game that followed sucked absolute ass.

The reason for that is unknown, but many assume (probably correctly) that as this is an EA franchise, it was simply a case of the machine churning out sequel after sequel of a popular franchise. The mindset seemed to be one of “Hey, MOH:AA and MOH:F sold really well, let’s make a whole fuckton more!“. The result, it seems, was that small teams of developers were pushed to crank out more with limited timescales. The subsequent sequels all had that feel that they all should have had an extra year in development. That they had some good aspects, but seemed to falter on the really obvious things that no developer should ever screw up on, if they know what they are doing. As an example, look at two specifics: European Assault and Rising Sun.

The former had awful visuals that were so unlike anything in earlier instalments – almost cartoony and PS1 like and didn’t even begin to reach the level of graphical clarity that Xbox owners had, by that point, come to expect – that the immersion was ruined. A backward step from Frontline. Add to that the fact that they desperately tried to copy the Call Of Duty, allies by your side style of gameplay (and did badly), had the whole “sharing health” nonsense and, most infuriatingly, made dropped weapons unspawn after a short time – which meant that I got to a certain point in the game and gave up – the game was okay, I guess, but was not fun to play. The only good thing about the game was the soundtrack.

As for Rising Sun? Well, do I even need to explain the pile of ass, monkey shit-fight that that game was? It had pretty much nothing in common with any other Medal Of Honor game aside from the tip font, and was utterly, utterly unplayable thanks to a useless movement and aiming system. I like shooting the enemy whilst moving through invisible treacle, NOT. And the cross-hair was the size of France…bwuh? If you haven’t played it, then go find it now in a bargain bin – probably about £5 – and try it. I would urge this, in fact for both these games. Strange? Not really. I urge this because it’s only when you have played truly, truly awful games that you realise how easy it is to screw a game up, and how valuable and nice even average games are in comparison.

Oh, and add Judge Dredd: Dredd Vs. Death to that list. Play (or as near to “play as you can with this game) that. You will be a new gamer afterwards.

Anyway, where the fuck was I going with this? Oh yeah. So, after reminding myself where the franchise had come from, and where it had ended up, I decided to go and takle a fresh look at Medal Of Honor: Airborne. I realised that I had judged the game only in the context of its peers, and not its own family.

And you know? The game rocks. It has some issues, sure. But when in the context of its older brothers (or sisters…would games be masculine or feminine?) it is a very welcome return to the Allied Assault and Frontline part of the family, with modern looks and nice gameplay additions. I realised that perhaps I had underplayed some of the good points and overemphasized some of the bad. I felt bad.

I popped Frontline in the console for a refresher, and then went to Airborne. And looking at the difference, you reliase that Airborne is a very good-looking game. Not the best ever, sure, but the quality is high, especially for an EA Franchise, evil corporation mantle and all. From the reflecting puddles in the cobbles of the first level to the lighting from weapons fire, to the reflections in eyes on the NPC’s. It’s a vast leap from the older games. And, I would say, better than some of it’s contemporaries. Better than Call Of Duty 3, by far. I think the only way to appreciate the visuals is to take time in a quiet lull to actually look. I looked over a broken courtyard from my sniper spot in a tower, a half-track raised up in the air, mansion house in front, and was taken by the lighting. Great.

I praised the audio in the original review, and I still do (though I still hate the Thompson firing a distance away sound, but as it is a recording of a Thompson firing a distance away from the microphone, what can you do?). I would say that this and Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30 have the only decent-sounding and convincing MG42’sof any WWII games (and BIA’s was a little too bassy).

The death animations – that maintain their forward momentum – still amaze me. And I am surprised that no one else does this.

The bad bullet hit detection is not as bad as I remember – non-lethal headshots are still annoying – but you get used to it. And the AI of the NPC’s can be forgiven. Many modern games still use the old tried-and true methods of spawn and defend. The affordance engine, although still nascent and not perfected, is a leap above some other, lauded games. Certainly, it is much better than Call Of Duty 4. 

And it should not be ignored that the game does have aspects that other current games are sorely lacking – such as the iron-sights lean feature. As I originally reviewed, this ability is fantastic, and I still love it and still find myself disappointed when a newer game does not have this feature. After all, in a firefight you don’t really want to strafe out from cover, fire, and strafe back. Similarly, when you are hunkered down behind cover you don’t really want to have to fumble for the crouch button to stand up into the line of fire and pop off a few shots, take a few hits, and then crouch back down again. I really, really hope that future MOH games retain this feature – it is one thing that sets this game out from the rest, and if we are lucky other developers will realise that. It certainly gives more fun to gamers in a firefight that not having it at all, or having the Rainbow Six-style change to third person (which is great, but not as sneaky or as much fun).

So I feel compelled to acknowledge the effort that went into the game. The attention to detail and mechanic-tweaking that the developers carried out. For, better than anyone else, they knew exactly how far down the toilet the franchise had gone, and just exactly how bad the earlier games had become. They knew all the shortfalls and all the cut corners. They knew that in all likelihood a game along the same lines of quality wold possibly have killed the franchise stone dead. And most importantly, that they had a responsibility to resurrect gamers’ waning interest in the WWII era.

So I feel that the original review was maybe a little harsh. It’s not the best game ever, sure, but to be honest, I don’t know that any of those that are lauded as such have as much playability as Airborne. Once you have played Gears, it’s done with. Trade it in, stick it in a cupboard, whatever. Once you have realised that COD4 is fun but old-school in its linearity and static AI, you get bored. Once you have repeated the same thing over and over in other COD titles, you get bored. I never replayed Prey, and I got bored halfway through Rainbow Six: Vegas 2. And Half Life 2 and consequent updates felt more like a mandatory assignment (and are, I would say, the least interesing to play of all of these).

I have found that when I am bored for something to play – in terms of 360 games – I usually find myself assaulting the Flaktürm again or raiding the industrial complex. And bear this in mind: I am a tried and true Halo player. I am not a big multiplayer fan (unless it involves LAN and friends and beer and pizza). I like to sit alone, immersed in the game world. But even I find that nowadays Halo 2 and 3 just don’t compel me to go back and play them. Haven’t played 2 in over 2 years, haven’t gone back to 3 since early this year. Although the freedoms in Airborne may be slightly limited, and not as unlimited as they were hyped, they are still greater than in most other titles. So I find myself, when bored, looking at my 360 game collection, huffing and puffing and thinking “Nah. Nah. Mmmmm…nah.”

And then I put Airborne in the tray. And Nazis begin to panic.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted July 10, 2008 at 7:00 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I was on Yahoo and found your blog. Read a few of your other posts. Good work. I am looking forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Tom Stanley

  2. Posted July 10, 2008 at 10:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks, glad you enjoy my “stream of consciousness” ramblings 🙂

  3. Posted August 3, 2008 at 8:46 am | Permalink | Reply

    Brilliant!

  4. Posted August 4, 2008 at 4:59 pm | Permalink | Reply

    🙂

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