Medal of Honor: European Assault: An Assault in Europe (and North Africa)

Released 7th of June 2005, Medal of Honor: European Assault is the 7th entry in the Medal of Honor franchise. After the poor reception of Rising Sun, the planned sequel was cancelled, that game would have followed the player character’s brother and would have also taken place in the Pacific. European Assault instead follows Lt. Holt, a person, who does things. While European Assault was better received than Rising Sun, the reviews were mixed and it’s very easy to tell why.

Strong openings are a staple of the PS2 Medal of Honor games so far, with Frontline’s D-Day and Rising Sun’s Pearl Harbour, but European Assault’s somewhat falters. If we take the first mission as the opening, then it’s short and not very good, though if you consider the first four missions to be a single opening, then it is definitely far better. Even maybe the best. Unfortunately, the game’s engine definitely wouldn’t be able to handle that, it can barely handle the levels it has.

The opening, Operation: Chariot, shows the raid by Royal Navy and British Commandos on St. Nazaire on the 28th of March 1942. The events shown in the game vary from what actually happened, but historical accuracy clearly isn’t a focus of the game. That said, European Assault does vary from the previous two console entries in the series in that it drops the ‘heroic war movie’ theme and instead focuses on the ‘war is hell’ angle. The opening narration makes this pretty clear, and it’s hammered in throughout the rest of the game. It takes this in a weird direction, with the narrator seeming to imply that the allies were fighting for the same reasons as the Nazis during his ‘there’s nothing good about war’ speech, which I’d certainly hope isn’t the case on account of that whole genocide thing.

But this isn’t really a story or theme analysis, so onto the game. Each level opens with a briefing explaining the basic layout of things, then it shows you your objectives. Some are hidden and you find by exploring. The maps are fairly open though still quite linear. You have multiple paths but you always get funneled through the same door. Sometimes you’ll have to backtrack if you missed something and with the slow speed that Holt moves at this is tedious at the best of times. Still, having multiple objectives to pursue around the levels does make them feel a bit bigger and lends to the idea that this is actually a military engagement.

The levels being big does have one rather big downside though: the framerate is terrible. I’m not sure if this is due to the level size or just the density of effects but the game barely runs. I think it despawns a lot of things after the set piece is finished, so it’s pretty common to see a bunch of soldiers fighting only for everything to quiet down rather abruptly once you’ve pushed forward. This game is trying extremely hard to be ‘cinematic’, but ironically in trying to do so it becomes less movie like. Like Medal of Honor: Frontline, European Assault is at an awkward point, but while Frontline was somewhere between Doom and Call of Duty, European Assault is between Call of Duty and Call of Duty.

Gone is the stats screen at the end of levels. Now, you just get a run down of what objectives you completed. Most of the staples of early FPS are gone, replaced with dark grim “cinematicness” (yes I know that isn’t a word). This game has more in common with the late WW2-Early Modern Call of Duty games than it does its own series, and that is pretty sad. Some of the set pieces are nice, but it relies on them far too heavily and when the game is chugging throughout your epic explosion, something is fundamentally wrong and you need to design around your tech limitation.

Oh yeah and you can’t shoot nazis in the dick anymore. Well you can, but there’s few animations for it, and it isn’t obvious what part they’re grabbing. I suppose the fun haters at EA Los Angeles decided it would be tonally off for a game that opens with “There’s nothing good about war” to have fun sequences where you deliver buckshots to bellends. They aren’t wrong but I still miss it. Then again these are the same devs that implemented a headshot counter. When you get a headshot you get a little German helmet in the bottom right of your screen with a crosshair on it, get another one fast enough and you get two little strikes on it. I assume this increments more with more headshots but lining up a lot of headshots isn’t exactly easy.

While we’re on animations, the fun animations that Frontline and Rising Sun had are gone. This is good and bad, while those games’ animations were fun, they weren’t good by most measures. They were hand animated. The animations in European Assault seem motion captured, at least to my eye, and are a lot more realistic looking. The downside is that they aren’t as fun to watch. It’s a mixed bag. In place of a lot of the death animations, the enemies just ragdoll when killed. This is literally never good. The ragdolls are extremely poor, they bounce hilariously when they fall, get stuck on things, sometimes they get thrown the wrong way. Shooting an enemy with a shotgun and having them fly toward you is pretty funny but breaks the tone a bit.

This is overly negative, let’s talk about some positives. Despite clearly trying to be Call of Duty, this game does not feature regenerating health. Instead you have two health pickups. Canteens, which heal you instantly, and medkits, which you hold onto until you need. You use them by pressing down on the dpad. You have a lot less health than in previous games, which isn’t great. It depletes very fast and if you’re being shot you can die before you can react. If you die, you can revive if you have a revive. You get these for completing the bonus objectives. Honestly I’m not sure why they went with this. The revives are automatically used after a lengthy animation where you fall over and die. After that animation plays, you’re right back where you were at half health. You know. Still in danger from the thing that just killed you. One standard enemy can kill you in a matter of seconds. 

Wait, shit, positives. Right. So instead of being a one man army like in previous games, you have a squad. You have pretty limited controls over them, you can make them attack or make them come back. Their attack range is pretty limited, but generally can be quite useful if you want a room stormed. They aren’t invincible but they’re pretty close to it, if one of your pikmin does get low on health you can heal them up using one of your medkits. These guys can help you out in a jam so it’s usually a pretty good idea to keep your accountabilibuddies healthy

Unfortunately they aren’t very smart. They have a habit of running into machine gun fire, either yours or the enemy. Expect a lot of shots you have lined up to be absorbed by a passing dipshit. Thankfully, unlike Call of Duty you won’t get failed for friendly fire. The reload button is also the ‘waste a health kit on whatever is in front of you’ button, so be careful trying to reload.

The spread of bonus objectives is decent. You discover them by exploring: get close enough and you get a radio message telling you to go take the burger joint or whatever. Usually, these are to find semi-hidden items, destroy something, or kill that level’s “nemesis”. The nemeses are just special enemies with a visible healthbar (it’s an iron cross above their heads). They eat a lot of bullets and will usually home in on you, so expect to die to them and use a revive. Thankfully they’ll also drop one. Some of these objectives, like the semi-hidden documents, will require you to look around to find them, but most of them are basically just main objectives. You’ll go past them while on the normal route through the level. It feels a lot like a lazy way to pretend to be non-linear and give player choice but you’d have to try hard to not complete these objectives.

Yeah, it’s really hard to talk about the positives in this game without tangenting into a negative. I don’t hate it, I swear. It’s just very flawed.

The missions are broken up into groups, each group following a set plot over a specific location. Assaults (that take place in Europe) end with a screen where it breaks down the rank you got for each level and gives you a medal if you achieve a gold rank in every level, which requires you to complete all the objectives. Length varies, the first assault (in Europe) has four missions. The second is in North Africa, but that’s pretty close to Europe I guess.

Each assault opens with a cutscene made up of footage of World War 2 with a narration, it starts with an older person, presumably Lt. Holt, describing their experiences, but transitions to a younger voice for the second half or so. These are nice openings. I like them. Holt clearly isn’t a real person. I’d have preferred to have multiple characters. As it is, having an American show up to all these historic campaigns just serves to push the “America Saves the Day” narrative.

If the cheap enemy spawning in Rising Sun annoyed you, then give this a miss. I saw enemies t-posing after being spawned in around a corner from me repeatedly. It’s upsettingly common. It frequently spawns enemies behind you too, I assume this is to make backtracking less dull but it fails miserably. It simply isn’t fun. If I clear a room, then I want it to stay clear. A submachine gun spawning in my face isn’t fun. It’s also common for allied units to spawn in front of you, so you fight through a gauntlet of enemies and round a corner to see a gaggle of friendlies just hanging out. Not that the friendlies are all that helpful.

The selection of weapons is pretty varied. You have British, Russian, American, and German guns but you don’t get to choose from all at once. The guns depend on who you’re fighting with. This is generally fine since they’re all nice options. Unfortunately the shotgun is only available in two of the ten missions. It’s the sign of a good FPS that the shotgun is fun to use, and when it actually gives you one European Assault’s shotgun is okay. Its spread is pretty bad, and it has terrible range. Aiming down the ironsights improves the spread a bit but it’s pretty dire. It passes the shotgun test, but barely.

The AI is just as bad as previous entries, if not worse. The allied AI is close to useless (and with how often the game seems to despawn them, completely unreliable), your squad mates usually just find new and creative ways to get themselves killed, and the enemy AI cheats. They have near instant reaction times, and don’t even need to be aiming at you to shoot. I’m fairly sure they always know where you are. I’ve seen guns clipping through walls tracking me. Rounding a corner just to have most of your health vanished in a few seconds by a t-posing nazi isn’t fun. Retreating to find that the game has spawned enemies in the room you just left is even less fun.

Speaking of things that aren’t fun, the levels lack any checkpoints. Once you’re out of revives you start from the beginning. The levels aren’t long or anything, they’re just frustrating. Dying at the end of a level is the kind of thing that makes me want to go play something else. They improved this in Rising Sun with checkpoints, but now they’ve just gone back to how it was. And it isn’t great.

Continues are a concept invented when games were made to gobble your money. Revives are essentially continues, and they shouldn’t be here. Playing the same level over and over just to die at the same difficulty spike isn’t fun. Not hitting down on the dpad in time and dying with zero revives and six medkits isn’t fun. Revives are worse than continues. The game inflates difficulty in many ways, such as starting you with very limited ammo or infinitely respawning enemies. The last level is pretty close to the least fun you can have in a video game.

The story is nothing to write home about. It’s told almost exclusively through the opening cutscenes, there are no real secondary characters. The ones that are there aren’t around long enough to get to know. It’s a nice touch that there are multiple women in the Russian and French forces.

This game has a non-trivial amount of bugs. The worst I encountered was on a mission toward the end where I had to destroy a tank, I did. Later on when I got close to the tank again, a scripted sequence began where the tank activated. The enemies near it respawned shouting about getting it operational, and it started shooting its frontal machine gun at me. It was also invincible. These bugs plus the general lack of polish makes me think that it might have been rushed for release.

The spawn system also feels incomplete. Games will often spawn in and out NPCs a lot. In the case of a FPS like this, they’ll spawn in enemies and allies to keep it feeling like there’s a battle going on. European Assault doesn’t do this properly. Enemies will keep spawning almost indefinitely, but allies don’t. Allies get spawned based on certain events, so you’ll start off with a bunch of friendly soldiers fighting with you, but once they all die it’ll get quiet, then when you progress further it’ll spawn more in. So you’ll single handedly complete the objective and suddenly be surrounded by people. This is never not jarring.

On top of everything, the technical issues are impossible to ignore. Constant environment pop in, animations don’t play past a certain distance leading to enemies just sliding around, frame rate issues, sound problems, muddy graphics, poor textures, bad hitboxes, clipping issues, the time it takes to pause and unpause. It’s just a mess.

I wanted to like this game. I really did, and the earlier levels are much better. I have a feeling that as their deadlines approached they had to pump up the “difficulty” in the later levels to pad game time out. The earlier levels are far more fun to play. They feel tighter and better optimized. But the further you get in the game’s (short) runtime, the worse everything starts to feel, culminating in the slog of a final level where almost everything seems to go wrong.

Weirdly enough, in the memories I have of this game from when I was a kid, I remember it as a Call of Duty game. Now I need to go play Call of Duty: Finest Hour to find out what that game actually is.

This is part three of my reviews of PS2 Medal of Honor games. You can find the first two, Frontline and Rising Sun, on this site.

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Thank you very much for reading.


Medal of Honor: Rising Sun: Affix Bayonets

Medal of Honor Rising Sun case

Medal of Honor: Frontline may have been the critical darling and the first to be mentioned in ‘top 6th generation console games’, but Medal of Honor: Rising Sun is many people’s favourite too. In fact, I preferred Rising Sun as a kid. I’m not sure why, honestly. Though the opening is a strong reason. Most people who played it will say that it’s a fantastic opening (And it is but we’ll get back to that), but I was surprised to learn that Rising Sun was savaged by critics back in 2003, with a Metacritic of 68%. EuroGamer gave it a 4/10, praising the rest of EA and commenting on the game, “The difference in quality sticks out like J-Lo’s ass after a particularly intense course of collagen injections.” [1].

But now for an info dump. Because I like info dumps. Medal of Honor: Rising Sun is the sequel to Medal of Honor: Frontline. It’s the 5th game in the series (7th if you include expansions to Allied Assault), and the 3rd for consoles. It was released in 2003 for the Playstation 2, GameCube, and Xbox. I’m reviewing the Playstation 2 version here. Originally they planned a sequel, but Rising Sun received pretty poor reviews, and it was canned. The next game on consoles was European Assault instead.

EA Los Angeles decided to move from the somewhat overdone European theater of World War 2 and instead focus on the Pacific. Few games really focused on that, perhaps because gunning down Nazis is easier on the sense of morals. 

To give some background to me, I grew up in and still live in the city of Darwin in the Northern Territory. Darwin was attacked by the Japanese and growing up I saw a lot of the legacy of that. Old bunkers, the East Point shore guns, the War Museum. One of my favourite books as a kid was The Bombing of Darwin, about a fourteen year old boy living in the city at the time. It’s weird, but growing up I felt that the Pacific theater was more relevant to me, despite having obviously ended sixty years prior.

Back to the game. 

Rising Sun has a very strong opening, most are familiar with it, if you aren’t I don’t want to spoil it. Suffice to say the emotional impact and coolness is the same as it was when I played it as a kid. It’s hard to really describe it. If you’ve played it (and since this is a decades old game, most people reading this will have played it), you know it and you know how it made you feel. It has aged well. The controls are a bit stiff, it can be hard to hit the planes and the opening turret section goes on a bit long, but other than that it’s good.

There are save points scattered around the levels along with autosaves at certain points, which is a very welcome change to Frontline’s lack of any mid-level saving. This makes the difficulty spikes slightly more tolerable, because you won’t have to reply levels over and over, just the part giving you issues, but the save points can be hidden.

The engine is the same and it very much plays the same, the graphics have mildly improved, the textures are a bit less muddy though the low resolution (by today’s standards anyway) makes it hard to tell. Ultimately the biggest issue with the graphics is the resolution, so if you’re running this on an emulator you can boost that up and improve things a lot. I’m running it on original hardware because I’m a horrible hipster, and it is noticeable. The muddiness often makes it hard to see enemies, since their uniforms usually blend in well. The 3rd level is a night level and this is even more of an issue there. On top of this there’s quite a bit of blur. If you have issues with eye strain this probably isn’t the game for you.

You can see your stats at any time in the pause menu, if you need groin shot counts on the fly. You can also view briefing info and historical info about each mission. What got me into these games as a kid was the historical things. Newsreel footage, narration, all that, so this is a nice touch.

They added a crosshair that’s displayed at all times but it’s basically just a visual thing. The guns don’t feel like they’re actually pointed at it. Like Frontline, the guns are laughably inaccurate. This feels a lot worse when there’s a crosshair. The bullets stray massively off the path you’d expect, and they can miss at near point blank range. This is pretty annoying, and impacts the gameplay quite a bit.

The enemy AI is just as brain dead as it was in Frontline. They made some ‘improvements’ to try and hide this. The AI is much more active, they’ll go prone while shooting from range, which makes them a lot harder to hit largely due to how hard it is to see them like that, but also due to the extreme inaccuracy of the guns I mentioned earlier. They’ll also perform banzai charges, they’re generally much more effective than Frontline’s AI when in melee range. The banzai charges are not a sign of a good AI but in a way they hide the poor quality. These charges don’t tend to be challenging on their own, they’re only an issue due to the issues with aiming that this game has. Overall it’s clear that small improvements were made but they simply aren’t enough to make the AI more than a passing challenge.

You also have friendly AI partners now, but they’re as brain dead as the enemy AI. They sometimes get kills but usually just act as bullet sponges for the enemies, along with shouting at you to follow them while staring at you and waiting for you to move so they can follow you.

Speaking of the AI, let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, the game spawns enemies a lot. If you use a turret, the game will spawn enemies and send them at you. I guess this is meant to be dramatic or cinematic. Sometimes it just spawns enemies in rooms you just cleared. This feels cheap but I think it’s meant to evoke the feeling of being in hostile lands. The enemy lying in wait for you and surprising you. This would be more effective if you could actually see some of these enemies in their hiding spots(which you can in their covered foxholes, if you look close enough), but you just can’t. It’s a cheap way to do this.

By the time Rising Sun came out it’s clear that the game engine was struggling. Some elements, such as the caves seen in many levels, would be at home on the Playstation 1. You can see the seams in the game’s terrain on many occasions.

There are some bugs too, the biggest one I encountered was on mission four. An NPC was meant to lead me into a secret door to a cave, but after opening the door he just stood there and never went in. Since he never went in he couldn’t trigger the next scripted sequence, this would have softlocked the game, but after standing there for a minute or so he just teleported ahead and triggered the next sequence which was likely on a timer. It’s good that the game’s scripting failed gracefully, but it still shouldn’t be failing.

The level design has some improvements, the levels are much more sprawling than they were in Frontline but this isn’t always a good thing. Everything typically looks the same so it’s very easy to get lost and disoriented, especially in the dense jungle levels. There’s also a lot of reliance on turret sections, which at the time weren’t nearly as common as they can be in modern first person shooters. They’re rarely fun and usually out of place. The levels have a lot more verticality, which is nice, but it’s usually badly implemented or just pointless.

On the topic of guns, the non-mounted variety have no real improvement over Frontline. The selection is slightly different. The silenced pistol has been replaced with the Welrod, a single shot gun that’s actually useful due to its ability to one hit kill enemies. It isn’t affected by range at all and it’s probably the most accurate gun in the entire game. The change to the Pacific theater could have given opportunities to explore Japanese guns, there are some LMGs to use, but they’re basically the same as the other guns.

Early on you’re largely limited to the M1 Garand and M1911 pistol, later you get a wider selection but it has a habit of only giving you a Sten MKII, which sounds about the same as a Nerf gun and has an effectiveness to match. Sometimes it’ll grace you with a Thompson that’s largely useless due to the extreme inaccuracy. It takes until the games 5th mission to be given a new gun, the Welrod, and the 6th to be given a shotgun. The selection opens up around that point, but it’s quickly back to a limited set of guns, and never the fun ones.

Rising Sun does pass the shotgun test. It’s a sign of a good shooter that the shotguns are fun to use. The Trench Gun is amazing to use. It’s satisfying to clear through dense jungle or tight corridors with it, and this time you’re given ample ammunition for it. The game’s last mission — A tight aircraft carrier level — would be a great place for a shotgunfest, but instead you get the Sten MKII. Boo.

Ultimately the gameplay is basically the same as Frontline, and that’s not a great thing. Instead of European towns — where you can’t see anything — filled with Nazis who stand in place and shoot, you’re fighting through jungles — where you can’t see anything — filled with Japanese who take cover and shoot but sometimes pull a sword out and charge at you. The trees are not only speaking Japanese, they’re screaming “banzai!” with annoying frequency.

It seems that maybe EA LA got Imperial Japan mixed up with the Imperium of Man and decided to have the Guardsmen affix bayonets at every opportunity, that’s when they aren’t pulling out katanas and charging you with those. This portrayal of the Japanese is sketchy at best. Banzai charges are a real thing, yes, but they were used as a last ditch attempt to turn the tide of a losing battle, not against one guy with a shotgun.

Rising Sun lacks Frontline’s war movie charm, though it tries. The story isn’t great, and ends on a sequel hook for a game that never happened. The characters aren’t that interesting, and character deaths are pulled out far too often to be effective. The animations aren’t even as good, maybe they tweaked the rates because a lot of the animations are the same but the fun animations that I liked so much from Frontline aren’t anywhere to be seen. The music is a downgrade too. It’s hard to explain why but it has far less impact. While there are a few nice moments where that war movie charm shined through, most of it was just a dull slog. If Frontline is the midday Sunday war movie, then Rising Sun is the weird sitcom that follows that you’re half asleep through. It’s not unenjoyable, but it’s not exactly memorable.

While the exploration of the less commonly seen Pacific theater is an interesting change, Medal of Honor: Rising Sun simply doesn’t live up to Frontline. By this point Call of Duty had released to critical acclaim, which certainly didn’t help Rising Sun’s chances. Its failure led to the cancellation of its planned sequel, instead being followed by Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault for PC. While Pacific Assault did perform better, it’s clear that the franchise had been surpassed by Call of Duty, which was rapidly becoming the massive franchise that it is today.

This is the second review in my series covering PS2 Medal of Honor games, next is European Assault. I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you look forward to the next review.

If you like these reviews and want to support me, I have a Patreon and a Ko-Fi. One Playstation 2 game is pretty cheap, and I do take requests, so if you do donate feel free to suggest a game to review in the message. I also have a Discord if you’d just like to talk retro games.