Poor old Medal of Honor. The much-decorated series that kick-started our obsession with first-person shooter war games has recently seen the likes of Call of Duty and Brothers in Arms demote it from a celebrated Rommel to a lowly gameshow cheat Major Charles Ingram. After the well-received but underwhelming Rising Sun, EA's cheeks must have been burning with shame. Enter European Assault.
The linear, scripted narrative of previous MOHs has vanished, replaced by massive open battlefields, a more flexible squad dynamic and an... urgh... adrenaline meter.
The only noticeable absentees are vehicles (yes, even the machine gun-toting elephants) - which are sadly missed, and escort missions - which are not.
So can this intense piece of mouth-to-mouth help revive EA's shell-shocked grunt, or does the poor fella drown in a mixture of his own blood, phlegm and bile? Well, it's a little bit of both actually. Allow us to explain...
Medal of Honor: European Assault remains a hugely playable experience; of that there is no doubt. It boasts an unfeasibly wide-ranging arsenal of weapons, even though we rarely tire of caving in Nazi skulls in good old melee mode.
The magic MOH moments are still present and correct (even though they lack the lustre of previous instalments) and there's a seemingly never-ending supply of ammo. Add some serious ducking, diving - and now leaning! - into the mix and seasoned veterans will feel right at home.
Another indisputable thing in European Assault's favour is that there's always a heck of a lot of stuff going on, even if most of it still feels blatantly spoon-fed. Holt dashes from one continent to another, fulfilling compulsory primary objectives as well as optional secondary ones.
Rooting around a bit (which usually involved us getting lost, thanks to the rubbish compass) even unearths tertiary goals and helps our hero earn bronze, silver and gold medals as well as uncovering handy revive points.
The problem is that if you peek beyond EA's typically plump facade it's all oh-so linear. See those massive buildings/strongholds we're about to enter? They must be veritable rabbit warrens!
But hang on a sec - why do their doors lead to rooms without any visible windows or exits? Why are there so many impassable heaps of debris? Why can't we jump out of a first floor window? Grrr - why is it all so restrictive?
It's this lack of any real alternative routes that contrasts painfully with the promise of open battlefields. We mean, the potential for flanking and assailing from all sides was there on a plate, but the much-vaunted 360 degrees of action utterly fails to materialise. It seems the leopard only pretended to change his spots...
As far as your new squad goes, the jury's still out. Although the three-man team cover, flank and suppress impressively at first, later on in the game Holt's boys become more of a bind than a blessing - so you'd be better off saving those medikits for yourself.
Mind you, you won't really give a flying fig what happens to your buddies - there are no memorable brothers in arms like Leggett and Hartsock here.
European Assault's enemy AI is impressive but inconsistent. Most Nazis seem to exist simply to be mown down like hay, while a tenacious few will need to be driven out of cover via some crafty squad deployment.
We guarantee you'll groan from the pit of your stomach when you take down a pesky machine gunner only to see another grunt charge over and take up the grisly reigns. Fear not though brave soldier! When things look really grim, it's time for Holt to unleash the cringe-worthy gimmick - adrenaline.
Unfortunately, this Max Payne bullet-time effect is ill conceived at best, and downright offensive at worst considering the sober subject. Still, you will be temporarily rewarded with unlimited ammo and invulnerability.
Holt racks up an insane German body count as he scythes a bloody course through Europe, Africa and the Soviet Union. But it's not too long before the monotonous bomb planting and 'go there, blow that up' objectives sent us into a mustard gas-induced coma.
Single-player aside, the complete lack of any online options smacks of laziness, although European Assault does pack some decent split-screen multi-player for up to four mates.
In terms of looks, European Assault is a mixed bag. There's some lovely lighting, grand explosions and shell-shock effects, and St. Nazaire, North Africa, Stalingrad and The Ardennes all look pretty good.
Unfortunately, the basic weapon models, chunky soldiers, unrealistic rag dolls and generally rubbish physics don't measure up to their Brothers in Arms counterparts. European Assault's sombre (but brill) soundtrack and oh-so-sober narrative also jars horribly with the adrenaline meter, 'boss' fights, over reliance on respawning and 'one man army' arcadey feel.
EA really needs to decide whether they're going for hand-wringing pathos or all-out gore in the inevitable next instalment, because Call of Duty whips arse on the pulse-racing action front and Brothers in Arms rules in the emotional stakes.
Despite the fact we've had a bit of a go in this review (hey - it's only because we care), MOH European Assault is by no means a terrible game. If you're a fan of the series you'll find plenty to enjoy here, despite the numerous flaws.
So, after much build up and trumpeting, EA's finest remains a solid, playable and - above all - rollicking romp through what is a decidedly Boys Own re-envisioning of World War 2.
Just don't take European Assault quite as seriously as it takes itself, and we guarantee you'll have a ball. And us? Well, we just can't shake the nagging feeling that it could all have been so much better. MOH dear...
Medal of Honor European Assault is out now for PS2, Xbox and Gamecube