If there’s one sub-genre of First Person Shooters we now have enough games for, it is World War II. Saving Private Ryan brought in a plethora of titles that promised to thrill us with the same in-your-face realism and intense, gripping action as the movie. Some kept those promises, while others fell very short. Medal of Honor: European Assault falls somewhere in between.
You play as Lt. William Holt, an American Soldier fighting for the British OSS. Throughout the game, Holt is sent on a variety of missions through four different campaigns: St. Nazaire, North Africa, Stalingrad and the Battle of the Bulge. The environments in each of these are rendered well for the most part. Textures and models are done well enough that one cannot point out much in the way of eye sores. Small touches like snow billowing off of rooftops and the player’s vision adjusting to the amount of light in an area helped make the environments believable.
Another enjoyable aspect of European Assault was the use of ironsighted aiming. It felt very authentic to gun down a Nazi while staring down the barrels of the plentiful weaponry available in this game. The weapons also seemed well balanced and none were totally useless. One thing that would have been nice would be the ability to throw a grenade without switching to it as a weapon, such as in Halo. But at least the ability to prime the grenade before throwing it helped to balance things out.
The game pushes you through the campaigns linearly but allows you to go back and replay missions over again in any order after being completed. There is a primary objective within each mission that must be met, but other than that everything else is optional. Players will even have to explore to discover some of the extra objectives. Objectives are limited to relatively simple concepts such as blowing stuff up, stealing a document, killing the boss-Nazi and escaping, but are still pretty fun. The fact that there is no right or wrong order to completing these objectives is very refreshing, as well as the fact that there does not seem to be anything you can do in the game short of dying which renders your mission a failure.
Combat involves crouching or laying prone much of the time while picking off enemies. A lot. This can be fun though, as players will find themselves in many a war-torn building hiding behind broken walls and the like. During combat, an adrenaline meter fills up which, when at it’s maximum, will allow players to go into a Wolverine inspired berserker rage that grants unlimited ammo, invulnerability and a Matrix-esque bullet-time for a short period. While somewhat unrealistic, it helps break up the otherwise camp-prone gameplay. On the page of unrealism, it should be noted that depending on the difficulty, first aid kits are scattered all over the place and if that’s not enough, extra lives can be gained by completing objectives. On harder difficulties, however, players will be unable to heal or resurrect during missions at all.
New to the series is the ability to command a squad of two or three soldiers. This seems like more of an afterthought and also a baby-sitting job. Sometimes your squad mates seem to die for no reason, even when there are no enemies around. They are mostly unresponsive to the two complex commands: “go there” and “come back”. It feels like yelling at a couple of puppies to get out of the street. However, they do help pick off the occasional stray enemy.
The enemy AI is improved in this release of MoH but still relies heavily on sheer numbers to attempt to overwhelm the player. Enemies will hide behind objects and occasionally try to flank, but they seem to act alone and do not implement any real tactics. The player models are good but the textures can be muted and fuzzy. The character animations are pretty well done – it’s almost scary how satisfying it is to snipe a fleeing Nazi and watch him trip to the ground.
Sweeping, orchestrated music and realistic sound effects help bring players into this experience. It should be mentioned that the music in MoH:EA is some of the best I have heard in a war shooter. The sound effects are right up there too: the crack of a sniper rifle being fired and the long, echoing, thunder-like rumble afterwards; the ringing of ears after a nearby grenade nearly turns the player into D-Rations and the sound of soldiers shouting to each other in the heat of battle gives this game two thumbs up in the sound-effects category.
Multiplayer is one category in which MoH:EA is a bit lacking. While this review is for the GameCube, none of the consoles offer multiplayer online or through system link. Split screen is the only option. However, those who do not normally play online or who choose to play this for the GameCube will not be disappointed. There are the standard game modes as well as some that are more objective-based. Each mode has a decent amount of options. Hate it or love it, the fact that players can crouch and lay down in European Assault should probably make for some seriously camp-tastic multiplay.
Overall, Medal of Honor: European Assault is a title worth checking out, especially if you have not played too many World War II shooters lately. It offers a less linear approach than many other titles and is fun enough to play through at least once, maybe twice given the various difficulty levels. The multiplayer is probably not enough to make most gamers click their heels but at least it doesn’t feel like it was slapped on at the last second. European Assault is a lot of World War II action with a little bit of arcade twist that turns out to be recipe for a pretty good time – but unless you’re a diehard Nazi-killer I would recommend checking out Call of Duty first.