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Medal of Honor European Assault

When was the last time you got really psyched up about the release of a new Medal of Honor title? It's been a while, right? The series hasn't been on top form for quite some time.

But according to EA, that's about to change. They reckon European Assault is a major step forward and a massive improvement on its lacklustre predecessors.

Still, don't expect a groundbreaking storyline. This time you're William Holt, an agent of the Office of Strategic Services (the organisation that was later to become the CIA) and you travel through various World War II hotspots shooting down Nazis.

Although there's nothing new going on here, the plot does bring a certain freedom as Holt's secret service duties take him through real-life battles in France, Belgium, North Africa and Russia.

Each locale hosts three missions, with Holt moving from place to place on the trail of secret Nazi atomic technology, and playing a key role in a series of conflicts and operations taken from real history, such as Stalingrad and the Battle of the Bulge.

So it all sounds similar, but when it comes to playing the game, what we've seen has been encouraging and it looks like a genuine improvement has been made.

In the opening level, for example, our man Holt joins up with British forces attacking the occupied French port of St Nazaire. It's an absolutely cracking in-game set piece and it's definitely up there with the D-Day mission in Medal of Honor: Frontline.

In real life, St Nazaire was an important target for the Allies because it was the only port big enough for the near-indestructible German battleship Tirpitz.

Unable to defeat the ship at sea, Allied Command decided to prevent the Germans from using the Tirpitz in battle by steering a ship loaded with explosives into the harbour, thus taking out the docks.

In European Assault, the attack takes place under the cover of darkness, and, as we've come to expect from Medal of Honor, the action is frantic from the off.

The alarm is raised as your ship approaches the docks and all hell breaks loose - sirens sound, German planes are scrambled and you come under heavy fire. With more enemies on screen than ever before, it is fast and furious stuff.

Plus, it's immediately clear that the game has developed visually. The detailed environments - in this case harbour warehouses, crates and gun emplacements - look more solid and realistic than before.

In fact, graphically, European Assault's opening scenes are a treat with rich, glowing explosions punctuating St Nazaire's shadowy docks and dazzling tracers filling the skies.

Once you've found your bearings on the dock and gathered together your squad members, the mission proper begins.

Yes, that's right. For the first time in the Medal of Honor series, you're in charge of your own squad of soldiers. It's a pretty revolutionary inclusion, seemingly introduced to keep pace with the likes of Rainbow Six and the Conflict series.

If you're worried that this will slow the action down or make things too fiddly, fear not. EA have been careful not to make the control system too complicated.

Only basic commands have been put in, and they're limited to simple directions like 'move here' or 'stay there'. There's even an option to turn it off, altogether.

It feels balanced and smooth. When you look at a member of your squad, a star appears over his head letting you know he's available for instructions, and delivering orders is quick and simple.

You're rewarded at the end of each mission for every team member that survives - a nice touch that encourages you to look after your boys rather than using them as human shields.

Now your unit's all geared up and ready to continue, but where will you go? In previous Medal of Honor games you wouldn't have had a choice, as linear missions and poor level design saw you trudging through one set objective after another. But squad control isn't the only big change introduced in European Assault.

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