"Now, instead of using canteens and first aid kits to restore health, all you have to do is duck out of the fray for a bit. Keegan can completely regenerate his health in a matter of seconds if he is able to avoid getting shot. To make this easier than you might expect, a good number of Nazis seem content to stay in one place and wait for you to enter their shooting range, as opposed to pursuing you in order to deal that killing blow."
Medal of Honor: Vanguard does have its moments. Just watch as you begin a couple of missions by looking out of a plane into a chaotic scene, with planes flying all around and explosions going off everywhere -- and then parachuting right into the thick of things. It's a very intense way to get things rolling as you feel like you're leaping into the heart of a maelstrom and Electronic Arts is able to throw in a few good battles throughout the game to keep things pretty interesting.
However, as the series has progressed (this is the sixth MoH on a Sony system and that doesn't count a couple PC-only games), it seems like all the good ideas have been used, leaving a game that really didn't tempt my imagination the way previous games in the series have. And, while the gameplay is the usual quality fare I expect from these discs, there have been a few tweaks to the system over the years that seem to have changed things for the worse.
Let's start out with the setting for this World War II first-person shooter. You control Frank Keegan, part of this new paratrooper division for the Allies that gets various dangerous missions where they get to be dropped off deep behind enemy lines to sabotage Nazi installations and bridges -- essentially to be the first line of offense (hence the name "Vanguard"). The main problem is that the missions just aren't set up quite as well as in past games. Keegan talks about what's going on for a brief bit, but the information is lacking enough to make me wistfully nostalgic for the good old PlayStation days where Colonel Hargrove would give players a novel's worth of background information. While you might do a lot in a particular mission, departing your plane under the pretense you're just going to be destroying a couple of bridges just isn't as thrilling as, say, getting the news you'll be infiltrating a supposedly impenetrable fort that's producing mustard gas (as Jimmy Patterson does in the original MoH).
Vanguard isn't helped by the fact there's only four missions totaling 10 stages, especially when you consider that the first two missions take very little time to blow through. While the three stages of the third mission have some more meat to them and the two that constitute the final one are both lengthy and challenging, this is still a very short game that could conceivably be beat in an afternoon -- making it more of a rainy day rental than something I'd want to invest any real amount of cash into.
Also, as I mentioned before, there are a few changes to the old tried-n-true formula that just didn't work for me. Now, instead of using canteens and first aid kits to restore health, all you have to do is duck out of the fray for a bit. Keegan can completely regenerate his health in a matter of seconds if he is able to avoid getting shot. To make this easier than you might expect, a good number of Nazis seem content to stay in one place and wait for you to enter their shooting range, as opposed to pursuing you in order to deal that killing blow. While gunfights are intense and thrilling in the game's more wide-open areas, in the more claustrophobic buildings (where there are lots of places to duck behind), advancing through the game simply involves peeking around corners, trying to take out an enemy or two and then ducking out of the way before getting shot too many times. Who cares if you take a couple bullets? You don't have to worry about where your next first aid kit's coming from -- you just have to wait about three seconds to become good as new!
There also isn't much variety in the weaponry Keegan will use. Vanguard contains a couple of machine guns, a couple of rifles and a bazooka, as well as grenades. The pistols and shotguns of previous games are gone, making combat more one-dimensional. You use the machine guns in intense fights and the rifles to snipe foes from a distance. And, the troop of computer-controlled guys helping you do little besides get in the way. Not only are they horrible shots (I'd be shocked on the rare occasions one of them took out an enemy), but they also had a really bad habit of taking all the good cover during shootouts and generally getting in the way, leaving my character more exposed than I'd prefer. Note to EA: if you're going to give the player a few NPC allies, please try to ensure their usefulness isn't dramatically outweighed by their capacity to be nuisances.
Despite all that, I do have to say Vanguard was a pretty fun game to spend an afternoon with, mainly because the game does have a few memorable fights. Entering the second mission, after your plane gets shot down, you have to make your way through a field to a farmhouse, taking out a number of sharp-shooting Nazis who happen to have better cover than you and your commanding officer. One stage of the third mission features an intense battle between you and your boys against a tank guarded by a goodly number of enemy soldiers where you have to scramble through multiple war-blasted buildings for enough bazooka shells to put the tank out of commission before it does the same to you. And the opening to the fourth mission is just insane. After landing on a beach, it was all I could do to merely survive. And once I got off the beach, the level's path took me to the ruins of a building, where my troops and I were immediately besieged by a seemingly infinite horde of Nazis.
Vanguard does a good enough job of bringing the goods for me to consider it a fun rental -- it just didn't deliver enough entertainment for me to really want to play through it again, like the majority of the earlier MoH titles did. Despite having a number of fun battles, the bottom line is this game's short and, for the most part, not particularly challenging -- a reasonably enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, but not good for much more.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (June 11, 2008)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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