EA has been mining the Medal of Honor series since 1999, and apparently the games keep selling, because EA just keeps making them. The PSP saw its first WW2 shooter last year with Medal of Honor Heroes, a game praised for successfully translating the formula to a portable system. A sequel was inevitable, so EA set their Canadian branch to work. The actual group that worked on it was Fusion Team, the people who made the PSP original. The aptly named Medal of Honor Heroes 2 continues the spinoff on Sony’s portable, but Fusion Team also built a Wii version, from the ground up to use the Wii remote. The Wii already saw the European Theater with MOH: Vanguard, a decent effort, if having its own set of flaws. So, is WW2 still interesting on the Wii, or is it time for the MOH series to retire its stripes?
Amazingly, MOH Heroes 2 proves that the franchise still has some juice, even if it is a relatively small amount. The previously portable-exclusive Fusion Team went hog-wild on the Wii, a console with more room for them to flex their creative muscle. The results are surprising to say the least, and top the modestly impressive MOH Vanguard in every respect.
So far, Metroid Prime 3 has the smoothest, most accurate FPS controls on the Wii. That makes Fusion Team’s accomplishment with Heroes 2 all the more impressive. With their first Wii game, they came closer to Prime 3’s control precision than any other developer on the console. With the sensitivity at its tightest, Heroes 2 is almost as responsive as Retro’s game, and even a little faster in terms of turning speed. In fact, Heroes 2 probably needed to be a bit quicker as a pure FPS as opposed to Metroid’s more leisurely First Person Adventure. The rest of the controls are complicated enough to allow a multitude of features, including leaning out from cover, melee attacks, tossing grenades and aiming over a gun’s iron sights. At the same time, these features are streamlined enough that the controls never feel cluttered. In short, I didn’t have to think about the controls while I was playing, which is the hallmark of a good game; we’ve certainly come a long way since Red Steel.
Fusion Team didn’t just polish their controls to a shine, though—they innovated. They actually took the time to think up creative ways to use the Wii remote and Nunchuk. For example, imagine there’s a German tank bearing down on you. You pull out your bazooka to fire off a rocket, but to actually aim the huge weapon, you lift the Wii remote backwards over your shoulder, as if you were hefting and steadying it with your body. Your character, Lt. Berg, flips open the scope and the aiming control switches over to the Nunchuk’s stick. You tap the B trigger to fire, and you hear the rocket’s exhaust sound jetting from the remote’s speaker. This whole process might sound awkward, but in practice it’s comfortable and unbelievably cool.
And these little details don’t end with the bazooka. You pump the shotgun after each shot by drawing the Nunchuk under the remote in quick jerks, like working the slide on a real shotgun. Certain objectives require you to find radios and contact HQ. Radios are tuned by twisting the remote left and right, like a twisting a dial. At the same time, staticky signals crackle from the remote’s speaker; Heroes 2 is probably the first game to actually take advantage of the poor quality of the remote’s crappy speaker. A similar twisting motion is used to zoom in and out with the sniper rifle, as if you’re adjusting the scope’s magnification. Heroes 2 has many more of these clever little uses of the Wii’s technology, most of them subtle, but all of them intuitive and fun. Fusion Team’s creativity manages to make a bland genre interesting again.
The solo campaign is accompanied by an on-rails arcade mode, which follows the same general path through the levels but forces the player to use one weapon at a time. You have infinite ammo and plenty of Nazis to perforate, but at the same time it’s no House of the Dead. Arcade mode is an entertaining distraction, and it might be easier for your parents to pick up, but it has a “tacked on” feeling. I’m glad they included it, but the main draw will be the solo mode and the multiplayer.
Speaking of which, Heroes 2 is the first Wii FPS to include a 32 player online mode. Not only that, but it’s handled by the EA Nation service. For the first time, I could browse servers without any of those wretched, horrible little friend codes. EA leaves Nintendo’s clunky matchmaking system behind, creating a multiplayer that feels liberating, but really shouldn’t. I played a few online matches, and while it’s an amazing experience for a Nintendo console, it just feels average compared to online gaming on the PC or 360. The mechanics from the single player are pretty much untouched, so you get most of the cool weapon features and the smooth aiming. On the other hand, there’s no voice over IP. You can access a small list of pre-made messages to send to your teammates, but until Nintendo joins us in the 1990s of online gaming, players won’t be able to communicate in real time. The multiplayer in Heroes 2 is a big first for the Wii, but it won’t feel especially new if you’re a regular denizen of Steam.
In fact, that feeling of stunted novelty seems to plague Heroes 2 in its entirety. It does a lot of very cool, very innovative things, I just wish those cool things would’ve been done in a fresher genre than WW2 FPS. After so many MOH games, you’re still toting around a Thompson machinegun and a Springfield rifle. You’re still tromping around in the bleak European countryside. And you’re still shooting Nazis.
The newness of the motion sensing features is dulled by bland familiarity. Heroes 2 has the same gray, brown and drab green palette that saturates all WW2 shooters. The graphics aren’t smeary or blocky—they’re actually quite good for a Wii title, but the art style has just been done to death. Even the subtle use of bloom lighting isn’t enough to perk up the environments. I know this is WW2 and all, but the atmosphere is supposed to make me feel desperate, not put me to sleep.
The same goes for combat—I’m tired of shooting soulless Nazis. They’re practically Imperial stormtroopers anymore. Apparently the Nazis were so evil that they didn’t even have blood, because after five or so games of shooting them, they still refuse to bleed. I’m guessing they are some kind of clone androids, because they all look, sound and act the same.
It’s my understanding that Saving Private Ryan touched off the WW2 FPS craze. If that film is the inspiration behind the MOH series, why don’t the games have the emotional impact of the movie? The MOH games have always felt clean, sanitized—a far cry from the grimy, bloody horror portrayed in Private Ryan. Fusion Team has pushed the envelope with Heroes 2, but the WW2 genre still suffers from monotonous convention.
What this genre needs is more innovation like the kind in Heroes 2, more features that make the experience immersive. Let’s ditch the Halo inspired (and completely unrealistic) recharging health—ducking behind cover for a few seconds won’t cure shrapnel wounds. Instead, how about making a MOH game that puts you in the shoes of a medic? Not only would you need to patch up your buddies, you might also need to do some “meatball surgery” on yourself. Or how about combat photography? Some of those pictures taken on the battlefield can move people to tears. Wouldn’t it be cool if you were the guy snapping those pictures? With Heroes 2 and its immersive controls, EA’s Fusion Team touched upon the potential still left in WW2 shooters. The rest of the teams at EA working on MOH titles should take notes on what Fusion Team pulled off.
In the meantime, I hope the important people at EA realize how talented Fusion Team is, and give them some creative freedom. They have certainly demonstrated their ability to use the Wii in new ways. I can’t begin to imagine what they could do outside the bounds of the WW2 genre. With a blank check, a fresh canvas, and the freedom to develop any game they want, these guys could create the Wii’s Halo. Keep up the good work, Fusion Team. If you can get me excited about a WW2 shooter, then I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.
If you aren’t bored with WW2 shooters, Medal of Honor Heroes 2 is definitely the one to pick up. Its responsive controls, online multiplayer and immersive use of the Wii’s features make it much more memorable than any other recent MOH game.