European Assault is EA's third Medal of Honor game for the current consoles. Frontline was well received back in 2002, particularly on the FPS starved PlayStation 2, and its commercial success prompted EA to work on Rising Sun, which also sold like hotcakes. European Assault has already been at the top of the UK charts for two weeks, but given that the UK public is bombarded with TV advertising all the time, that is no surprise. Whether or not the game is any good doesn't seem to matter.
The most obvious, and quite shocking, part of the game is its rather dated looks. EA, while not on the cutting edge of visuals, usually produce great looking games, but they have really dropped the ball with European Assault. Given that this generation is on its last legs, games should be at their peek visually, but the engine powering European Assault doesn't seem to have improved much since 2002. It's what fans of the series will expect, but anyone who has dabbled with the likes of Halo 2, Riddick and even Killzone will think they've stepped into a time warp.
With that out of the way, the actual game is pretty solid. Despite the game's huge mainstream appeal, the gameplay is anything but conventional for an FPS. If you approach the levels Rambo-style you'll last seconds, with the numerous enemy soldiers mowing you down with shocking accuracy. The key is to move from cover to cover. From behind a crate or wall you take on enemies with relative safety. When looking down the sight of your gun you can poke your head in all directions to target enemies while still behind cover; the standard crosshair should really only be used when suddenly faced with an enemy. With this stop, start gameplay, some of the levels feel like wars of attrition, with your progress from cover to cover often a test of patience.
Things aren't made easier by the game's limited ammo supplies and complete lack of checkpoints. Ammo runs low on many occasions, and with a small troop of soldiers camped out in a building you are often left to throw grenades in the hope that they'll be flushed out. You could of course die and go back to the last checkpoint, if the game had checkpoints. The game uses 'Revives' so that you are revived when you die. These can be picked up around levels and earned for completing certain mission objectives. It's obviously better than nothing, but you are thrown back into the action, usually still under enemy fire, making them a rather irritating alternative to the traditional checkpoint system. The combination of Health Packs and Revives is usually enough to get you through most levels, but falling at the last hurdle every now and again feels like a kick in the teeth. Replaying a whole level isn't something that we should be made to do anymore.
To make things easier - in theory - you command a small group of soldiers. Commanding them is simple and you can quickly and easily tell them where you want them to move to, but their AI doesn't really make them the best support in the world. While not in the spirit of the game (in fact the game encourages you to keep these guys alive by giving health packs at the end of missions), sending a few guys into the open in order to attract enemy fire is a good way to get a bit of relief from the endless fire. With enemies focusing on your team-mates, you can pick them off without much trouble. Had it not been for the game's severe punishment for straying into the open, the enemy AI would have become a lot more of an issue. Because most of the battles are fought from behind a few crates, with both parties some distance apart, the rudimentary AI routines of enemy soldiers doesn't hurt the game too much.
Every level requires you to complete a set number of objectives, and these are usually based around blowing things up, securing intelligence and killing the level's nemesis. This is a guy who is a complete pain to kill and will usually hide inside buildings making your safe location useless. Entering these buildings puts you in extreme danger and these confrontations will drain most of your Health Packs and Revives - and as mentioned earlier, can result in the whole level needing to be played from scratch. This is not the way to design a fun game.
Even with these problems, the game has something about it that makes you want to keep playing. A big part of this is the stunning audio. Everything in the game sounds brilliant. The score wouldn't seem out of place in Band of Brothers and the weapons all sound fantastic. The series has always excelled in this area and European Assault is no exception. There's also a sense of satisfaction gained from completing every level. Having to replay early levels while you get used to the style of play makes you appreciate actually getting to the end, but whether or not this is a valid compliment will depend on if you can be bothered to replay these levels.
Fans of Medal of Honor will no doubt love this latest entry in the series. EA haven't really changed this too much, and there was really little reason for them to do so. With the series selling so well, why tinker with a winning formula. The squad control may appeal to some people, but can pretty much be ignored if you don't want to play squad-leader. Anyone coming to the series late will probably find it hard to take the dated look and rather archaic lack of checkpoints, but if you can get past the numerous problems, there is an enjoyable game to be found.