Are you to give up the fight and let this vast body of our wealth go to ruin? I do not believe it. - Richard Parks Bland
Is there room in my life for average games anymore? This was the recurring question as I played through Medal of Honor: Airborne for the Xbox 360. There's nothing particularly wrong with the game, it does everything we've come to expect from an FPS set in World War 2. The new addition of leaping out of a plane and landing nearly anywhere on the map was a good move, greatly reducing the boredom and frustration found running the linear track in the last games. What it doesn't do is pull the game up past the dubious title of "solid rental" with limited reasons to buy. I can't imagine anyone flocking to the online modes over games like Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4 this Fall.
Now that you can parachute to so many areas of the map, MoH: Airborne takes on an open mission structure that lets you pick and choose how you go about your objectives. I appreciated feeling like I had more control over my own destiny, even when that amounted to little more than choosing the left or right path toward my goal. The illusion of choice is also helped along by firefights that flare up between your fellow soldiers and enemy units as you progress towards your goals. It's readily apparent that allies are spawning into areas as I enter them, but I never actually saw them pop in so it didn't take much suspension of disbelief to imagine this would all be happening without my being there.
At the end of the day though, it is all an illusion. Your approach to the Anti-Aircraft gun you need to blow up will funnel down to a linear path before you get there, throwing the open-ended concept out the window. I would have liked to see my options pushed beyond route choices and the occasional sniper perch. The problem is that truly open maps don't lend themselves to scripted battles and events. MoH: Airborne needs the scripting because the enemies themselves won't do much more than run for cover, throw grenades or charge you. More emergent, intelligent maneuvers like flanking and distraction would have gone a long way toward making the otherwise average gameplay stand out.
The damage model clashes with the realistic feel of the graphics and sounds. Head shots are the only sure kill, everything else requires multiple rounds before an enemy will go down. Three bullets to the chest should do more than illicit a German curse as the enemy ducks back behind some sandbags. Sometimes when the enemy is running, possibly as part of a scripted sequence, bullets won't even hurt him. It doesn't happen too often, but when it does it drags you right out of the experience.
Although it's not realistic, I do like getting weapon upgrades for individual guns as I use them. You "level up" weapon types by using them often, giving you bonuses like better aiming zoom or more ammo per clip. You can see an outline of your gun on the main screen slowly fill up with blue experience as you mow down enemies. Once it hits the top the on-screen action slows down and gives you a little time to aim a few quick shots while your new upgrade flashes on the screen. It's a satisfying reward for sticking with a particular gun and gives you some sense of accomplishment outside of just completing missions.
I know I'm supposed to complain about games being short, but after six missions and about eight hours I feel like I've reached my WW2 shooting quota for the year. It's all very competent, but there's not much here we haven't seen before.
Is there still room in my life for average games? Maybe during the slow summer months, but not this Fall.