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.” .
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.
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