REVIEW : Medal of Honor - Pacific Assault

'Three week wonders', that's what they called them. Well here we are, finally made it. A review of the latest Medal of Honor game; Pacific Assault. It's no coincidence that last sentence is worded like that - "finally made it" - because that about sums up the action in Pacific Assault; it's brutal, intense and parts of it are seriously in your face, you're often confused, battered and simply left wondering what the hell is going on.

Visit the official Pacific Assault web site where you can find more information on the game, high resolution screen shots plus download a demo (550MB). You can also order online (USA/Canada only) via the site.

Test system

Now that may sound bad but believe me it's not. Imagine being there, in reality, you've got a gun and some directions "That way. There's an objective over there, somewhere". You and your buddies then need to battle through chaos, find said 'objective' and deal with it. You don't know what's there, who's there, or even if indeed there is an objective where it's supposed to be. This is what it must have been like and it's seriously scary, how the hell those guy did this in real life during W.W.II just boggles the mind and like the TV mini series Band of Brothers, Pacific Assault really brings this home to you as you play through it. Sure it's just a game but you simply can't help but think about this stuff as you stumble through the undergrowth and around various shrapnel objects.

A sense of history

There are some interesting little archive snippets, what must have been news footage at the time, which sets the context firmly in place. The way the story is told from the point of view of the character you play really connects you to the 'personal' aspect of conflict, of being there, of having 'folks at home' to worry about. It's not surprising the story is like that really, 'personal', when you think that (according to the accompanying literature) the Medal of Honor franchise is the creation of Steven Spielberg, he of Saving Private Ryan and the aforementioned Band of Brothers. If you liked those cinematic events then you'll like this game, it has that same feel, backed up by a music score that would be right at home in those productions.

The greenery is effective at creating that jungle feeling

The greenery is effective at creating that jungle feeling

Here comes the science bit

Technically you'll need a fairly decent rig to run the game and get a satisfactory experience from it, running at 640x480 with low visual settings just spoils the over look and feel of the game, coupled with that it makes the game slightly harder to play because you end up 'pixel aiming' (you're basically trying to hit pixel blocks rather than the 'objects' you would at higher resolution).

It's recommended that you have a 2GHz CPU (the minimum is 1.5GHz) and a 128MB graphics card that's at least (64MB minimum) a GForce 3 or ATI 8500; the review system had an AMD XP2000+ and an ATI 9000Pro 128MB card, the game ran okay generally but slowed noticeably in the thick of the action, especially where explosions were involved and there are quite a few of those!. Pacific Assault really needs a decent FPS in order to get through a lot of the tight action that goes on.

Having said that the game does run (Ed: obviously..!) on lower system specifications but you can't expect too much from what you get at that level because there's so much going on under the hood regarding the special effects; from the puffs of smoke when you step to the implementation of Havok physics, the current buzz 'must have' in a game feature.

Speaking of Havok Physics, it's implemented well, grenades don't bounce like footballs and characters don't appear to react and interact like lifeless ragdolls when shot, nothing stands out with the "now that wouldn't do that in real life" pop quiz that gamers are sometimes asked to disbelieve. Over all they way it's been done just increases your involvement and pulls you in, the impact and drop shots on the AI is particularly good.

Game play

'... easy does it, easy....'. Everything is green, and it's too damn close, so close you can barely see 20 yards ahead. You pause to listen. Nothing. The C.O. whispers, barely audible."Stay low fellas, and check your ammo". Nerves as tight as piano wire you inches forward to the objective, 'where the hell are they' you think to yourself.

"Look out Tommy!".

You turn, to slow. Crrrrack!. "Yeah...! I bag me another one" comes an exclamation from behind. "Nice shooting Franky" you hear the C.O. say.

You were lucky, again.

More green stuff...

More green stuff...

Well it's what you'd expect, intense. 'Nuff said. Seriously. You really do feel like walking around in crouch position all the time just in case you take one in the noggin if you stand up for too long. The AI - your team mates, when you have them - work pretty good considering what's going on, there are moments when they trip over each others feet but interestingly enough they get out of each others way without you having to put a bullet in their ass to get them to move. That must be the new dynamic AI control that's mentioned on the box!.

The enemy AI is 'nasty', in a good way, they duck for cover and hide behind objects. They seem to be clever enough to know when you're firing in their general direction and react appropriately; luckily they're not all one hit wonders with their weapons (taking you out with one shot).

At various points in the game you're either in control of the team (or at least have some sway over what they do) or you're part of a team and have to follow the commanding officers orders. You've really got to be attentive to what's going on around you in either case, esp. in the thick of the jungle, it's far too easy to get lost if you wander off ahead of your team mates. Luckily the wise owls that developed Pacific Assault thought to have little Allied stars above the heads of your guys so you can find them with relative ease particularly in a melee attack when all hell breaks loose (to coin a phrase).

Weapons handle well and have 'weight', esp. when you mount some of the bigger guns and fixed artillery, they move like the giant lumbering objects they are, slow, solid and cumbersome. As we're talking about weapons an interesting 'feature' here (which I don't recall being in the original MoH) is a couple of limitations; you can only carry two main pieces of weaponry kit - a rifle and Tommy gun for instance - but no more. You've also got to be careful with your ammo as that's limited, like the drill instructor said "short, sharp bursts", reloading takes time (as it would) so you always keep one eye on your ammo count and try to reload during quiet moments.

This is potentially a negative game play feature, but to be honest, it really makes you think a bit; run out and you really become desperate - as you no doubt would in real life. The handy thing in that situation is that you can pick up and swap out any weapon you come across, you loose the one you had but at least you have a working weapon instead of carrying dead weight and that matters as your speed and ease of movement is effected by what you carry.

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Can you feel the humidity... and those pesky mosquitoes.. *slap*

We're off to the movies tonight

The cut scenes are a good lead into the story and firmly establish the circumstance of the 'why, what and who'. A mixture of FMV, archive footage and in game characters and assets they're thoughtfully implemented depending on what the following section of the game is like. The story told is often quite 'cinematic' and it wouldn't be a surprise to find out that Sir Steven ("we're not worthy..!!") had at least some input into their making and/or direction. If not then kudos to the team that created them, they really are reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.

It has to end somewhere

The review that is. It would be so easy to keep going on about the game, raving like a lunatic and foaming at the mouth saying you must get this game "just because". That's not good enough for me, and I suspect you as well, so what I will say is this. If you like this era and genre (W.W.II and FPS), you like a more cinematic experience (a story told well), you have a smattering of interest in the history behind it all and you want to play a great looking game on what is admittedly an old but highly tweaked and faithfully solid engine (it is based on the Quake 3 engine licensed from id software) then right now you couldn't do any better in the squad based genre.

Most certainly a good, enjoyable and entertaining ride, well worth 4/5 stars. It would have got five but it seemed a bit short considering the amount of data that gets installed which certainly isn't taken up by the length of the game; it looks like that has been given over to higher quality assets.

Game factoides

  • It's a 4 CD installation of just under 3 gigabytes of data so make sure you have plenty of space.

  • There have been reports of the game not playing on double clicking the desktop startup icon (which was that case of the review copy - none of the shortcuts worked initially) but it's easily solved in most cases by removing CD1 from the installation drive and replacing that with CD4. The game should run after doing that.

  • Ideally you need DirectX 9 installed, but that should only really apply to cards that support it. You'll get asked to install it by default but you can say no if you want to (although the game may not run) as it can cause problems with other games on older cards regardless of the 'backward compatibility' of the API.

  • There is a quicksave and quickload feature and sometimes you really need it. Thankfully though, the missions are broken into smaller chunks and autosaves are quite frequent.

Problems running Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault on PC

Q : pacific assault trouble with ATI 'xxxx'

A : This will be one of two problems (it's usually one or the other, rarely both)

  1. DirectX issue.

  2. Issue with the current version of Catalyst drivers you've got installed.

Depending on what the trouble is, make sure that if you updated the drivers you removed all traces of the previous drivers before you undated. Leaving traces of the old drivers in place is known to cause a lot of problems. There is a tool available for that here. Just uninstall the current drivers using the tool and then reinstall once the PC reboots (it's usually a good idea to have unpacked the drivers to your hard drive before you reboot so you can install when windows does the usual 'found new hardware').

If that doesn't work then you'll need to trouble shoot. To do this remove all traces of your current drivers and then install the default (original) drivers that came with the installation CD when you got the card; these ones will at least work. Test Pacific Assault. If the game runs without any glitches then you know the drivers you had in place were the problem and not the card itself. The next bit is a bit of a slog to do but you need to do it if you're still having problems. Uninstall the drivers again and then install the latest drivers you can get hold of. Test Pacific Assault. If you get problems now then you'll need to do one of two things

  • Either leave the default (original) drivers in place.

  • Install and test each driver set going backwards from the latest to the oldest (might be tricky to get hold of the older drivers unless you've already got an archive of them yourself).

There's no easy or quick way to fix driver issues on Radeon's.

If this is a DirectX problem then you're in for a bit of a battle. Have a read of this article or search for the DirextX removal tool.