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Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault

Having completed our objectives on the Makin Islands we eventually come to the Tarawa beach landing - the game's huge set-piece (equivalent to Allied Assault's Normandy landing). As we wade through the water to get to the beach, planes roar overhead, strafe-fire perforates the sea in front, dead soldiers bob like so much flotsam and jetsam, shell-shocked individuals hug mangled wreckage while the more courageous continue to wade forward. As you look to your right, you see hundreds of fellow marines making their way to the shore. The developers have gone to town here on an epic scale.

Of the other stages announced so far, we're also particularly intrigued by Night Moves, a sniper level set on a small island at night. The island is more wide than deep and armed with a sighted rifle you have the task of picking off the many Japanese snipers scattered throughout the island, camped in bushes, tree tops and anywhere else that gives them an edge.

That there are often multiple ways to venture forward to the next objective was apparent. But just how far from the mission route through the 25 single-player levels you can meander remains uncertain. But Kusin's assertion that they've moved away from the on-rails experience appears to be valid.

Screen furniture does its job without being too intrusive and the compass (at the top left of screen) and play indicator (top right) should mean that you're never left wondering what to do next. More interesting is the audio-related AI that has your squad handing out instructions not just in the cutscenes but even during the most frenetic battles. While it's difficult at first to pick these out above the bedlam of war, once you've got to grips with playing the game, you'll note that they're actually hollering sensible instructions that alert you to your situation or that of members of your squad. That's not to say that much of the shouting isn't simply there to accentuate the atmosphere because it clearly is.

Other realistic touches include the fact that there are no medpacs in Pacific Assault. A much more meaningful process of health repair is achieved via the medic that's a member of your squad. A button-command will call the medic to you and, sure enough, he'll sort you out. However, this introduces another tactical element. For one, you'll want to keep him alive and he's not the most resilient marine on the parade grounds. Secondly, you'll want to keep him close by. So pushing ahead, while a bad idea anyway, is certainly out of the question.

Which brings us to possibly the nicest touch of all - death. Or, more accurately, the near-death experience. When you're in a particularly perilous position, you go down in a daze, looking up at the current game that continues in black and white with voices and sounds from past events washing over you. You're in death's throes. A number of outcomes are now possible, falling in to three basic categories: (1) the guy that has downed you (or another enemy) simply finishes you off; (2) one of your men tags him but can't get to you in time and you exhale your last breath alone; (3) the medic makes it to your position in time, does his handiwork and you're up and running again.

In addition, there are multiple permutations of these scenarios - such as the medic making it to you and, just as he's about to earn his keep, being offed by the enemy. Hope, whether shattered or realised, is a great gaming device and we love this new mechanic that will usually have you hoping in vain for a miracle in the midst of the mayhem. Although a figure has yet to be finalised, you'll be saved around one in every four or five times, depending on how you play (if you keep the medic close, for instance).

The code we played was pre-beta, so there's plenty of tweaking and balancing to be done and, if all goes to plan, it should build on the legacy of Allied Assault and will - we hope - wipe out all memory of Rising Sun. Pacific Assault has every chance of putting the Medal of Honor series back on track with a hugely dramatic bang.

Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault will bring jungle fever to PC from 1 October