Medal of Honor: Airborne Single-Player Hands-On - World War II Shooters Get a Shake-Up

The newest Medal of Honor game does a lot to make linear World War II first-person shooters feel very dated.

The Germans called America's airborne paratroops "the devil in baggy pants" during World War II, and for good reason. These elite soldiers dropped behind enemy lines and, armed primarily with light weapons, wreaked havoc against German units, thus satisfying Benjamin Franklin's prophetic vision more than 150 years prior of "men descending from the clouds" to cause "infinite mischief" upon the enemy. And the paratrooper experience is precisely what EA is looking to capture in its new Medal of Honor: Airborne, a World War II shooter that looks to redefine the genre, busting it out of its rigid narrative and making it a lot more free-form. We earned some virtual jump wings ourselves recently, as we finally got a chance to check out the game, both on the Xbox 360 and the PC (a PlayStation 3 version is also coming).

Airborne represents a major change if you're used to any of the previous Medal of Honor games or the competing Call of Duty series. That's because those games are highly linear in nature. Everything that you see is carefully scripted, and the designers know where you're going to be at all times, because there's only one way to play through the game. Thus, after you've played through a level the first time, you know what to expect the second, like a group of German soldiers always run across the street at a certain point or a Panzer tank always appears when you reach another point. Airborne ditches that formula completely, because you have control over how, and where, you enter a level, thanks to the fact that you're parachuting from the sky above. All that diligent scripting seen in other games is useless in Airborne, because the player has complete freedom of movement in the level, and thus the ability to make the battle unfold in countless different ways.

It may look like another World War II shooter, but Airborne is a departure from the pack.

We played through two of the earliest levels: Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, and Operation Avalanche, the invasion of Italy. Airborne will chronicle the entire breadth of airborne operations during the war, including Operation Overlord (D-Day), Operation Market Garden (the failed airborne attempt to seize a pathway to Germany's industrial heartland), and Operation Varsity (the airborne drop on Germany itself). Anyways, back to Operation Husky, the mission plays out as a night drop into an old Sicilian town that has an encircling wall from the medieval days of warfare. You can pretty much land anywhere in town, and there are benefits or downsides to almost every location. Land on the wall, and you can use it and the rooftops of buildings to quickly get to almost any point in town; land in the streets, and you're closer to the action.

Parachuting is going to take some practice, as you have to use both analog sticks on the controller to try and steer your way to the ground. It's not easy, as there are a number of things to keep in mind, like your momentum, the speed of your descent (you can "flare" the parachute to slow you down a bit), and how much swinging around you're doing. Land in the wrong spot, like in the middle of an enemy compound, and your life will be spectacularly exciting, but also very brief. While you can land anywhere, the safest landing zones are those marked with green smoke, because they'll receive a continual stream of reinforcements that can help you. But if you land on a rooftop, you suddenly have elevation on the enemy, which makes it easy to snipe away at them with a rifle. And there are five "skill drops" on each map, indicated by a white parachute draped near them. These represent the ultimate risk/reward, and if you can land in one, you'll not only get an achievement, but also have a cushy start spot, like the bell tower of a church. The downside is that if you miss the skill drop by even just a little, you'll probably find yourself in the middle of a hornet's nest of angry Axis troops.

Once you land, you have to go through a decision-making process that's not unlike those used by real-world paratroopers. First, you have to orient yourself and figure out where you are in relation to the enemy and your objectives. Then, you have to figure out a course of action based on the situation and the conditions. You no longer can rely on your reflexes and ability to memorize a level's scripted events; now, you have to think, even if it's just a little bit. It's a refreshing change of pace from most games, which require little analytical thinking at all.

Congratulations, you just jumped out of a perfectly good airplane.

It doesn't take long after you land to get into combat, and that is shaping up very nicely. Sure, it's World War II infantry combat, but it's well done. The enemy soldiers are pretty good, and they move around and use cover effectively. That was one of the primary challenges for the developers, because getting rid of the scripting meant rewriting the artificial intelligence to adapt to unpredictable situations. The behaviors we saw were sharp, as soldiers leapt over walls and through windows for cover or to get away from a grenade, and soldiers were pretty aggressive about trying to get around to your side where they can flank you. They can also be pretty good about tossing grenades at you, and your eyes will go wide when you see a German grenade land at your feet. Either get out of its blast radius ASAP, or, even better, kick it back toward the enemy.

Blowing stuff up is always good times, and the grenade mechanics in Airborne are a lot of fun. The grenade controls are mapped to the analog trigger, so if you pull hard on the trigger, you'll toss the grenade as hard as you can. However, if you slowly pull down on the trigger halfway and then release it, you'll softly toss the grenade away. It'll take some practice to get used to the system. You can also use this method to "cook" a grenade before you throw it, so that the enemy doesn't have time to get away from it before it explodes. As soon as you put pressure on the trigger, you've effectively pulled the grenade's pin and a clock begins to tick, indicating how much time you have before it explodes. We had a lot of fun with grenades, bouncing them around corners and over cover.

Unfortunately, the airborne can't drop Sherman tanks.

Each weapon has multiple upgrades, and you earn these by using a weapon spectacularly. For example, score three, or even five, kills in a row with a specific weapon, and your experience with that weapon jumps up. Whenever you fill up a weapon's experience meter, you unlock an upgrade for it. These can range from a satchel pack to carry extra grenades (the next upgrade is a bandolier of grenades); a hair trigger for the automatic pistol, allowing you to fire much more rapidly; a pistol grip for the Thompson submachine gun, improving accuracy; and more. When you do unlock that upgrade, the game slows down to something like bullet time while it presents you with it, and you're temporarily invincible during these sequences, so if you're quick, you can use it to good effect. Even better, these weapon upgrades are permanent, so if you upgrade the Thompson during the first mission of the game, you'll have that upgraded Thompson the rest of the game.

Put it all together, and there's a tight, visceral feel to the action. For instance, the hit detection and rag-doll physics are a lot of fun to watch. In one hectic battle, we shot blindly at a charging German soldier, hitting him in the knee and watching him tumble accordingly. Or, the blast from grenades will send enemy soldiers flying through the air. The audio from all of this is top notch, but perhaps the best sound we've heard in a long time is the metallic clang of a bullet hitting a helmet, resulting in a headshot and an instant kill. But as much fun as it is dealing death, you've got to be pretty cautious yourself. This isn't a one-shot, one-kill kind of game, but you can get cut down pretty easily if you're not careful. You have four health squares, and when they're all empty, you're dead. The good news is that a square will regenerate after a few seconds if it has a partial amount of health in it. However, if a square is drained completely of health, it will not regenerate, and the only way to restore it is to find a health pack.

The controls are laid out quite a bit differently than most Xbox 360 shooters, but it doesn't take long to adapt to them. For instance, to zoom in and use the iron sights on a weapon, you have to hold the left trigger, rather than push down on the right analog stick. We also played the PC version, and the keyboard-and-mouse controls were pretty much identical to the vast majority of shooters. Indeed, after a little warm-up, we were battling through the game without a second thought to the controls.

Both the PC and Xbox 360 versions looked excellent, and they're visually indistinguishable from one another, thanks to the highly modified Unreal Engine 3 technology that powers the game. The level of detail in these kinds of games continues to get even more impressive, but what really caught our eye were the elaborate light and shadow effects. Battling it out in a darkened manner and then seeing the face of a German soldier illuminated by the bright, white burst of his assault rifle is a very cinematic effect.

From up here, the people look like ants.

Perhaps the best way to sum up our experience is to point out that we started each battle multiple times, and each was a completely different experience due to where we landed and what we decided to do. In one play-through, we were content to simply stick to the rooftops and snipe at pockets of enemy resistance. In another, we charged down and battled to an objective, which involved blowing up an antiaircraft gun. In another, we went straight for the enemy headquarters, running inside the mansion and engaging in close-range firefights. It goes without saying that this helps keep the gameplay fresh, and you have to stay on your toes, as opposed to the old days of simply memorizing the timing and appearance of each enemy in the game. Medal of Honor: Airborne looks more than capable of rejuvenating the franchise and injecting some much-needed innovation in a very tired genre. But perhaps the best news is that the game is in the late stages of development, and it's scheduled to ship this August, just a few months from now.

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Discussion

167 comments
shavkatjon
shavkatjon

Good game but ther is less levels only 10 and thats it for 10 levels $49.99 the grafic is good evrything is best but only 10 levels that thing i didn't like it to short game

vergilskater
vergilskater

i think it will be amazing,since....you know.....vanguard was sort of...um horrible......

Orthrand
Orthrand

Health squares sound annoying but apart from that it sounds promising

PGA1991
PGA1991

This seems like a good direction for the Medal of Honor franchise. The seemingly open ended variety of game play is very promising. I just hope it does not frustrate players with such difficult levels or something. It seem s very, very ambitious. Good luck to EA.

funky_facon
funky_facon

ww2 shooters are one of my favorite games of all time. but these games are getting very repetitive and dull. i hope this one makes a difference. and for dasraa i agree with the john rambo thing and yes it's not realistic at all. but the game brothers in arms are more realistic with the enemy dodging all the time but that makes the game really boring and more like a wild west shootout that lasts forever. so sometimes bending reality just pushes you more and sometimes make it better. and people if REALITY is all you guys care about taking a shot to the leg should make your character limp or getting shot will cause your character to die. in games getting shot a 10 times will only make you critical and then regain healths.

riseofnations36
riseofnations36

This preview got my hopes up for the WWII FPS genre.

dasraa
dasraa

Oh and another thing???? I there is going to be a developer reading this(Not likely but worth a try) please! Please! Don’t make the enemy a load of ‘JOHN RAMBOS’ its wrong realistically speaking in a fire fight you would get a the enemy charging into a BAR rifle would you and chewing on a load of metal No!!! They would be hiding and famously bullet dodging and generally crapping them selves and vice versa this is a good make of a REALISTIC RPG trust me

dasraa
dasraa

To be honest it does look rather impressive but the word 'AI' worries me! As a lot of developers are approaching higher levels of AI within the mechanics of the game and intern do more problems appear !!GLITCHES!! For e.g. the intelligence will get confused as it has numerous possibilities and actions at that specific time within the game, it will run into walls and probably will be best shooter in the world who can see you behind wall etc (see for your self when you buy it) The AI approach is still very early in this gen of gaming thank god for patches.

johnstar
johnstar

Finally....medal of honor is breaking out of its stupid scripted comfort zone that I have hated about every MOH game since Underground on the PSOne. The First MOH on PSOne is the only one that truly had a lasting effect on me. Call of Duty is a blatant ripoff of medal of honor and I will never play a COD game again. Also, the Resistance: Fall of Man-style health system that will be in this MOH seems promising. I am looking forward to a return to this historic, succesful franchise.

julybrand
julybrand

LOOKING GOOD THIS GAME BETTER GET HIGH SCORE'S

BrCaK
BrCaK

would have to say looks so far one of the best MOH game i played before sweeeeeeett yay woohooo

Robertwelsh2
Robertwelsh2

Make room everybody, Medal of Honor is coming in hard and kind of fast. This is definitely getting a 'Superb Rating'.

Floms
Floms

excelent i cant wait for it

mmanolis
mmanolis

"The controls are laid out quite a bit differently than most Xbox 360 shooters, but it doesn't take long to adapt to them"... "Both the PC and Xbox 360 versions looked excellent, and they're visually indistinguishable from one another, thanks to the highly modified Unreal Engine 3 technology that powers the game"... Huh! I thought i was reading a ps3 review. Where are the impressions from the ps3-format game?

rocky1007
rocky1007

This game looks like it could rejuvenate the MoH series. But it is still a WWII FPS. Parachuting in looks great and making the game non-linear is definitely a plus. But the main reason I will wait on getting this game is that BioShock comes out at the same time. I wish game makers would start releasing more games in the Spring and Summer droughts when we have money instead of releasing all the best games in a 3-4 month section. And sorry to say this but between a new FPS with the gameplay and storyline Bioshock seems to have, and a WWII FPS, I will pick the new and interesting FPS. But I will at least rent Airborne later in the drought months.

airborne_101-82
airborne_101-82

this looks to be a promising realistic ww2 fps. cant wait

Redfingers
Redfingers

Just judging from what I've read above, this game will be much better than Call of Duty 2.

Wurz1515
Wurz1515

Overall it should be a good game; those these games have been done so many times it's hard to keep it interesting. Kudos for attempting to change it slightly with the paratrooping. I just hope that where you land actually will make a difference instead of just slightly change the stragety.

Robertwelsh2
Robertwelsh2

There are lots of screenshots with paratroopers caught in trees, I'm wondering if it will be at all possible to get yourself tangled in one. EA says you can drop anywhere, why not in anything?

Robertwelsh2
Robertwelsh2

I should of ordered this groovy game instead of 'Shadowrun'. Excuse me while I softly cry myself to sleep.

csachaoskid24
csachaoskid24

The new gameplay looks like it could be cool and the graphics are amazing. It's already a good formula for a good game. Hopefully the multiplayer pulls through!

Jose619
Jose619

look really good. perhaps i will buy..maybe. if online play is good then yeah, but single looks ok as a story line. hopefully cod4 will look and have a gameplay thats 100 times better than this.

Phabiuo3
Phabiuo3

TBH, it looks like too little to late. COD2 will probably be the last WW2 fps I will play for a long time. This may "shake up" the specific WW2 genre we have played to death, but compared to Crysis, Bioshock, Quake Wars, Hellgate, Stalker, etc. it barely even makes a splash in terms of quality or innovation. However, I will make my final judgement when I actually play it (if I ever play it), but I definetly have my doubts. Just my $ .02.

Chrissyc86
Chrissyc86

doesn't look too bad, will have to await a review cos the last few MOH games kinda sucked big time.

Bennycal
Bennycal

Looks nice. Call of Duties next game will have to either be amazing, or non linear in a way like this to stand a decent chance of competing. And I would imagine they would release the game compatable with DirectX9 and DirectX10, but it will be DirectX10 Recommended. Im stickin' with XP for now, until Vista sorts its act out. However now would be a good time to upgrade your PC if you havent already, with this wave of "Next-Gen" games coming out, and with Crysis gettting closer, if you havent got a dual core processor, at least 1Gb of memory, and at the bare minimum a high end 7 series (7900GS,7900GTX, 7950GT) you aint gonna last long. I myself am upgrading to A E4400, 2GB RAM, and a lovely new 8800GTS :P

SMGrawks
SMGrawks

Yeah, Sunrie, that's what the world needs: more WW2 FPS and more complex animations of you killing people. One day we'll win that war, and it will finally be over. No longer will we have inferiority complexes over our crappy country, when we can ruin everyone else's!

Sunrie
Sunrie

WOW. Finally they have changed the way WWII games are going to be presented. I loved CoD2, but hated the linear, predictable play and scripted death animations. Don't get me wrong, I understand why they did it, but come on... Now we get rag doll physics, better area specific damage on the hit boxes, and non linear game play. I, for one, can't wait! As for the DX questions, I'm sure it'll be DX10 for "recommended"

TJchief
TJchief

I can't wait for this game, I'm a huge fan of Band of Brothers and the MoH series so this will be a gem to me.

Rakuho
Rakuho

Look interesting. I liked the some of the previous MoH games, but some sucked. I hope this game delivers on what it promises... then maybe i'll just grab a copy.

DonutTrooper
DonutTrooper

I dont know...every MoH has been a major disappointment, and WWII is getting tiresome. Oh well, as a dying attempt to milk the franchise of a war none of the makers were in, it looks all right. Maybe a rent, but not a buy.

diablobasher
diablobasher

Wow man, looks awesome, i've always preffered CoD over MoH, but this might just change that.

al_marzouqi
al_marzouqi

Look fantastic Is it direct 10 or 9?

vufor
vufor

Sounds good, non linear, free-form WW II shooter! Exciting! Hope graphics will be as good as shown in pics. And also decent game play will do it one of the favourites! Let see how it ends up.

Schumock
Schumock

Sweet, just freakin' sweet! Can't wait to here about MP!!! =D

stu_godd
stu_godd

looks ok but not impresive,i think ww1/2 shooters will have to try alot harder .the graphics look good but that alone is not enough for me,ww1/2 shooters are very limiting and they have been done to death.

Romayo83
Romayo83

best shooter eh? the games not even out yet! haha band wagon people make me laugh.

vs_world
vs_world

The best game for first person shooter.

bodigalhun
bodigalhun

i love the Mohaa series except the pacific assault which the graphics and lighting become bit rough. but in the set i am expecting much much more. graphic and engine looks promising. hope the game come soon.

alexbartle
alexbartle

Graphics look very nice looks beter than cod also stop going on bout ww1

CookiesCream
CookiesCream

WWI is never used since it was primarily stalemate and trench warfare on the western front. The eastern front provided great defeats for the Russian Empire & Gallipoli was a mistake. Allies as much as I hate to say it, won through all the factors like American entry, new arms, tanks and the naval blockade. Effectively, attrition.

THE_HYBRID87
THE_HYBRID87

i used to play call of duty 3 but i played medal of honor a few times on_line so as call of duty 3 is not released on pc till now i think i would give medal of honor another try

SMGrawks
SMGrawks

OMFBBQ... We have to kill all the Germans before they invade teh US! Why isn't the news reporting this! P.S. wake me when they make a game where you can play a Nazi hunting down WW2 FPS afficianados.

Usagiboy75
Usagiboy75

Why is WWI never used? Because the US had little or nothing to do with it. The doughboys arrived very late on the scene and their inexperience in fighting in trenches meant they made very little contribution to the battlefield. As for Vietnam... well any student of history as opposed to television / movie viewer or gamer knows why that war doesn't appeal to game designers. Anyway I am happy to battle it out on the beaches and through the hedgerows of Normandy time and time again. Great preview by the way... really looking forward to the release now.

Juneit
Juneit

It's a good game. Wonderful preview too.

KrzyJoe
KrzyJoe

I agree they should make a game about WWI or Vietnam, after a "few" games of WWII it kinda gets mundane and monotonous, I would like to play in a war were tanks don't work, I have to use a suffocating gas-mask that doesn't really protect me from mustard gas & i'm being surprised attacked by German Troops with Flamethrowers, while there are zeppelins above bombing the hell out of everything. oh well at least you could shoot down the Red Baron or Something i dunno

neonblueshadow
neonblueshadow

"I am wondering why ww1 is never used." pretty sure with grand advances of 5ft per day ( on a good day), WWI doesn't have as many exiting moments as WWII. This is as good as an idea for a civil war FPS where you would spend 70$ of your time reloading and cleaning your musket. You can seriously make a turn based shooter out of the WWI scenario and still be extremely close to the real thing.

system3142
system3142

They should make a World War II racing game. Simulation. Bet that's never been done before. Even if you count the driving sequences in that third COD game. Mario Carts, say hello to Super Smash Soldiers Burnout, where your favourite characters can battle it out in a head to head speeder through the tracks of Normandy, Omaha, The Pacific, Carentan... Characters: Baker, Red, Ryan, COD Characters, Miller and many others!!

svitas
svitas

I am wondering why ww1 is never used.