Aside from a couple of low-profile Game Boy Advance and mobile releases, the Medal of Honor series hasn't had a significant presence in the handheld-gaming sector thus far. And you know those limited platforms weren't able to do justice to this explosive, larger-than-life World War II franchise, anyway. But now a team at Electronic Arts' Canada studio is using the inarguably powerful hardware of the PlayStation Portable to create Medal of Honor Heroes, the series' first appearance on Sony's handheld--and from what we've seen, the first time a portable MOH will have a chance to equal the dramatic action that has defined the series on consoles and the PC.
Heroes will feature a full single-player campaign that we got to take a look at. You'll take control of three notable characters from previous games--Lt. Jimmy Patterson from Frontline, Sgt. John Baker of Allied Assault: Breakthrough, and Lt. William Holt from European Assault--and play through 15 story missions spread across three campaigns. These campaigns will see you traveling from the coast of Italy to the rainy city streets of Holland and finally to the snowy fields of the Ardennes, in Belgium. Like the console games, the PSP version will let you play through each of these missions multiple times to pursue optional, secondary objectives and to earn more valuable medals through better performance.
All of the missions in Heroes will see you performing OSS-style covert ops that will send you behind enemy lines. We jumped into one mission in the story mode that tasked us, along with a small squad of allies, with infiltrating a Nazi position to disrupt radio communications, which included having us plant timed bombs on some equipment. From the little we got to play, the team seems to have done a good job adapting the traditional Medal of Honor controls to the PSP, since there are four quite different control schemes on offer that let you put the look and movement functions on the analog stick, face buttons, and so on. Other functions, like duck and melee attack, have been intelligently distributed on the available buttons, from what we saw.
Quick action is big in handheld gaming these days, what with the easy sleep function found on the PSP, and Heroes' designers have devised a new skirmish mode as a way to jump into gameplay faster than with the main campaign. Skirmish is an offline deathmatch against computer-controlled bots that will let you play on any of the story maps you've previously completed. You'll be able to set all the usual parameters, such as number of players (up to 16), weapon availability, time limit, and so on--then you're off for a short burst of killing. This seems like a no-frills mode, but it's one that you can access with a minimum of hassle if you don't have much time to play.
As for the online multiplayer in Heroes, EA Canada has some ambitious plans. This will be the first game to allow an impressive 32 players in an online game at once, and luckily, you'll be able to join and exit in-progress matches at will, rather than dealing with the headaches of a lobby system. Six modes will be available, starting with the requisite deathmatch and infiltration, which is basically capture the flag. Then there's battle lines, a Battlefield-style game where both teams vie to hold a number of control nodes, and domination is a variant where one team attempts to hold all the points at once. Finally, hold the line is a king-of-the-hill mode with only one control point, and demolition is an attack-and-defend mode with one team assaulting targets that the other team is trying to protect.
As mentioned, you'll be able to revisit story missions to complete additional goals and earn better medals, but this won't just be for bragging rights. There will be around 20 skins for the multiplayer mode that you can unlock through the campaign, so you'll be able to show off your superior skill offline when you jump into an online game using a rare skin. The game's server model is also quite interesting, since you'll be able to download the Heroes dedicated server program from EA's Web site and host a 32-player game on your PC. Once you get a server up and running, it'll contact the central network, and your server will be listed in the in-game browser alongside the official ones running at EA. You'll have full admin control from your PC, and there will be a voting system in place within multiplayer games to take care of troublesome players, too.
Heroes is shaping up to be as fully featured a Medal of Honor game as you could want on the PSP, with visuals that come close to the PlayStation 2 installments in the series, along with full voice acting and the now-requisite World War II film clips that set up each mission. The multiplayer aspect is quite a bit more robust than we were expecting (and more so than we've seen from other online PSP games, really), so we'll be curious to see how well the game takes hold in the online community when it ships later this fall.