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Medal of Honor: Airborne (Xbox 360) artwork

Medal of Honor: Airborne (Xbox 360) review

"There’s plenty to complain about with Medal of Honor: Airborne. There’s simply even more still to appreciate."

Complaining! It's what I do. When EA decided to hop upon the reboot bandwagon and turn their long running Medal of Honor franchise into something completely different, there I was ready to whine about it and give the game a mediocre rating for being little more than Call of Duty v.05 with teething problems and bushier beards. And now, some handful of years since becoming seemingly obsolete, I've gotten round to bitching about what was destined to be the last WWII-era Medal game to see release -- Airborne.

At first glance, CoD domination of the market aside, it's obvious as to why EA decided to try and ride Activision's coattails; Airborne feels a generation behind, and certainly looks it. It has all those features that modern gaming would have you think hopelessly passé, like life bars you need to refill with medkits rather than healing gaping bullet holes with a few seconds of keeping your head down. It doesn’t have that graphical polish or modernistic gleam, nor smooth controls or handy new-age military gadgetry. Airborne’s weapons are inaccurate and rarely able to offer substantial stopping power in what’s probably a throwback to their antiquated nature. These rifles and machine guns are some sixty years old, so expecting anything but a bullet to the brain to drop a Nazi trooper in one is probably overly optimistic, but lining up your sights perfectly to see a shot still miss remains disheartening. Especially when returned potshots seem to find their target with much more success.

Medal of Honor: Airborne asset

So, yeah, complaining. I could bitch and moan about Airborne until the cows come home. Even before its online multiplayer base moved on to newer pastures, there’s nothing there to write home about, certainly nothing to help it keep pace with the bigger name FPS’ out there. What it needed was some new ideas to help alleviate the antiquated feeling it produced even upon release. So that’s exactly what it got.

It’s ironic in a way that Airborne effortlessly outpaces its reboot in terms of originality and better implemented ideas, but it does just that. As the name hints at, you’re not just your standard all-American trooper set out to single-handedly win WWII this time around; you’re a paratrooper at a time when the idea of ‘shooting into hostile territory was still in its infancy and openly sneered at by many as a floaty form of mass suicide. As such, you start each level in the sardine can-like confines of a aircraft circling the war zone, waiting for the green light to jump. From here, you have a lot of control of where you start your efforts on each slightly non-linear stage.

The first stage has you land in an Italy not quite ready to switch sides. You’re tasked to take out several AA gun embankments scattered around the once picturesque town, the better guarded of which sits atop an old medieval castle. You could land where the wind takes you and find yourself standing before the keep, where Italian soldiers pepper you with sniper fire from the battlements and ground troops sneak from hidden back doors to nibble at your flank. OR! You could steer yourself through the dilapidated roof of an nearby crumbling tower, kick the lone sniper stationed there in the teeth as you descend and use the newly-claimed nest to pick away at the enemy forces from relative safety.

Medal of Honor: Airborne asset

You don’t have to do this at all, however. You could steer yourself off to the rooftops and battle through the quaint residential area to a different AA battery, should you prefer to leave the castle until later. From here, you can follow the bulk of your AI allies on a head-on assault against barely-trained Italian forces, or sneak your way through darkened back-alleys and razed houses to try and get at their back. One cobblestoned road takes you under a once-impressive stone arch to a steep corner containing a sandbagged mounted machinegun. You can try to take it out with a well-lobbed grenade, try to draw a bead on the gunner before he mows you down, or just use the lines of parked vans to sneak around to his blind spot and cap him in the back of the head.

Multiple paths to the same objective aren’t anything new, but Airborne weights the risks up as well as any other game employing the same tactic. Venture off the beaten path, and you may find yourself at an advantage, but the rest of your troop will not follow. You are alone, vulnerable and the risk doesn’t always equate to the reward. Find a blown-open doorway to a house and sneak through and it might look like you have a perfect vantage point on unaware enemy troops pooling below. Until you rattle off the first few shots and pesky Italians storm up a stairwell behind you. And everyone outside? They don’t have your AI allies to contend with yet; you left your forces long behind. They can afford to spend all their impure attentions on you.

In time, even the questions about inaccurate weapons are answered; stick with one firearm for a while, and you can level up your proficiency with it, adding perks such as a larger magazine, a sighting scope or a quicker reload time. This is carried across to numerous weapons; successful use of any of the game’s three different breeds of grenade slowly evolve them, making them more effective. Rifles once only good for mid-range battle might find a rudimentary RPG attachment and basic sidearms might find themselves with a new holster, allowing them to be drawn quicker. As such, the enemy forces will slowly dial up. The Italian militia will be swiftly replaced with Nazi shock troopers, bazooka-wielding heavy weaponists and lone, gaunt men in black leather and gas masks sporting huge machine guns and an unnerving ability to soak up a lot of artillery.

Medal of Honor: Airborne asset

Despite the unquestionable fact that Airborne has been surpassed by today’s standards, I’m not going to write it off for that. In its efforts to try and advance the struggling foundations it inherited, it employed not only new ideas, but turned back the clock and reinvented old ones until they worked. The life bar, long since abandoned, gives much more gravity to any standing fire fight when you know each gaping bullet hole in your sternum means something more than cowering in a corner for a few seconds until you’re good to go again. The weapon learning arc means you will try out new firearms rather than stick to the same few like, and come on, admit it, you do with every other FPS out there.

There’s plenty to complain about with Medal of Honor: Airborne. There’s simply even more still to appreciate.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (January 31, 2012)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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zippdementia posted January 31, 2012:

Makes me want to go back and play it.
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overdrive posted January 31, 2012:

Real good review. Airborne must have been about the only old-school MoH game I haven't played at some point and time (even if only played briefly). The upgrade system seems interesting and is something those other ones (which got really derivative and boring after a while, especially compared to the CoD series and some other shooters) don't have, which almost kinda tempts me into looking into this one.
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zippdementia posted January 31, 2012:

I agree with everything OD just said. I also didn't play airborne (but I did watch someone play the first level! It looked awesome).
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EmP posted February 04, 2012:

You should try it out if you get the chance, assorted commenters. In the last few weeks I've played MW3, Brink, Homefront and Duke Nukem Forever and, aside from the first one, vastly prefered my time with Airborne.

Been on an FPS kick as of late. Still got Rage to try.
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zippdementia posted February 05, 2012:

I'm really curious to hear how Rage played out.
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WilltheGreat posted February 05, 2012:

Man, that second image looks really good. Did you put that together yourself EmP, or did you enlist some dashing Canadian to do it for you?

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