This isn't a very popular opinion, but I rather enjoyed every moment of Medal of Honor Vanguard on the Wii. Like a bomb-ravaged building from the London blitz, the game has plenty of room for redevelopment, but is great fun to explore.
As is the tradition with Medal of Honor games, the prevailing feel is of a historically accurate context. Each mission you tackle has an important significance in the progress of the war, made clear by grainy documentary footage and a reassuring voiceover. This certainly adds some substance to the experience, but before moving on to Vanguard's moments of genius, it is important to address the shortcomings that make the game so easy to dismiss.
Graphically, Vanguard leaves a great deal to be desired. Though camouflage clearly doesn't make for clarity, every troop and barricade blends together with the background a little too well, meaning that in some of the tense set-piece fire fights you have to rely on an infuriating combination of luck and the moments your crosshair flashes red to reveal that an enemy is in sight.
The game's true failings are not so superficial though, as the very make-up of the title is severely dated by the likes of Call of Duty and Hour of Victory. A linear level structure sees you progressing one stage at a time through all the familiar settings of corridors and courtyards. An uninspiring yet well balanced weapon set offers little to get excited about and some monotonous mission objectives generally boil down to shooting your way to a checkpoint.
'Beyond the odd borrowed element such as regenerative health and a grenade-warning indicator, it is fair to say that Vanguard does little or nothing revolutionary to the series.'
Beyond the odd borrowed element such as regenerative health and a grenade-warning indicator, it is fair to say that Vanguard does little or nothing revolutionary to the series. But what it does do is perfectly recreate the feel of a classic first-person-shooter before squad play and duck-and-cover shooting redefined the genre, and it does so superbly. It makes for an unusual comparison, but Medal of Honor's latest outing has a great deal in common with NeoGeo classic Metal Slug. Both series are stubbornly sticking in their past, apparently blissfully ignorant of the pressure of progress, instead concentrating on revisiting and revising a bygone chapter in gaming's history. Vanguard is not a game designed to appeal to fans of modern gaming, but to the devotees that pine for their PSone when they load up the latest 360 shooter, and that rare group are in for a fine treat indeed.
Using the nunchuck to move your body and the Wii pointer to aim, the connected remote controllers replace the twin-analogue system pioneered on the Playstation2. Perhaps thanks to less pull on the Wii's raw power, the system works far better than Call of Duty 3 on Nintendo's newest console, allowing for precise shooting and delicate movement. Using the nunchuck to hurl grenades also functions perfectly, and the aforementioned red crosshair works nicely to replace your ears. When scanning the standard crosshair over the screen, a flash of red will reveal a distant enemy who may be obscured by cover, that you would have only pinpointed with hearing in real life.
Despite the lack of originality, Vanguard has drawn on a wealth of experience, meaning that thanks to some great level design and a wonderfully atmospheric soundtrack, there is no need to rely on the wealth of triggered animated events that overwhelm Call of Duty 3 at times. Instead, the thrill comes from expert shooting and the buzz of a perfectly timed lean around a corner to execute a speedy headshot. While vanguard has none of the explosive drama of its rivals, the feel of a good old action war movie is unbeatable.
Another tidy feature that doesn't normally warrant a mention is the reward system. At the end of each multi-level campaign various medals are awarded. Most recognise easily achievable feats that can be completed in one level, but many comprise parameters that span entire campaigns, encouraging repeat plays without losing a life, or setting an incentive for making perfect parachute landings.
The airdrops that start some missions are a nice touch too, requiring you to hold the remotes in your hands above your shoulders like parachute chords, steering your way through the smoke-filled skies above the battlefield, though the feature feels a little experimental.
While most WWII first-person shooters are desperate to innovate in the hope of standing out from the crowd, Medal of Honor is moving backward, regressing deep into the cover of the clichés it pioneered. To some, the game will feel like a war torn relic from the past that has grown lazy and shell-shocked from too much time in the field. Yet, while the game's sales will undoubtedly suffer as a result of the critical bombardment it has faced, some will see through the flak and enjoy a prime specimen of a type of gaming left behind by the other next-generation consoles.
If Vanguard is the series' swan song to good times past then it is a perfectly fitting goodbye to the games that defined modern WWII titles, but if it is a sign of more to come, then only the dedicated are likely to stand by the most bogged down of all the genre's greats.