It's 1943, Operation Husky. The Allies begin their assault on Sicily, and we get the go ahead to drop in from the air. As I jump out of the plane, I see smoke grenades marking supply points and German anti-aircraft guns firing below. I decide to veer over to a safe zone near a tall church steeple, but the quickly drawn battle lines force me into a corner. It isn't long before I fall, my outstretched hand on the ground in front of me.
So I decide to change tactics. I restart the mission, and this time, drop straight over the anti-aircraft guns. I make a rough landing on top of a narrow wall, where I have the perfect height advantage over all the enemies around me. It doesn't take long for me to start wiping out the German defenses with my machine gun and grenades, and as my reinforcements begin to join in the attack, we get the call that this mission objective has just been won.
This course of action wouldn't have been possible without Medal of Honor: Airborne's key feature: the ability to drop in nearly anywhere on the battlefield from the air, giving you a tactical choice that significantly changes the game. Enemies and allies react to each new situation by evaluating the surrounding areas, searching for cover, and advancing or retreating when possible. The open-ended battles focus the action on situational combat instead of a dreary trudge from point A to point B.
There aren't any stealthy "pathfinder" missions like there are in earlier versions of the game. Before each mission you are quickly briefed with the other soldiers, and learn about the map layout and mission objectives. When the mission begins, you jump out of the plane and slowly descend while drifting over to the part of the environment you want to fight in. Once you land, the game becomes more of a typical WWII shooter, except the fighting takes place in a wide-open environment.
SCREENS: Click the image above to check out all Medal of Honor: Airborne screens.
One minor feature new to Airborne that draws you into the fight with the sniper rifle is the use of the right trigger -- squeezing it slowly steadies your shot, while pulling it all the way fires. It really adds to the immersion when the steadiness of your aim comes from the amount of pressure you put on the controls. Another useful addition to the franchise is the weapon upgrade system, where you gain the equivalent of experience points for multiple kills and headshots. With enough experience, your weapon will level up, making it more effective. And when this happens, there's a brief window where everything runs in bullet time, allowing you to take easy aim at any enemies nearby.
There are seven operations in the game, each with several secondary mission objectives, but it's unclear how long the single-player campaign will last even with the openness of dropping into each fight from the air. The graphics, using the Unreal Engine 3, don't look that different from similar games, but are polished -- and the animation is realistic when combined with dynamic A.I. behaviors. The audio design stands out, since weapon sounds from the past Medal of Honor sound libraries have been re-recorded for next generation consoles.
It looks like Medal of Honor: Airborne will deliver a much-needed step forward for this franchise and it's refreshing to finally see something new added to the experience. There's still a multiplayer mode to be revealed, and we'll have to see how everything holds up outside of a planned demonstration, but we're optimistic for the possibilities.