Medal of Honor: Airborne

FBT jumps out of a perfectly good aeroplane in the name of honor

The Past

I landed in the ‘love MoH:A’ camp when it first came out. Most others called it a pointless offline multiplayer, another example of the MoH franchise's dwindling relevance in the face of the mighty CoD - both good points. But I really liked it. The parachute sequences where you looked down and realised nothing could stop you from landing right in the middle of a raging battle was thrilling - tired of the spoon-fed linear shooters but finding non-linear shooters too meandering, MoH:A seemed the perfect compromise. Everything was against you, but it was on you to find a way, not follow a path and it taught you war was hell. Or maybe it was just a lazy bot-controlled offline multiplayer now I think about it. I rinsed it back in the day, earning every medal and star. Time to re-earn my paratrooper wings.

Still a Blast

There is something classy about MoH:A. It looks good for its age and there’s some great detail to it - according to a nice behind-the-scenes on the DVD, developers EA LA (who were DreamWorks, later Danger Close and now DICE LA) took it very seriously, recording the real planes, weapons and even the boots of the different factions (Not that I ever heard footsteps and thought ‘ahh yes, that’ll be the Italians approaching’). Although there’s not a lot of character or scene-setting, once we’re aboard the plane it’s tense. Your fellow grunts have a well-observed bravado-meets-fear feel to them and more often than not, our plane gets battered while reaching the dropzone. We’re flung out and there’s a horrible silence until we’re close enough to hear the guns and shouting. There’s an excitement in seeing the scale of what’s below; that’s missing in linear games’ walk-in events. I have to survive that?

I float down trying to spot an edge, or a ledge I can land on to strike from but its mayhem down there and I always change my mind as I get closer. As I land (usually a ‘Botched’ landing where I get pulled by my chute or stumble while getting my bearings) I’m right in the heat of battle or at some Nazi’s feet and get shot to pieces while trying to recover. It is instantly intense. Unfortunately, I can’t desert. Once in, its non-linear but fairly close-quartered. Each mission has a different layout – an early level is an Italian village and we’re sliding across pottery roofs, through tiny alleyways and in and out of houses while troops on both sides tear about, while later locations are set in old ruins or camps behind enemy lines – it’s never the same experience twice. Unless you get killed.

Every time you’re shot, stabbed or blown up, you return to the plane to try again. Although we’re always playing the same silent hero – Boyd Travers – the constant respawn feels like a new grunt thrown into the fray and that sheer numbers will win this, not a lone hero. That’s lucky because I get through a lot of Boyds.

Part of that brutality is we’re always outnumbered, but really it’s down to the sheer confusion – in a realistic way; I have no idea what we’re doing; the mission briefings are little more than pep-talks and once down all we have is a mission marker or a radio message telling us to ‘secure’ something as the mission parameters change.

As you use weapons they gain XP, awarding you better magazines, reduced recoil, accuracy etc. which feels right, representing a more experienced, aware soldier who finds and utilises anything they can on the battlefield. You’ll need the edge; the AI of the Axis is either brutally efficient or vacantly scripted depending how you look at it. They’ll run to you as you land, bayonets and rifle butts at the ready and dart about aggressively giving it an edgy, unknown feel, but that also makes them appear set in random mode and you rarely feel like you’re fighting something that’s aware or making decisions. But then again, that’s just how I’m behaving; barrelling around like an armed headless chicken, I imagine this is how a lot of war goes – a perfect plan descending into chaos as soon as a shot is fired.

Most of the moments we face are drawn from real battles and how the Paratroopers aided the war. Early on we’re taking out anti-aircraft guns before moving onto spotting-towers, radars and eventually work up behind the shoreline of Normandy to knock out the pillboxes. It’s all thrilling, realistic stuff. At least until Operation Market Garden, when it seems we’ve parachuted into Call of Duty.

While cutting through a decimated village trying to avoid a tiger tank and more troops than seems fair, we reach our objective; keep a bridge open for our tanks. It’s under attack from Nazis trying to blow it up by using RPGs which they fire at us too, even in close quarters. There’s just something ‘game’ about a battalion of RPG troopers and it starts to lose that realism. I can’t parachute in behind them; once you get midway through you stop dropping as it becomes a linear push. Can’t get more linear than a bridge filled with RPG troopers firing annoyingly accurate rockets at you point blank.

And the CoD-style OTT continues. There’s a nice mission in a munitions factory at a rail station, which is spoilt by the arrival of ‘SS Storm Elite’ troopers who wear gas-masks and wield the kind of firepower that reminds you of that scene in Predator after Blain gets it. They’re fun to take down, but hardly believable. Then the final mission has our multiple-hero assault a huge flak tower which is a great bit of business but doesn’t make a lot of sense since the goal is to reach the basement and blow it up. Couldn’t we just land at the base then? We did walk out of an open door at the end.

Those final few missions really do take the edge off MoH:A – I’d forgotten how silly it got, but the biggest disappointment in this Blast is how the respawning removes the camaraderie we see aboard the planes; once, one soldier got shot yet refuses to stay behind, insisting he’s ‘jumping with you guys’ – really bringing home that brotherhood sense, yet Boyd is frustratingly hollow; there’s no cut-scenes, no characterisation - all we get is his ‘after action report’ voice-over as we pan over the dozens of Boyds strewn across the battlefield. Most of the MoH games have stoically silent, emotionally absent heroes, but MoH:A spends a lot of time personalising if not deifying the Paratroopers; each mission opens with a quote about them, we see the sheer stress and danger they’re put through, understand that every jump is a suicide mission; in-game there’s some horrible moments like getting close to a burning tank and hearing the men inside screaming. Yet Boyd is absent, a Doom-era arm when he should be Private Ryan. Most games have respawn and autosaves but their characters appear in cutscenes, you inhabit them and when you die, you start again whereas here, the battle continues below – it feels like an endless respawn rather than an adventure and that turns MoH:A into an offline multiplayer game which is frustrating.

MoH:A is a good game with tons of effort and consideration built into it, but it’s a game of two halves – the in-game action which is mostly brilliant, and the build-up which is affecting. Instead of coming together, they cancel each other out like you parachuted into the wrong game.

2007 | Developer; EA Los Angeles (DICE LA) | Publisher; Electronic Arts

Platforms; Win (Origin), X360, PS3