Wading quietly up a picturesque stream, the jungle presses in on all sides, insects hum, birds sing and call with exotic cadence, all around the sun streams through the leafy canopy as the morning mist rises off the cool water. It looks beautiful. It is, in fact, hell.
Electronic Arts producer Ben Kusin, unveiling levels that are being seen in Europe for the first time ever, hands the keyboard over to gamesradar.com and we go up against the Japanese. And we get absolutely slaughtered. Welcome to the jungle.
Pacific Assault is the latest in the Medal of Honor series and sees the game taking a slightly different direction with regards to gameplay. But the essential bones of the FPS series that pays meticulous detail to authenticity are still apparent. As the name suggests, the theatre of war is the Pacific conflict that began with Pearl Harbour in 1941. You play the role of marine Tom Conlin and, with your squad of marine grunts, you take on the might of the Imperial Japanese army.
The game looks great, sounds fantastic and plays, well, rather differently from previous MOH titles. Pacific Assault is a more tactical first-person shooter: it requires patience, keen observation, strategies, squad considerations and, above all, it requires you not to go in with all guns blazing. Take this approach and, if the bullets don't get you, the bayonets will.
The first level that greets us is the one described above, which has the literal title of River Walk. You can hike for fairly long jaunts, hugging rocks, streamside trees - anything that provides cover as you progress in seemingly idyllic conditions until the first enemy bullet zings past your ear. Then it's a run for decent cover as squad members holler and the forest comes alive with Japanese soldiers sending a hail of bullets your way.
Most worrying of all, you still can't see the enemy at this point. Only their gun bursts reveal their location. Even when you do manage to edge closer to them, you're not getting the whole picture and you feel you'll be jumped at any moment. The pressure is full-on and the jungle seems in chaos, with your buddies returning fire, shouting over the ongoing firefight, desperately trying to be heard in the mayhem and all the while you're trying to fish out the Japanese captain.
Nailing the captain is your prime objective in these toe-to-toe gun battles as he holds the key to defeating the enemy. The reason is that the game uses morale-based AI for both the enemy and your squad. Although there's no on-screen indicator, the game is processing a bunch of numbers during the firefight based on group morale. Your only indication of this is whether the Japanese advance in numbers or your squad takes the fight to them. So take out the captain and the enemy lose confidence and they tend to hang back and dig in, while your squad advances forward, picking off the enemy, due to their morale being boosted.
Pacific Assault is a graphical leap for the series and we were particularly taken with the representation of the jungle. The great variety of plant life that spans from floor-dwelling shrubs to the lofty heights of the canopy really does create a backdrop that looks and feels authentic. The streams and waterfalls add to the rain-forest illusion but it's really the team behind the sound that has excelled beyond all other departments in Pacific Assault. The audio is nothing short of spectacular, with the ambience of the jungle being spot-on.
Locking horns with the enemy on the Makin Islands in the Sitting Ducks level was particularly harrowing. Your squad is on a small island covered in lush vegetation and, as you venture into the undergrowth, the Japanese attack with such ferocity that the bayonet assaults are genuinely disturbing. These guys don't just saunter up and introduce you to the sharp end of their rifle, they converge on you like rabid attack dogs and beat you senseless. The fact that they jump out of the leafy surroundings right under your nose makes it all the more jolting. Ideally, you pace yourself so that you pick off the enemy as you edge your way through but they're so hard to see that you know some of them will get up close and personal.