In 1999, Electronic Arts released Medal Of Honor, a genre-defining World War II first-person shooter that landed players on Omaha Beach during Operation Overlord. The game was an unqualified success, and EA followed it up with a series of new installments, including MOH: Frontline, which took players to the Netherlands for Operation Market Garden, and the weak MOH: Rising Sun, which took players to the store for Operation I Want My Money Back.
In the new Medal Of Honor: European Assault, you play a member of the OSS, a forerunner to the CIA. The game's 11 missions take place during historically significant battles: with the SAS at St. Nazaire, the Desert Rats in Tunisia, Russian partisans in Stalingrad, and finally with American forces during the Battle Of The Bulge.
European Assault is the first MOH game to incorporate blatantly arcade-style elements, which may be popular with the damn kids today, but undercut the game's historical realism. When you complete objectives, for instance, you can pick up a "revive" icon allowing you to magically "revive" to continue the fight when your health reaches zero, just like in the real WWII. Also, as you complete heroic deeds, an adrenaline meter will fill up. When it's full, you can trigger a 15-second unlimited-ammo, unlimited-health, bullet-time, let's-make-this-like-Max-Payne mode. Nothing says "I'm fighting in World War II" quite like magical invincibility and limitless ammunition!
European Assault is also the first MOH game in which you get to lead squads, and if you keep them alive until the end of the mission, you'll be rewarded with health power-ups. The only problem: The squads don't follow orders or fight well, and they try hard to get themselves killed.
Beyond the gameplay: The moving narration (done by an actual war veteran) and battlefield films make European Assault feel like one of The History Channel's WWII documentaries.
Worth playing for: The incredible sound. When you're in the trenches and bullets are flying over your head, it's hard not to reflexively duck. The fantastic story is brought to life by phenomenal voice acting, and every character feels like a real person. The score is beautiful, and the music alone makes you feel heroic before you've fired a single shot.
Frustration sets in when: The AI that controls your nemeses is devious and will kick your ass if you're not careful. Unfortunately, the AI that controls your squad just got off the short bus. (Super-secret tip: Screaming at the screen, "Crouch down, stupid! You're getting shot!" doesn't work.) You can't save your progress until you complete a level, so if you make it all the way to the end and die, you go all the way back to the beginning. This is controller-throwing annoying.
Final judgment: European Assault is better than Rising Sun, not as good as Frontline, but a step back in the right direction. It's really a shame there isn't any online multiplayer support, because that would probably wipe out all the single-player shortcomings. Still, it's a beautiful game, with a great story, and since the single-player version can be completed in about 10 hours, players can rent it, and watch Band Of Brothers when they're done.