Each year we seem to get the same lineup: a new Tony Hawk, a new Madden, a new Mario Party and of course, a new Medal of Honor. Various game developers have all but burned out the Medal of Brothers with Honor who are also a Band in Europe genre, also known as the WWII shooter. Call of Duty was refreshing a few years back, but after two sequels it has become almost as generic as everything else on the market. Penny Arcade said it best when they called Normandy the new Hoth, but lo and behold, the monotony has finally been broken. EA has genuinely surprised me with their latest installment in the MOH series, and they’ve restored just a tiny bit of my faith in shooters on the Wii.
Medal of Honor Vanguard crept in under the radar as the first legitimate Wii FPS in a while. It follows Frank Keegan, part of the 82nd Airborne division, during his campaigns in Europe. The story isn’t all that important—it feels like most other MOH background setups—but the cutscenes between campaigns are a nice historical touch.
I have not played Call of Duty 3 on the Wii so I cannot make a comparison there, but I can tell you that Vanguard is far and away more enjoyable than Red Steel, and considerably more comfortable. From what I’ve heard from other gamers Vanguard’s controls aren’t as tight as COD 3, but compared to Red Steel, Vanguard feels like a dream come true. Aiming and shooting do not have that aggravating “floaty” feeling—your gun doesn’t pivot as you twist the remote, and you can even adjust the threshold of the now-common bounding box.
There is a deceptive option to “lock” the crosshairs to the center of the screen, but this option does only that; your gun will still stray into the dead zone, and then your view will begin to turn. This little lie hacked me off a bit, but otherwise the aiming was very serviceable.
Hurling grenades is also much more comfortable. You can’t roll them along the floor like in Red Steel, but it really isn’t necessary in Vanguard. Instead, you switch to grenades by pressing right on the D-pad, hold down the B-trigger, cast with the remote and let go of the trigger at the end of the throw. Holding B locks the view so you put the grenade exactly where you want it to go. The whole process is natural and very intuitive, and I hope other games adopt Vanguard’s grenade mechanics.
One thing Red Steel did not allow was close-combat melee attacks—the best we got in that game were some awkward Tanto slashes that were hard to pull off with the nunchuk. Vanguard lets you thrust the remote forward to smack any intruding Nazis, which feels quite satisfying when it works; the rumble gives a sharp jolt as you knock the enemy’s helmet off and ring his bell with the butt of your rifle. The motion has a tendency to throw off aim, however, so hand-to-hand comes off more as a novelty than a useful feature.
The other gesture-based actions are more frustrating to execute and might even get you killed in the head of battle. Jerking the nunchuk up and down will make you jump and crouch, snapping it left will make you do a 180 turn, and jerking right will reload your gun. These movements are easily confused; I often found myself ducking and spinning in continuous circles when I simply wanted to slap home a fresh clip. Luckily, the options menu allows any of these movements to be disabled. Ducking and jumping were much easier handled by the nunchuk’s C and Z buttons, but reloading is mapped to the remote’s small 2 button, and hitting in during a firefight is uncomfortable to say the least. Ultimately I kept the 180 and reload gestures activated, but reloading with a movement just isn’t very responsive anyway—if Red Steel has Vanguard beat in any respect, it’s gesture reloading.
Vanguard has the signature feel and flavor of the older MOH games, but with a healthy dose of modern shooter conventions. MOH Frontline was the last one that I played to any great extent, and the series’ mechanics have improved significantly. There is much less of a focus on out-and-out shooting; the gameplay has shifted from a Quake or Half-Life perspective to more of a COD one. That means you’ll be taking cover, a lot, much like Gears of War. Battlefields are littered with debris, rock and other places to take short refuge, and considering the hail of bullets it’s usually a good idea.
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