Nearly three years ago, Electronic Arts brought us Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, effectively ushering in a new era of WWII first-person shooters. Intense battle sequences, great gameplay and an inspiring soundtrack were just a few of its hallmark features, helping it become a very serious player in the crowded PC FPS arena.
Since then, though, the competition has grown considerably thanks to the likes of EA's own Battlefield franchise, Joint Ops: Typhoon Rising and, most specifically, Activision's stellar Call of Duty. We haven't forgotten about MoH, but truth be told, the series is fighting an uphill battle to recapture the glory it enjoyed when Allied Assault blasted on to the scene. And like a determined soldier, EA has come back firing with Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault.
Pacific Assault takes a step back from the European theater of operations and into the Pacific. You play as Private Tom Conlin, a soldier with the U.S. Marine force at Tawara Atoll. Vaguely reminiscent of Allied Assault's Omaha Beach level, the action starts off hard and fast as you hit the beach running with enemy fire from all directions, pushing your way into enemy territory with the standard assortment of rifles, guns and grenades. From there, you'll flash all the way back to boot camp and the events of your tour leading up to that moment.
The game follows the same formula as past editions of the MoH series with plenty of linear run and gun first-person shooting peppered with scripted events. Enemies pop in and press a relentless attack against you while you do your best to beat them off with your boom sticks. A few changes have been made for Pacific Assault, but for the most part, it follows in the boot prints of its predecessors.
Boot Camp serves as an introduction to the game's controls. MoH vets will fly through this tutorial with only a few new concepts to master. In keeping with the times, Pacific Assault has added a stance control. Players are now able to drop from a standing position to kneeling and all the way down to prone to help with accuracy. You're also able to pick up injured comrades and drop them off at the nearest medic for some much-needed first aid. No real big changes here.
One interesting nuance of Pacific Assault is that you'll no longer be scooping up health packs, instead relying on the A.I.-controlled corpsman to patch you up. If you're injured, you just need to call in your medic, who will run to your side and sew you back together. It's a good thing he can't be killed or you'd be in some serious trouble.
Speaking of squadmates, you'll often have a few along for the ride (none of them can die, oddly enough). You can issue a few basic commands such as "advance," "cover fire" and "fall back" for a little support in the field, but you shouldn't rely on them too heavily because they're mostly just there for support. You're the hero of the story, after all.
Incidentally, the storytelling is the game's strongest suit. Rather than just dumping you into a one-man Rambo rampage, Pacific Assault sets an interesting, dramatic stage for Private Conlin's experience in the war. You'll hear from your fellow recruits and squadmates as you fight to survive against hordes of enemy forces. Scripted events help greatly in this regard, leading to some very intense, cinematic moments. One of them greets you as you enter Pearl Harbor for the first time. One minute you're being escorted on to the base, and the next, there are explosions everywhere and you're dodging fire from enemy Zeroes. The officer who was just escorting you quickly becomes a victim of enemy fire and you're left to fend for yourself. The shocking, lonely nature of war is captured wonderfully.
It is unfortunate, then, that the reality set up by the story is interrupted by some hideously unreal events. Like Allied Assault, Pacific Assault has a nasty case of the pop-ups. Enemy soldiers will unexpectedly spawn in at the strangest times, making you wonder if you're fighting grunts or ghosts. This phenomenon is probably due to the game's scripted events, but knowing that won't make you feel any better after being smoked by some enemy soldiers triggered to appear when you crossed some imaginary line.
On the other hand, Pacific Assault does a great job of breaking up the action and keeping it interesting. Instead of trudging through the entire campaign on foot just shooting at pop-up people, you'll also take control of stationary guns, hop aboard a boat to gun down Zeroes and even fly a plane. These provide some of the most harrowing, chaotic gameplay bits and control well. As your drill instructor said, you'll be a Marine of land, sea and air.
Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault boasts a slick new proprietary engine that holds up well against other of its ilk. The environments are lush and believable, the faces of both allies and enemies look great and the myriad effects are well done and interesting. Naturally, you'll need a pretty hefty rig to crank up the visual settings, but if you're a fan of first-person shooters, you already knew that.
Unfortunately, Pacific Assault has a tendency to keep you waiting. The load times are pretty long; even the fastest processors on the planet won't help as you stare blankly at a load screen.
At least your ears will be happy, though, thanks to Pacific Assault's excellent audio. In keeping with tradition, the game chimes in with perfect voice acting, booming special effects and a musical score worthy of a Hollywood film. It serves as a reminder that great audio is under appreciated.
Pacific Assault's multiplayer game is split up into three modes. You can of course play Free For All and Team Deathmatch - no surprises there - but a new mode called Invader is the true heart of the multiplayer. Here, you'll pick from one of four soldier classes (infantry, medic, demolitions and ammo tech) and head into battle on one of eight maps. You'll need to accomplish a set of objectives to achieve victory, such as blowing up a target and then securing an area, while the other team is trying to stop you. It's not quite as engaging as the larger scale tug-of-war battles found in other online WWII shooters, but is interesting enough to keep you coming back.
There are two versions of Pacific Assault: the standard version and the fancy DVD-only Director's Edition, which has a few exclusive extras. Featurettes like an interactive WWII timeline and propaganda gallery teach you more than you ever wanted to know about the war (unless you're a big history buff).
In keeping with the time-honored traditions of the series, Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault puts on a good show. Pulse-pounding scripted events and great presentation create a nice backdrop for the Pacific theater of operations, but small annoyances such as enemy pop-up and lengthy load times stifle the package. Nonetheless, this warrior deserves its decorations.