Whoever wins, you lose.
We have no idea why there are so many World War II games, but we never cared to complain while most of them were pretty good. Cue Medal of Honor: European Assault, the latest in the MoH line, and a game so uninspired and boring it has somehow made us sick of every single other World War II game. Hach der bargain bin.
European Assault features a short campaign through the European theatre as its sole single-player option. Here you assume the identity of US Army Lieutenant William Holt who is represented in the game both as an old man narrating a war story, and as a young, strapping war hero living in the midst of one. But instead of ever dealing with any personal drama, the old man just makes generalizations ("There's nothing good about wars, but there is good in why you fight wars) over stock-footage of battleships, while the young version never says much of anything. Even though the presentation suggests the telling of a story, none is ever told.
So the plot is AWOL, but the action is ever-present. European Assault throws wave after wave of Nazi scum against you and your squad-mates, and like a pro surfer you ride "em into the ground. But unlike surfing, European Assault is really easy. You just enter a combat zone, press a button to duck behind some crates, peak out and kill every bad guy you see. If you stand out in the open, every bullet fired will hit you, but from behind a crate or around a corner you're virtually invincible.
While peeking out, this is what you'll see: several crates before you in a war-torn setting with Nazis sitting behind them. Each will duck behind his crate for a couple seconds, then stand up and shoot randomly. They'll never tire of this, and they'll repeat the exact same routine until you've killed them all. When this is done, you move forward to the next set of crates, triggering more Nazis to run out and assume positions behind yet more crates.
Sometimes, as you kill Nazis, more come to replace their fallen comrades, endlessly. To stem the tide, you basically need to charge their way-point (the place they head to each time they spawn). This is where adrenaline comes in handy. Adrenaline is accrued in a meter every time you kill an enemy and when the meter is full, you can enter Adrenaline Mode (time is slowed and you're invincible). So, you use adrenaline, run up, kill everyone, peek over whatever obstacle is there for you, and resume target practice.
Even though you're playing a first-person shooter, most of the game feels like Hogan's Alley. Except in that game, the bad guys could actually shoot back. You just sit there, lining up head-shot after head-shot, missing, reloading, and trying again without any real action. Danger is communicated by terrible things happening to the men around you via scripted events, making the game feel like sort of a light-hearted tour through World War II Europe, rather than a frenetic, deadly battle.
Just as it pretends to tell a story, and pretends to place you in the midst of action, European Assault also pretends to put you in charge of a four-man squad. The squad controls are simple: one button issues an attack command, another issues a retreat command. If your men are wounded, you can heal them by getting close and pressing a button, as long as you have a med-kit to spare. But since your men move when you move, whenever you approach them in an attempt to heal, they'll get up and move, because you just moved. So you wind up chasing your wounded men back and forth between the same two spots, trying to heal them, feeling like a moron for even caring.
But no matter how much you persist in healing your men, tanks will be the end of them. Tanks bear 100% of the difficulty factor in European Assault because they're extremely tough to kill, and they can dish out a lot of damage. As you reach the later stages, you can expect to find one or two in nearly every skirmish. To destroy a tank, you either must hit it with three rockets, or several perfectly placed hand grenades. The difficulty lies in the fact that rockets are super rare, and grenades bounce off the damn things.
So you usually have to strafe around the tank, avoiding its turret while lobbing grenades. In the meantime, enemies are able to hit you, since you're out in the open. Eventually, you'll either get shot to death by the enemies, run out of grenades and get shot to death by the tank, or blow up the tank and resume picking off enemies from behind crates. Frankly, we're torn between preferring the first and second options.
Occasionally though, there is a fourth option " avoiding the tanks altogether. Even though European Assault is a linear game with linear missions, you can occasionally choose between two different routes to the same end-point. While there's no way of knowing which of these will lead you to a tank your first time through a level, it's nice to have choices. There are also a handful of secondary objectives to be completed (or not) as you run through a mission. Some of these are obvious, while others must be found, like your nemeses.
Nemeses are sort of like mini-bosses " there's one in each level. Basically, you can identify them by the German cross above their heads, and the way they actually move during combat. However, they still move in rigidly fixed patterns, and are just as fond of poking their heads out as their weaker comrades. And no, they can't hit you if you're peeking over a crate.
Although European Assault isn't much of a game, it does benefit from some decent production values. Many levels are populated with scores of enemy as well as allied troops who are constantly being blown up by random explosions. And while there's always a lot of on-screen activity, the framerate almost never bogs down. Still, you can tell this game was optimized for the PS2, because the models are blocky and many of the textures are washed-out. The Gamecube, PS2 and Xbox versions all look identical, and that's not something you want to hear if you own a Gamecube or an Xbox.
Regardless of your system, the floating icons that indicate guns, health and ammo look ridiculous. Instead of grabbing realistic looking guns dropped by enemy soldiers, every acquirable weapon is represented by a blue, two-dimensional floating pistol " even the rocket launchers! I went through half the game thinking I was passing up hand-guns.
But European Assault's music and sound effects aren't nearly as chintzy. While the score is your typical, patriotic, sentimental World War II stuff, it's still pretty and sounds clear. Meanwhile, the sound effects are excellent. Your boots crunch the gravel, explosions ring through the fog of war, and your ears ring whenever something large explodes right next to you.
Everything I've said goes for every version of European Assault, since they are all identical. The graphics, controls, load times and multiplay options are all the same, since none of them have any online components. Instead, up to four players can compete in any of several multiplayer games on one system. This wouldn't be so bad if the game featured bots, like Conker: Live and Reloaded, but it doesn't. If you think Capture the Flag is boring, try it with only two players.
Or better yet, don't. Medal of Honor: European Assault gives World War II games a bad name by skimping on the story, gameplay, graphics and multiplayer options. We're not even sure this is a game. In any case, do yourself a favor and leave this medal on the steps.