Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault Review

Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault (MoHPA) is as much interactive movie as it is action game, and one with pretty high production values at that. It is a game filled with atmosphere, authenticity, and an overriding aura of respect for the men and women who actually lived through the events depicted in the game. Sure, the events in the game are heavily scripted and your path predetermined, but the gameplay is challenging and absorbing enough that you’ll barely even notice.

MoHPA certainly starts out with a bang. You begin in a Higgins Boat hitting the beach at Tarawa. You’ll need to survive withering fire from the beach and a jetty, reaching the shore to only be inevitably knocked unconscious and begin to flashback to the start of your career in the Marines. It’s an interesting plot device that really helps to reinforce the movie feel of the game. After the relative calm of basic training and a nice driving tour of the base to which you’re assigned, things get very nasty, very quickly. It seems that the base to which you’ve been assigned is Pearl Harbor, and your first day on the job is December 7th, 1941 (yeah, they made you start your assignment on a Sunday morning before 6:00 AM, but you’re a Marine, you can take it). From there it is an amazing scene of chaos and quite an adrenaline rush as you need to dodge strafing Zeroes to reach a PT boat, defend the boat from aircraft as you zip around the harbor, work to save the West Virginia from capsizing and then rescue trapped and injured sailors, and finally man the deck AA guns to protect both your ship and the Nevada as it tries to steam out of the harbor. It’s as intense as it sounds, in fact more so. Imagine a sky filled with torpedo planes, fighters, and dive bombers, ships ablaze with fire as their superstructures crumple, and smoke and flames and explosions everywhere. It’s one of the more memorable levels to ever appear in a shooter.

From there things go through a very decided change, and not necessarily for the better. You will spend a large amount of time moving through dense jungle foliage against an unseen and very aggressive enemy. It bears a striking resemblance to the play in the spate of Vietnam games that have been released recently and will invoke Vietnam flashbacks (flashforwards?) more than memories of prior Medal of Honor games. As a result, MoHPA suffers from a few of the same issues as its Vietnam-based cousins. The first is a matter of personal taste and your enjoyment of the game will depend greatly on whether or not you find it fun to move slowly through levels where you don’t see much other than foliage and have to fight enemies that you often can not see. One gamer’s tense and realistic level is another’s tedious and frustrating one – you’ll have to make up your won mind on that one. The unseen enemy is an issue for everyone, though, as the enemy does not seem to operate with the same handicap. You would think that by cautiously advancing under the cover of thick vegetation you’d have a decent chance on sneaking up on the enemy on more than one occasion. However, the enemy has an uncanny ability to spot your approach and will open fire on you every time, even though you probably can’t see them at all or can even tell from where they are firing. In addition, the Japanese soldiers have an annoying habit of charging you with bayonets and you won’t be able to see them until they are on top of you.

In a way the charging enemy is a good inclusion in the game as it reflects the boldness of the Japanese Army in World War II and realistically reflects the fact that combat often gets up close and personal. However, the game is not really suited to be a fighter and you’re limited to a single move that lets you swing your rifle butt around by pressing the right mouse button. When you have a couple of enemies poking you with bayonets there is no way for you to fend even one of them off and the most prudent course of action is invariably to try to get the heck out of there. Wait a minute; didn’t you bring a gun to this knife fight? Sure, but you’ll be lucky to get one shot off before you are looking at a Japanese soldier face to face.

 

MoHPA goes for a more realistic approach with regards to weapons. Each weapon’s rate of fire reflects that of its real-world counterpart and is not some souped-up action game version. So if you’re stuck with a bolt action rifle, then you better be sure that you hit with the first shot because you won’t be able to get off a second shot for a long time coming. Reload rates are also realistic, so to the action gamer it will seem like an eternity before the next clip is loaded in.

MoHPA is not a solo experience for your character. You will be accompanied on your missions by a squad of Marines, each of who has their own unique personality that is explored and given some depth during the game’s cutscenes. The game does a good job with this and you’ll find yourself identifying with the squad as the game progresses, not unlike you would with the major characters in a war movie such as Saving Private Ryan. Since I have never experienced war firsthand, I can’t say how realistic the squad interactions are in that sense, but I can say that it makes for a pretty decent movie. In battle your squad fights alongside of you, although they are pretty much impervious to death and you’ll have to rack up most of the kills yourself. In an interesting change of pace from the ubiquitous health pack and canteen health boosters, MoHPA uses a medic who is a part of your squad and can heal you up to four times a mission. When your health drops too low you can call for the medic and he’ll come and aid you. He also works for the rest of your squad, though, so if he’s busy patching up a buddy then you’ll have to wait your turn in line. It’s an interesting health mechanism that will force you to be more cautious when playing since you only have four uses of the medic a level and it’s not an instant health power-up, but one you’ll have to wait until there is enough of a lull in the action for you to stop shooting and receive some aid.

In addition to letting you call for a medic, the game lets you give your squad orders of the “hold” and “follow” variety. This does not put the game on par with the serious squad-bases shooters though. It’s more of a nice feature that is not critical to gameplay than anything else.

MoHPA is not an easy game. You’re contending with an enemy that has better luck seeing you than vice-versa, your squad is more for show than for killing the enemy, and it is tough to handle swarms of charging Japanese soldiers. In addition, you have to contend with ammo that is in short supply and with very slow, albeit realistic, reload times. Action gaming veterans may appreciate the challenge if they don’t mind dealing with some frustrating moments, but casual gamers may find the challenge curve a bit too steep.

Like the campaign, overall the game has its strong and weak points. On the downside, you have very long load times and missions that vary widely between intense and enjoyable and repetitive and frustrating. But when it shines, MoHPA is a gaming experience that approaches a masterpiece.

In The End, This Game Hath Been Rated: 84%.  A lot of great presentation, movement moments, and action, but also a lot of repetitive and frustrating stretches.

System Requirements:  Pentium 1.5GHz; 512 MB RAM;  64 MB Video RAM; 8x CD-ROM;  3.0 GB Hard Drive Space;  Mouse.