Until I'd played Medal of Honor Heroes 2 on the PSP I'd given up on ever seeing a great first-person shooter on the handheld. While others had tried and come close to being playable, most had fallen foul of the system's single analogue control system. Well, call me a convert, as EA has managed to work some magic and deliver the system's first good FPS.
Somehow the controls just work in Heroes 2, which is odd considering this looked like it would play second fiddle to the Wii release, now due in the UK early in 2008. While nothing drastic has been done with the mechanics of how the game plays (you're still using the analogue stick to move, the face buttons to aim and the right bumper to shoot), things feel far more natural. The game's pace is slow, which undoubtedly helps, but the liberal aiming assist and feel of the X, Circle, Triangle and Square buttons is second to none on the handheld.
With how well the game controls out of the way, just how good is the game you'll be playing? Not bad at all in truth, although a long way from the modern FPS experiences you might have become accustomed to on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Heroes 2 is more reminiscent of the Medal of Honor games on the PlayStation 2, which while dated today is more than good enough on a handheld. The biggest let down is the size of the levels, which are pretty small and result in each level feeling a little like you're playing on a set rather than in a real location.
The action doesn't last very long either, with the WWII era campaign being done and dusted in no more than five hours, and that's with some fairly annoyingly placed checkpoints that force you to replay sections over and over again should you die. Handheld games are often best when they can be enjoyed in short bursts, but seeing as the controls have been nailed this time around, the brevity of the campaign is a big disappointment.
In most PSP games you'd be lucky to get a throwaway multiplayer mode as a token gesture, hardly worth the ink used to print the feature on the back of the box, but Heroes 2 features a very impressive online multiplayer mode for up to 32 players - a number that even dwarfs most home console shooters. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Infiltration game types are available, although plain old Deathmatch is the only game type I could get a game in - even during peak hours not many people are playing online.
How the game plays online depends on entirely on the connection quality of the host and the number of players in the game. I was sadly unable to get a smooth game when more than 20 players were in the map, but when numbers dropped to around 12 things became very playable. If you can put up with some lag then the larger games are an option, but prepare for a lot of player warping.
Again, given that the Wii game has been seen as the main version, I expected the worst from the PSP game's presentation, but I couldn't have been more wrong. The first game in the series looked pretty good, but Heroes 2 has more detail in the environments, better textures and a far smoother frame rate. You don't get all that many enemies on screen at once, but this is a fine effort and certainly up there with the best on the handheld.
Audio work is also solid, with the trademark Band of Brothers-esque musical score once again accompanying the action. Production values aren't nearly as high as seen in the most recent next-gen efforts, but cutscenes feature decent voice work and load times are fairly minimal, which is something of a miracle given the majority of PSP releases fall down in this area.
If you're after the most complete version of Medal of Honor Heroes 2 then you might be better off waiting until next year's Wii version, but PSP owners starved of first-person shooters will find Heroes 2 fits the bill very well indeed. How essential a purchase it is will come down to how you want to play. Those after a single-player experience will see all the game has to offer in a day, while online gamers will find themselves coming back to Heroes 2 for some time.