January 5, 2008 // 6:50 pm
- It's June 6th, 1944, and the war is in your hands. Step into the boots of OSS Operative John Berg and infiltrate Normandy from behind enemy lines to undermine the Nazi regime. Choose to tackle all-new missions in traditional single player campaign or engage in massive, 32-player online, continuous-joining multiplayer battles where you can jump into the battle at any time.
You just can't escape WWII games. PCs, consoles and now Sony's PSP have been added to the genre's beachheads; Medal of Honor: Heroes 2 brings Hollywood-flavored action adventure to the small screen. Getting used to an FPS on the PSP for the first time will probably be the least of your worries with this title, especially if you find yourself online.
EA's Medal of Honor series has had its ups and downs in the past few years, but it continues to plod on in an eternal rendition of WWII, providing fans with an increasingly imaginative take on history in an effort to keep them from feeling too much of a sense of déjà vu. In this case, the story revolves around you as a member of the top-secret OSS, the precursor to today's CIA, as you head into the field in order to get behind enemy lines and do a little creative intelligence gathering and sabotage to keep the Third Reich from developing a new uberweapon. In some ways, this was pretty much the same premise behind MOH: European Assault, only with different levels, but players who've beaten the Wehrmacht in other similar WWII shooters will take all of this in stride.
Much of the soundwork within Heroes 2 is nicely executed; plenty of explosive effects, sharp voice acting in the mission briefings between each mission, and ambient explosive rumbles from distant battlefields bring the decent visuals to life, although it's short on the music. Granted, this is a PSP game so I'm not expecting it to sport the same kind of graphics that I'd seen with Airborne, but much of it delivers enough detail across its diverse backdrops to keep you interested in what might be around the next corner. From the frontlines on the beaches to a monastery teeming with Wehrmacht fanatics, there's quite a bit here to explore, even though some of the bland textures blur some of the details. Don't expect much variety from the Wehrmacht's clone soldiers, either, although the animation work is pretty good. It does get a little glitchy in places, with soldiers occasionally twisting themselves into odd angles as they fire from behind cover.
This is the first FPS that I've played on a PSP, and I was surprised at how the clunky feel of the controls didn't completely sabotage the experience. There are different control schemes that you can use to get around, and I had started out with the default Commando setting, which worked out best for me once I was done tweaking the sensitivity levels. In a reversal of the Commando control scheme, the Elite setting uses the analog nub to look around while the face buttons control movement. Either setting works well enough, but if you're used to having twin analog sticks or a mouse and keyboard, neither setting will feel as natural.
Much of the formulaic action in Heroes 2 involves shooting just about everything that moves and occasionally setting explosives or using artillery to blow up objectives that the dense AI will do its best to defend. The AI's one-track playbook also makes it difficult to not suspect that Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz (from television series "Hogan's Heroes") are secretly giving the orders. Foes pop up and down while hiding behind cover that they almost never leave, they kneel and stay in the open to take potshots at you when you come around a corner, and they run back and forth between the same two spots as if they were in a five-yard relay race. Given how generous the controls are, though, this might be another concession to make up for how limited the PSP's controls can often feel.
Heroes 2 gives the player a lot of leeway in aiming at the enemy. The aiming reticle is rather large so your shots can obliterate the bad guys before they know what hit them. Even without the aiming assistance enabled, you don't need to be as accurate as in other FPS titles; you can still use iron sights to aim down the barrel of your favorite weapon to practice your headshots. Grenade-tossing is also made easy; they're so powerful that merely being close is good enough, since a toss will usually clear the way.
All of this can make the title extremely predictable but no less dangerous, thanks to the blind fusillade with which it often loves to pray and spray. Its clown-car approach to spawns also turns some of the later battles into repetitive slogs when you aim at the same, predictable spots over and over again in a futile attempt to stem the tide until you charge ahead. Granted, many shooters are guilty of this, but Heroes 2 makes it so obvious that the only thing missing is the actual car. There's also no jumping in the game, and the levels are rife with plenty of invisible "barriers" that keep you from going too far off the linear path that you're supposed to be following. Forget about leaping over crates, barrels, knee-high ledges or sandbags. For whatever reason, boot camp left out that part from their obstacle course.
Working for the top-secret OSS could have provided a lot of opportunities in order to put in a twist on the action; you could have rubbed elbows with the local resistance in Paris, performed wetwork from the shadows behind enemy lines, or disguised yourself as a Wehrmacht or SS officer in order to blow up an ammo dump. Instead, as in Medal of Honor: European Assault, you're pretty much the 1940s version of Rambo as you wage a one-man war against the Third Reich. You'll occasionally have fellow soldiers with you, but don't expect them to watch your back, as they're more likely to stand there as you get perforated.
Given that you'll be working behind enemy lines, it's usually a good idea to snag a local toy to make things easier as you fight through the Wehrmacht's best, and Heroes 2 does a somewhat decent job in keeping you stocked with ammo and giving you the tools you need to succeed. You'll also see soldiers drop their weapons on the ground when they go down, only to grasp air when you run over to gather up the ammo when it disappears with the body. If you're not quick on your feet, they'll vanish before your eyes, making it feel as if you might have stepped into an episode of "The Twilight Zone." You can sometimes snag early replacements when random enemy soldiers drop their munitions, but don't be surprised when most toys simply fade into the ether.
The save point system that marks your progress can't decide whether to gleefully annoy you or give you a fighting chance. To avoid repetition in some missions, it judiciously updates to keep you from repeating harrowing firefights in large areas. In other missions, however, you might lather, rinse and repeat the same close shaves several times; in one instance, you have to get through a minefield covered by soldiers and then fight through a base at the other end until the game finally decides to save your progress. In these instances, Heroes 2 can revive the old-school charm of older arcade titles, but it still doesn't excuse how flawed it can often feel to players. It's difficult to appreciate having to repeat the same by-the-numbers slog simply to nail the one soldier who had rained on your parade.
The main campaign in Heroes 2 is spread across seven areas, and depending on what difficulty level you choose, it can last from a single sitting to several hours once you've gotten used to the controls. There are optional secondary objectives that you can discover along the way to unlock in-game achievements, but once you've won the war, there's not much to merit heading back into the single-player segment.
Multiplayer mode can allow up to 32 wireless players duke it out on EA's service across deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag across maps straight out of the single-player campaign. Ad hoc connections allow up seven players to duke it out over their PSP Wi-Fi connections. Setting up the connection to EA's service through a wireless hotspot or your own router is easy enough to do, and the manual provides step-by-step instructions on how to do this, although less technical players may want some help if they're not comfortable with changing their settings. After setting up a free account, you'll be launched into a lobby where you'll be able to view games, the number of players in each one and the connection quality. On the whole, online performance was relatively smooth without much lag, and it's a nice option to have when you've finished up with the main campaign.
Playing an FPS on the PSP for the first time was a mix of fun action and occasional frustration, not only because of the controls, but because Medal of Honor: Heroes 2 offers a remarkably basic experience that hearkens back to the early days of shooters. In some ways, it can still be a fun concept to wrap your trigger finger around when you don't want to concern yourself with squad controls or complicated rescue attempts. Medal of Honor vets who have followed the series, along with experienced FPS fans, will find the off- and online action to be simply more of the same, only in a smaller package and with a few more limitations. Heroes 2 is a relatively decent shooter for the PSP; it manages to deliver on the action and presentation, but it won't rewrite history.
More screenshots can be seen at the link at the top!