What exactly is the Medal of Honor? A quick search on Google and the majority of military websites agree on the following: The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. Thus, the Congressional Medal of Honor is a rare, one of a kind achievement to men and women serving in armed conflicts. Is Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault a one of a kind achievement on the PC? It certainly is something good but with so many WWII action titles released since Allied Assault hit the shelves, it can hardly be considered one of a kind.
Pacific Assault starts on Tarawa in 1943 as the United States' counterattack approaches the Japanese home islands. You play the role of Tommy Conlin in the United States Marine Corps. This means, as his colleague Frank Minoso jokes, you won't be cleaning up and babysitting airfields. Not long after the opening sequence, Conlin experiences a flashback that takes him back to boot camp. Here, you get a better acquaintance with the men in your squad. Then you're shipped off to
Pearl Harbor where you race off just when Japanese Zeros begin strafing the United States' Pacific naval headquarters.
The story is divided into several chapters: initial tutorial, Pearl Harbor, Makin, Guadacanal and Tarawa. These are some of the big name battles that you'll see in WWII documentaries. Although I would have liked the opportunity to skip the tutorial, it has a dual purpose of letting Conlin bond with his enlisted friends. The Pearl Harbor segment is a definite showpiece and consists mostly of manning fixed anti-aircraft guns while trying to throw switches and rescue people from sinking battleships. At one point, you're in a PT boat and asked to jump into the hole of a sinking ship to find survivors. Yes, you, the one person. It doesn't make sense but it makes for a pretty good show.
Each outing starting with Makin will have you paired up with three people from the same squad. One of them is a medic, whom you can call upon at any one time to patch you up. The medic will also patch up your fellow enemies but like most titles with a heavy reliance on a screenplay (which really started with Allied Assault), your immediate squad won't die from random fire. I won't say anything about planned deaths though. There are some marines who tag along for missions but they're mostly cannon fodder for the Japanese.
Your outings mostly consist of a single objective, such as disabling a Japanese supply station. But along the way, you'll find yourself facing bad intelligence or in one case, the plane doing the recon goes down and you have to go in to finish your objective and rescue the pilot who was supposed to do your intelligence. These subdivide the main objectives into different sequences. Still, there isn't a lot of variation.
Pacific Assault gives the developers a much different terrain than Allied Assault to render. There aren't many buildings or cities to model. Instead, you're waist deep in vegetation. Usually developers will opt for two choices: make the vegetation very generic and let you run all over the field (i.e. Delta Force, Joint Operations) or they can make the vegetation like a fixed path so you must go through ambushes and chokepoints. Pacific Assault is of the latter. It takes away from the illusion of freedom. I couldn't count how many times I wanted to scoot up to get a top shot or circumvent machine gun nests but it was obvious from the design of the map that the designers wanted you to be caught by them. Those playing on a higher level of difficulty will have to use the old trick of using one quick-save and quick-load to 'learn the lay of the land' before advancing.
The one thing that Pacific Assault attempts to do, and for the most part is able to pull it off, is to create the idea that there's a swarm of Japanese soldiers around you. Most first person shooters have you moving forward, but in this game the developers will place enemies in behind the path you've traveled and even in places where you're backtracking. Of course, to create this kind of swarm, they have to do some 'spawning' and sometimes you'll see through this trick and be frustrated by it if you happen to die because of it.
Still, I came away thinking it is worth it. There are moments of sheer terror that the crew behind Allied Assault is able to create with these tricks. During the defense of Guadacanal, you're told by your superior officer that there are several lines of defense, but if you get to the airfield, there is no retreating. You're stuck in a foxhole. It's pitch black and there's not even a searchlight on. Suddenly, all you can hear are screams and a banzai charge heads your way. As you fire away with your machinegun, you begin to see the lead foxhole in the
defense being overwhelmed, and then resistance stops in the one ahead of you, so on until it reaches you. By the time it gets to Conlin's foxhole, I've already exhausted the machine gun's ammunition. I'm low on rifle rounds, I don't have time to reload and I'm periodically smashing at the mouse to rifle butt some of the enemies to death. Let me tell you, war on the PC can be sometimes tiring. It's this type of drama that made Allied Assault so great. Here, it is done fairly well but the moments are farther apart and can't match the consistency of Activision's Call of Duty.
The game covers marine expeditions between Pearl Harbor in 1941 and Tarawa in 1943. Over this time period, Conlin goes from a simple rifleman with 1941 weapons to 1943, so you get try your hand at more than a few weapons. For example, the 1941 outfit includes a six-shooter pistol and a simple rifle. Battles here are a lot less intense as you find yourself reloading or suffering from the delay of a bolt-action rifle. By Tarawa, you're carrying a BAR and a Colt 1911. Of course, the opposition also stiffens by that time so you'll have plenty use for the extra firepower. Like previous Medal of Honor titles, ammunition counts are kept to a minimum. You won't find any C-Mags with hundreds of bullets here. All fixed gun emplacements have limited ammunition and there are even a few mobile MGs you'll commandeer from the enemy.
There is a multiplayer segment that accompanies the game. Allied
Assault proved to be a fairly popular online title so Pacific Assault should have its share of fans too. However, Electronic Arts' sister
Battlefield 1942 franchise might eat away at some of the multiplayer demographic. The DVD version of the game also comes with a featurette that documents the making of the game. You'll get to see the developers try out firing of weapons and encounter the now very famous ex-USMC Dale Dye (the same man who was consultant to military action in Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan, among others). There's also a mini-documentary piece that illustrates the history of the United States Pacific campaign. However, I found the information there to be too limited to be of any use to a serious historian. I'm not one to dress up or spectate in war recreations on the weekend but I still knew everything presented there. You do get the convenience of not having to swap out many CDs, though, but it will cost you a few more dollars.
Pacific Assault is obviously one of the premiere titles that Electronic Arts is pushing out this 2004 holiday season. It comes on to a crowded market with Call of Duty's United Offensive being released. As I am always interested in WWII titles, I was wholeheartedly surprised to hear a lot of people comment on how this is the first push by Medal of Honor into the Pacific. It's not. I happen to have played Medal of Honor: Rising Sun, which had a similar Pearl Harbor beginning, although that console-only title was neither as gorgeous nor as lengthy as Pacific Assault. The graphics engine here even affords Pacific Assault to include one arcade airplane sequence where you're not only the gunner, you're the pilot.
However, this causes the most disconcerting element of Pacific Assault.
As great as it looks, it's painfully slow. On a top of the line computer, you'll have to scale the visuals down to get an acceptable
framerate. On mid range computers, you may have a setting that works in sparsely populated Makin. By the time you get to Tarawa, you'll have to reduce the level of detail yet again. The load times in between levels are excruciatingly long. Have a magazine ready if you're at the lower end of the system requirements.
It took the United States four years to end the battle with Japan in their own backyard. Altogether, you could finish Pacific Assault over a weekend (or even one marathon session day) at the easier difficulty settings. Some parts of the title are mired by repetitiveness. You constantly have to overcome enemies and then use their defenses against counterattacks. If it weren't for those sequences, it may even be a little shorter. This leaves the door open to an expansion follow-up or a sequel that might cover some of the grittier elements like Okinawa. However, it's clear that out of so many excellent WWII action titles available, Pacific Assault cannot assume that it shines the brightest.
It's no longer the de facto title out there. I still came away enjoying my time with Pacific Assault immensely. For those who have yet to slog ashore in the Pacific, and you have a high end PC, this is as good a place to start as anywhere else.