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Medal of Honor on the Wii could be seen as another port to cash in on the early success of Nintendo's new console. However, apart from being a pretty solid game in its own right, it further questions the dichotomy between PC and console game controls. It offers an entirely new way to control the first person perspective that sits somewhere between mouse/keyboard and joypad.
To recap, first person shooters have been the dividing line between consoles and PC gamers for many years. The different approach required on the two platforms epitomised the differences in both the technology and the players. The mouse and keyboard combination provided the PC player with ultimate flexibility and control, although meant they were restrained to playing at a desk. The joypad setup provided a plethora of buttons and analogue sticks (with some degree of auto-aim) but lets you play in any room of the house, no need for a mousing surface. Like the First Person Shooter (FPS) games themselves, these were the bloody lines of battle that were drawn and players would congregate on one side or another. Medal Of Honor on the Wii however breaks ranks and attempts a combination of the two.
Forward and sideways motion is controlled via the Nun-chuck's analogue stick, whilst aiming and turning is controlled via the Wii-mote's directional pointing. At first this is quite confusing, but no more so than the first time you tried to use a mouse/keyboard or joypad. Given a bit of time, and a bit of calibration, you can settle into the controls and start to make some progress with the game proper. Before long you are introduced to some of the finer details of the control scheme.
You can peek around corners, over barrels, or even through hole within your cover.
This is where I think the games control takes things a step further than what we have seen before. Firstly, there is the cover system that enables you to attach to cover then use the analogy nature of the Nun-chuck to ease out in any direction. You can peek around corners, over barrels, or even through hole within your cover. As well as providing stop-and-pop game play the option of this tactic means the stealth missions are more realistic and enjoyable.
Secondly, the motion controls are used for the more kinetic actions such parachuting, throwing grenades, reloading and jumping. Whilst the parachuting doesn't offer the flexibility we've seen in the upcoming Medal of Honor Airborne, it is a great way to get you down onto the map. The grenade throwing is more effective, and enables you to target someone, and then control how hard the throw is. Jumping was the low point of the control scheme for me; gesturing down with the Nun-chuck drops you to your knees then belly, whilst gesturing up performs a jump or gets you back on your feet. This was just not reliable enough, it would either not respond when I needed it, or suddenly work at just the wrong moment. Thankfully there is a button alternative that meant you could correct any misdirected gestures.
The game as a whole is well presented. The menu's are well laid out and have some exactly orchestral backing music that really gets you ready for the game. The cut scenes are largely presented with using the game engine which improves continuity. These are interspersed with some black and white archive footage that adds a much needed sense of seriousness to proceedings.
The main game follows a series of directed missions, each set in a different country: Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Germany. Each mission is broken down into sensible sized chunks. This worked well for both a lunchtime blasts and longer evening sessions.
In addition to this are the multiplayer maps, which provide the usual variety of capture the flag, death match (although they of course have their own imaginative names). I was disappointed to discover that there were no computer opponents included in the set-up. This may reflect the poor showing of both opponent and comrade Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the main game. This omission was compounded by the fact that there was also no co-operative play in the main story. It meant that most of my experience of Medal of Honor was that of a solitary man against machine.
As we have just mentioned, a real weak spot of the game is the AI. It was actually hard to spot anyone doing anything remotely intelligent. The majority of enemies were either following their pre-determined on rails actions, or repeating a simple series of steps over and over. You could wake them from this zombied dream by getting closer and engaging them in more direct combat. However, by this point any sense that you are encountering intelligent beings has been broken.
This lack of realism is compounded by the lack of convincing interaction with the environments. You are very much shepherded down particular alleys and houses, unable to stray too far. The play environment's objects and scenery serve their purpose as points of cover, but are not destructible or moveable beyond that. One particular frustration I had was that some obstacles although clearly low enough to jump over, could not be traversed. This wasn't just at the borders of the level, but within and at key points. I was often forced, arbitrarily it felt, to take the long way around just because the game designer wouldn't let me jump a particular fence. With all the will, and imaginative controls, in the world this couldn't help but break any suspension of disbelief I had left in the world I was experiencing.
Having started this review espousing the potential of new ground being broken by an imaginative control scheme, it seems a shame to end with the reality that the surrounding game isn't up to all that much. There is still enough here to provide a good chunk of single player entertainment, but not enough to shell out £39.99.
It will be interesting to see how the FPS genre develops on the Wii. Even though Medal of Honor was not the revolution is might have been, I still believe there is scope for a useful and intelligent revision of FPS controls. It may well be that until Metroid Prime: Corruption steps up to the plate this question will go unanswered. Let's hope that isn't too far away.
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