Medal of Honor: Vanguard First Look

EA has not one but two entries in its vaunted World War II series coming this year. Find out what's new in the PS2 and Wii game.

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A few months ago, we got our first look at Medal of Honor: Airborne, EA's first iteration of its long-running World War II shooter series on next-gen consoles. But Airborne won't be the only Medal of Honor to ship this year--and it's not even the only MOH game being produced at the company's Los Angeles development house. Medal of Honor: Vanguard will hit the PlayStation 2 and Wii on March 26, and we got our first chance to find out what's going on with the game (and take it for a spin ourselves) at EA's recent press event at its Redwood City headquarters.

The initial paratrooper jump will give you some control over how you start each new operation.
The initial paratrooper jump will give you some control over how you start each new operation.

Vanguard will revisit several of the biggest military actions throughout the European Theater, like Operations Market Garden, Husky, Neptune, and Varsity. But you won't come at them from the same way you have in past games. Vanguard shares a new design element with Airborne: Each major operation will be preceded by a paratrooper jump, which will see you hurtling out of a plane and drifting into the battle below, rather than setting out at a predefined start point. Vanguard seems to give you a little less control over your landing than Airborne (which lets you land just about anywhere within the mission), but you do get green smoke signals on the ground that indicate strategically important landing points.

For instance, in the sample mission we saw, one landing marker was placed atop a two-story house that German soldiers had fortified. While the rest of the Allied force was assaulting the house from the ground, producer Joe Fielder chose to parachute onto the roof and through a hole into the attic. Doing so allowed him to toss down a grenade and clear out all the enemies manning the windows in one moment, and then mop up the rest of the soldiers in the house with little opposition. This was in contrast to our own attempt at the same mission, during which we fumbled our landing and touched down out in the yard. We were then required to fight the Germans from the ground outside, which naturally required a lot more effort.

You won't have to aim for these designated landing zones, but it will certainly pay to do so. Some afford strategic advantages, as in the previous example, while others will provide you with your only access to useful weapon upgrades. A windmill on the same battlefield in the mission we played had a sniper scope that could be used with the M1 Garand to turn it into a sniper rifle, and you'll find other equipment, like a 50-round drum for the Thompson submachine gun, in other areas.

Aside from the paratrooper drops (one of which will actually see you sailing into battle in a glider), Vanguard follows the MOH formula closely. Fielder calls the game a "return to classic MOH" that collects the best elements of the previous entries in the series. One improvement to the game is the "AI dialogue" system, which is meant to more accurately tailor the conversations between both your allies and enemies to the circumstances of the current battle. A sprint ability has also been added, which naturally helps you get from one cover point to the next without taking as much enemy fire.

With Vanguard, the team at EALA is squeezing a lot of performance out of the aging PS2 hardware.
With Vanguard, the team at EALA is squeezing a lot of performance out of the aging PS2 hardware.

The PS2's hardware may be getting on in years at this point, but it's obvious the Vanguard team knows how to squeeze as much performance from it as possible. The characters purportedly feature roughly twice as much geometric detail as past games (a fact we found believable based on what we saw in game), and there are increased smoke effects, lens flares for sunlight, and so on to round out the relatively impressive degree of realism. On top of that, Vanguard was running with a surprisingly smooth frame rate. The new consoles may be wowing early adopters with their whiz-bang visual abilities, but anyone who's stuck by that old workhorse the PS2 should be fairly well pleased here.

Vanguard clearly isn't turning the Medal of Honor formula on its ear, but given the continued popularity of this series over its multitude of iterations, that probably won't bother fans much. What we saw of the game is looking quite solid and refined, which means it shouldn't have a problem meeting its late-March ship date on the PS2. A Wii version is also forthcoming, though EA says it won't be ready to disclose information on that one until a later time.

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