Medal of Honor: Vanguard Hands-On
We arm ourselves with a Wii Remote to see how EA's upcoming first-person shooter handles on Nintendo's new console.
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Though we've seen EALA's upcoming Medal of Honor Vanguard on the PlayStation 2, we've been very curious to see how the game is going to shape up on the Wii. The WWII-based first-person shooter is the latest installment in EA's long-running Medal of Honor franchise, which had you running around in historical settings on the original PlayStation. We recently had the chance to pop down to EA's Los Angeles studio, which is currently hard at work bringing the game to Nintendo's console, to check out a work-in-progress version of the game.
The core Medal of Honor Vanguard experience on the Wii is the same as its PlayStation 2 cousin. You can expect to see several of the biggest military operations of the European theater, such as Market Garden and Varsity. However, the game will add some variety to the MOH formula by working in airdrops that find you leaping out of a plane and landing in the battlefield. The system doesn't offer as much freedom as the upcoming MOH: Airborne on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, which lets you land anywhere you want. However, your landing options include areas marked by green smoke that indicate landing points, which will offer you such tactical advantages as weapon upgrades or equipment.
Because the game's content is basically the same as the PS2 game, our big point of interest in Vanguard is the control scheme, which seems like it should be a good fit for the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo. Our work-in-progress version of the game had the control scheme implemented, and though it could use some tightening up, it definitely had some potential. You'll use the Nunchuk for all things related to movement in the game and a few other odds and ends. You'll use the analog stick to move and lean left or right. The C button on the Nunchuk will let you jump, while the Z button will let you cycle between standing, crouching, and lying prone. You can also use gestures with the Nunchuk to perform these actions. The gestures have been set up fairly intuitively, so they make logical sense. Moving your Nunchuk up lets you jump or adjust your stance. Moving it down will get you to crouch or lie prone. You'll also be able to perform a 180-degree turn by flicking the Nunchuk to the left, which isn't mapped to a button and is exclusive to the Wii game. Titling the remote will let you zoom in and out on targets when you're in sniper mode. Finally, flicking the remote to the right will let you reload your weapon.
Because the Nunchuk handles movement duty, the remote is tied more to your aim and interactions. Aiming is central to using the remote, which you can do naturally by pointing at an onscreen cursor in line with your motions. When you have a gun equipped, you'll shoot your weapon by hitting the B button. When you've got grenades equipped, you'll hold down the B button with your cursor aimed at where you want to throw, then you'll pull back and swing the remote forward (kind of like fishing in Zelda) to toss your grenade. Switching weapons gets a little tricky and requires you to use the remote's D pad, which you'll need to use for several actions. Hitting left on the D pad switches your primary weapon, hitting right equips grenades, holding up lets you sprint, and pressing down centers your view. The 2 button reloads your weapon, and the 1 button will let you perform a melee attack (which you can also do by moving the remote forward). Finally, the 1 button lets you interact with the environment by placing charges or opening doors, to name a few possible actions.
As we mentioned, the setup has potential but just needs some tightening. Though the game features a single control scheme, the team is putting in some options to let you customize elements, such as tweaking your turning sensitivity, locking your vertical view to make sure you don't get too disoriented, and locking the aiming reticle. What we played took some getting used to, as is the case with most Wii games, but felt pretty workable after some adjustment. The only sticking point for us right now is the use of the D pad, which can be problematic when things get hectic. The D pad was just high enough to be slightly out of comfortable reach while playing but may be something we're OK with after more play time.
In playing through the two levels in the demo, Shallow Grave and Haunted, we got more accustomed to the setup and were able to do well by the end. Our only rough spot was the D pad, but, as we mentioned, we were able to get a bit more comfortable with it by the time we played through the levels. The game's award system is a pseudo Xbox Live achievement system that rewards you with some performance upgrades, such as improved sprint bar recovery, health recovery, and overall health. You'll find several different awards to earn in the game that range from medals you earn from completing episodes to more specialized distinctions. For example, some awards will require you to complete a level without dying or earn several different performance awards in one level.
Besides the single-player game that we were able to try out, Medal of Honor Vanguard will feature a split-screen multiplayer mode for up to four players. The game will offer five game types: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, king of the hill, and scavenger hunt. While the first four game types are pretty self-explanatory, scavenger hunt is a bit different in that you'll have to collect supplies that are air-dropped into a level and take them to a drop-off point. If you are able to collect the specified number of drops and deliver them to the drop-off point, you win. The downside to the multiplayer mode is that it's offline only.
The visuals in the game are a few cuts above the PS2 game and feature smoother performance and cleaner detail. Though there isn't a vast improvement over the PS2 visuals, the game definitely looks good. The environments are detailed and feature a modest level of interactivity that fits the action well. Character models are well done, and animation is coming along, although it is rough in places. The game's 480p and 16x9 widescreen support help complement the cinematic feel that's a staple of the series. Vanguard's audio follows the MOH formula and offers solid accompaniment to the onscreen action. You'll hear the usual mix of weapon fire and explosions in battle. At the same time, the game features a good assortment of ambient audio that includes squadmate chatter, which helps immerse you in the chaos.
As of right now, Medal of Honor Vanguard has a lot of potential to be a strong first-person shooter experience on the Wii. The game content is solid, and the control scheme could work very well once it's tightened up. The game's split-screen multiplayer support suits the Wii sensibility, but we'd like to have seen some online multiplayer action. All told, Medal of Honor Vanguard has a good deal of promise that makes it one to watch. The game is currently slated to ship this March for the Wii and PS2.