Medal of Honor Vanguard drops in on the PS2 and brings with it the arsenal of intensity that we’ve grown to love, (again and again). From the moment that you first land as Corporal Keegan on a beach in Sicily in Operation Husky, until the end of Operation Varsity, Vanguard ’s rifle may jam once or twice, but its clip never runs dry.
In Vanguard you take up your Garand again, this time as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, one of America’s first airborne units. EA is one of the originators of the WWII shooter (anyone remember the first Medal of Honor on the PS1?). Everything you come to expect form the series is here: realistically modeled and sounding weapons, dramatic Saving Private Ryan moments, Germans spouting… German, and combat that might give you flashbacks. While EA has included everything that it got its stripes for, we can’t help but feel like it’s just another history class.
Above: Just one of the intense battle moments.
This series has always been very linear, following a tried-and-true formula: storm an area, clear it, reach the checkpoint and repeat. It seems that EA loves this formula so much that it refuses to differ from it, to the point that this feels dated.
The developer manages to capture the fear of war throughout the game. From the danger of parachuting into enemy fire early on to the silent tension of the extensive counter sniper mission toward the end - which had us paranoidly gazing into our sniper scope - the mood of this war never lets up. It's during these firefights that it would have been nice to have the option to save anytime between floods of troops, rather than have to wait for the next checkpoint. This series has always been tough though, so most potential buyers will probably be prepared for it.
Vanguard has some new recruits too. The much-hyped parachuting parts of the game are just that - hype. While these segments are fun, they ultimately feel short and tacked on. You can't land just anywhere, as we're promised you'll be able to in Medal of Honor: Airborne. When dropping in, you can land in only one small area, although you can aim for the plumes of green smoke to gain “weapon upgrades" like a scope attachment for your M1 or a barrel clip for the Thompson. While there is nothing more fun than feeling like Al Capone gunning down Nazis with a Tommy gun, there could have been more done here. Also, the fact that you lose your upgrades when you load the next section of a campaign just plain sucks.
Above: Thompson Machine Gun + Barrel Clip = Just plain cool.
EA has added a cover system that everyone: you, your brothers in arms and your enemies will use. It’s simple really: stand behind cover, hold aim, then use the analog stick to lean in the desired direction. The worst part of the system is that your fellow soldiers will often take the best cover spots, forcing you to choose spots that are not nearly as good. At least your squad mates are thinking, and not just dying.
The AI here must have taken a history lesson, because it's gotten a whole lot smarter. The Germans will take cover just like you and your American counterparts, retreat when you advance, toss grenades, and even resort to melee attacks when you get too close. In the end, if you can do it, they will do it. Your fellow airborne members - while not directly controllable - are no new recruits either. The 82nd Airborne will take down the occasional Nazi and call out their locations - even if they can't get by without you.
The biggest problems with Vanguard lies in its graphics and overall length. It takes only six to eight hours to complete the game on normal, and graphically the game looks like it’s seen some serious battle. The visuals are strictly PS2, and not the good God of War kind. The game is incredibly dark - so much that we had to turn the brightness up on our TV. The muzzle flashes and explosions are not the best seen on the console. The best way to describe it is dull. Not horrible, not amazing, but dull.
As for multiplayer, it's all pretty standard fare: regular and team deathmatch, capture the flag and king of the hill (think stand by the flag). The only new mode is Scavenger Hunt where you pick up supplies and deliver them untill you reach your goal. All in all, EA’s newest attempt to get us to enlist in WWII again is more of the same with a few new bullets in the clip. The game isn’t FUBAR - indeed it is fun, but it may not be worth re-enlisting in an 8 hour tour of duty for $50.