October 27, 2006 - The Dakota C-47 skytrain shakes above Sicily, AA guns ripping apart other allied planes over the Nazi-controlled island. Private Boyd Travers watches the planes burning in the sky, and he shakes too. One of the men in his unit falls to the floor dead at his feet. The jumpmaster marches to the door and barks orders over the chaos. Travers doesn't hear a thing. All he knows is that his plane is going down and he's about to do the one something never before done in the heat of battle. The unit empties into the night sky, impossibly bright from the war taking place on the ground and in the air around them. Travers makes his way to the door, rifle in hand and does the only thing left to do. He jumps.
It's July 9, 1943, and this is Operation Husky, the first combat parachute drop in American history. It's a crazy idea, jumping out of an airplane, into a war zone, your only defense being the odds that the enemy aims at your buddy, floating slowly to the earth, instead of you. But this is the stuff that great videogames are made of, and EA is banking on that with the upcoming Medal of Honor: Airborne.
Airborne will tell the story of the birth of the Airborne forces, from Husky to the Operation Varsity, the march to Berlin that effectively ended the European campaign. There are five operations in all, including Avalanche, Neptune and Market Garden, and, as Private Travers and Pathfinder Eddie La Pointe, you will jump into each one, taking you through Italy, France and, finally, Germany.
We visited Electronic Arts Los Angeles this week for our first look at Airborne in action -- we had only seen a CG trailer at E3 earlier in May. But the whispers made their way around the office. "You actually jump out of the plane?" "You control the whole thing?"
This is really where Airborne departs from WWII franchises Call of Duty and Brothers in Arms. You jump into each operation. You check the map, decide on a good rally point, and you step bravely out of the planes and into the fight. Of course, it's up to you to land as well, and you'll have plenty of misdrops. If you don't master the controls, you'll struggle to get out of the chute, and you'll be stuck cutting yourself free while enemy bullets whiz by. If you do master the landing, what EA calls a "greased landing," you'll hit the ground running, Thompson at the ready.
When EA decided to change the way you start a mission in a war game, the company had to change the way you play the rest of it as well. If you can land anywhere in the battle area, even on sniper towers and church steeples, the game cannot be linear. Nothing can be scripted. The enemy can be in front of you, behind you, above and below you. With apologies to Call of Duty, war is not fought in a straight line.
For each of the five operations, there will be two major missions. In the first drop. you will play as La Pointe, a Pathfinder and the elite of the Airborne corps. Pathfinders dropped before the main force to designate drop zones with radio beacons liked the famed Eureka beacon. The Pathfinder missions will require stealth and sabotage. When the stage is set, Travers and the rest of the Airborne troops will jump in, and those missions will be large, loud and dangerous.
When you land, objectives will appear all around you. There are always primary objectives, like destroy the AA guns or take the town hall. Then there are targets of opportunity that around the battle area as well. While Airborne does not feature any of the squad tactics in the excellent Brothers in Arms series, what we really enjoyed about the gameplay on the ground is that you don't fight alone.