When word first got out that another WWII-based Medal of Honor title was in the offing, gamers around the world could be heard breathing a collective sigh and muttering something profane about “yet another World War II shooter.” The venerable Medal of Honor series has been one of the staples of the FPS genre, providing some of the best World War II action to be found on virtually any platform. While Call of Duty has stolen some of Medal of Honor’s thunder, EA Games has struck back forcibly with Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault. As the name implies, the game puts the player in unfamiliar WWII shooter territory, the tropical islands of the Pacific.
Pacific Assault sees the player assuming the role of Tommy Conlin, a Marine grunt striving to ?do his part’ in the Pacific theatre of World War II. While most WWII shooters often have a less than cohesive story, Pacific Assault goes to great lengths to ensure that the player actually cares about the characters in the game’s campaign. This is perhaps where Pacific Assault stands out from other games in the genre. Few gamers are going to dispute the opinion that Call of Duty is one of the greatest first-person shooters of all time. However, there’s also no denying that the game’s campaign mode was essentially a series of levels bunched together with no tangible storyline; one minute you’re an American grunt and the next a Russian conscript. Pacific Assault bucks the trend through crafting a fairly convincing storyline. As you progress, you begin to learn the names of your squad mates and actually care about their fates; they even interact with one another through cut scenes and become an integral part of the story. Your adventures are chronicled in the first-person with the hero, Tommy, narrating the game’s settings.
Gameplay in Pacific Assault is nothing revolutionary, but provides some excellent thrills. Mission types include search and destroy, defending various bases or sections of jungle, beach storming, rail shooting and even the opportunity to fly an aircraft. Pacific Assault does a good job varying each mission’s objectives so that the player never becomes bogged down from doing the same thing for too long. Just when you find yourself becoming a little weary of the jungle, your fellow Marines enlist you to defend an airbase against an unrelenting enemy offensive. There’s also a feeling of desperation that comes across during all of the game’s missions. Whether it’s Pearl Harbor (perhaps one of the best levels designed in any shooter), Makin Atoll or Tarawa, you’re always outnumbered, outgunned, and, to the game’s credit, always awash with the distinct sense that you’re fighting for your very survival.
In most action titles your squad mates serve as little more than set piece caricatures intended to add cannon fodder garnish to the chaos. In Pacific Assault, these computer-controlled companions play an integral role in the action. You have a total of five different orders at your disposal. Depending on the given situation, and through the basic four squad commands of advance, retreat, group up, and lay down suppressing fire, you can order your troops to perform certain actions. For example, there will be many times when your squad happens upon a machine gun nest – order your comrades to lay down a suppressing fire to draw the machine gun’s fire while you skirt sideways and flank its position accordingly. The final command you’re capable of issuing is a medicinal call for help where, if injured, you can call a corpsman to patch you up and restore your health in full. To keep this feature from becoming abused, the player is issued with a limited amount of corpsman calls for each mission. The healing action itself also takes several seconds to complete so it’s wise to find some sheltering cover before you call for help.
The Japanese combatants in World War II were renowned for their ferocity and unwillingness to surrender – even against insurmountable odds. EA Games has done an excellent job in translating this historic lore to the game’s AI. Bayonet charges from the enemy provide some of the most intense battles you’ll ever experiences in a shooter. In most FPS games the ?melee’ attack that every weapon has, always amounts to little more than a throw away, token technique. In Pacific Assault enemies are so frequently up close and personal with the player that you’ll often need to frantically swing a rifle butt or thrust a bayonet simply to weather the storm of ?banzai’ charges. The computer-controlled opponents will let out screams and shouts as they bear down on you, and the Japanese dialogue comes across as very authentic. Wounded enemies will even attempt to use a med pack to heal themselves so that they can return to combat. During the game’s most desperate battles, the AI resorts to such tactics as ?suicide bombers’ – wounded troops who pull the pins on their grenades and let out a final battle cry for the Emperor before sending themselves skyward.
The AI also does a good job of attempting flanking maneuvers and tossing grenades; however, (and disappointingly) the occasional NPC will become stuck on a wall or a tree. Also, while navigating tight corridors, be prepared to disperse a few rounds of ammo at squad mates who infrequently yet inexplicably block your path. Still, in the main, Pacific Assault’s AI lends the game a cinematic feel and performs swimmingly throughout the campaign.
Pacific Assault uses a proprietary graphics engine that excels at rendering lush jungle environments and nicely detailed models. The tropical landscapes are some of the best looking ever produced, even surpassing those created by FarCry’s CryTech engine. That’s right, the varying jungle vegetation and ground cover are even more realistic than last year’s wildly popular first-person shooter. Nearby explosions will often cause your character to enter a state of disorientation as the image blurs and the screen color turns to black and white. The audio will also distort and a simulated ?ringing ears’ sound is also played. When manning a mounted machine gun, your immediate field of view shakes and blurs wildly to simulate the vibration from the fixed large caliber weapon. Everything is richly detailed and, on higher end machines, looks nothing short of fantastic. Missions take place at various times of the day, and the lighting subtly accentuates each time period appropriately. During a mid-afternoon mission sunlight will stream through the trees, creating realistic shadows, and at night blinding muzzle flashes are abundant. The engine also supports rag doll physics, causing enemies to spin and fall into – sometimes – less than realistic positions, but still the movement manages to look great. The smaller, more overlooked details haven’t been forgotten, either. When trampling through the brush, you’ll often scare birds from trees, which subsequently tips off the enemy to your imminent arrival. However, the same also works in reverse; setting up an ambush leads to some white-knuckle moments as the abrupt scattering of wildlife lets you know that lead strewn chaos is about to ensue.
Sound has always been an iron-clad staple in the Medal of Honor series and, luckily for the player, Pacific Assault is no different. As mentioned earlier, the dialogue from the enemy AI is extremely authentic and the battle cries from your cohorts are just as convincing. While the “Nice shot!” and “Tommy’s on the move y’all!” comments might grow a little stale over the course of the 10+ hour campaign, the overall game experience is undoubtedly better for having them included. Weapon sounds are also all very appropriate and resonate with a strength and force that provides ample satisfaction when squeezing that virtual trigger. The orchestral soundtrack fits perfectly amid the chaos and confusion too, which gives the action a wonderfully exaggerated feel of grandiose scope.
Pacific Assault is a difficult game. On anything other than the easiest difficulty level, even veteran first-person shooter players will frequently find themselves at the quick load screen. This also illuminates another minor sore spot in Pacific Assault. While lengthy load times can be expected on a game as graphically impressive as Pacific Assault, that length combined with the frequency of load screens damages a great deal of the immersion that the game tries so hard to create. Essentially, a player can expect about 15 minutes of actual playing time between load screens. At times, and especially when coming out of a particularly intense firefight, a loading screen is a welcome breather, but when they occur with such frequency it’s a wonder why more couldn’t have been done to space them out. Pacific Assault also requires a considerable amount of hardware muscle to run at an acceptable frame rate, which, for many, may be a turn off.
Even with these shortcomings, Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault is one of the best shooters on the market. Wild, desperate battles, a cohesive storyline resplendent with authentic characters, stunning visuals, and a superb soundtrack, mean that anyone looking for a rewarding FPS gaming experience would do well to “heed the call of duty” and pick this shooter up.