Electronic Arts' Medal of Honor series has until recently been playing at a high level. Despite a minority of critics accusing it of being too scripted and fixed, it has for the most part produced stellar titles regardless of the hardware platform. From Normandy to the depths of the Fatherland, Medal of Honor may not be the most realistic, but it has always been enjoyable.
Medal of Honor: Rising Sun covers the Pacific campaign for America. You begin the campaign on a ship docked at Pearl Harbor. Reminiscent of the Hollywood movie of the same name, you'll find yourself in front of machine gun turrets shooting down Japanese Zero fighters. The opening sequence with the words “general quarters, general quarters” is riveting a bang.
The rest of Rising Sun's campaign will take you through various American battles, including famous ones like Guadalcanal. You play the role of Joe Griffin, a rookie marine who later gets promoted to do operations with the OSS in British Burma. Rising Sun is quite attentive to the historical details. The interludes between missions are dotted with some rendered sequences, but mostly the game opts to show black and white footage of Roosevelt and actual Allied forces operating in the Pacific. I thought this was a nice touch and fitting homage to all the lives sacrificed there.
The best part of Medal of Honor has always been when the scripting works to create cinematic magic. You're fighting tooth and nail, and then a tank crashes through a wall to chase you away. You and your buddies advance on a hill and suddenly a bunch of them are cut down by a hidden machine gun. While the machine gun and tank always appear on cue, like a great movie, it's fun to play through each and every time.
In Rising Sun, these events are far and few between. It doesn't help that the artificial intelligence for the Japanese is overall fairly low, their accuracy is downright horrid. You aren't helped by the controls either. Aiming is a tad on the slow side. While the weapons try to be as accurate to the source material as possible, not one gun exceeds twenty bullets in one clip and the rate of fire is too slow even for a submachine gun. Don't even think about the sniper rifles. That meant I found a lot of situations where I was in front of Japanese soldiers at point blank range trying to pull a shot off. They were trying to do a same and battles often turned into comical Western shootouts, with five or six combatants who couldn't even hit the broad side of a barn.
These factors can cause any game to become easy. Rising Sun wasn't, though, because of some suspicious map design problems. Many times, when there is a clear path between point A and B, the designers use artificial fences and trees to hem you in. The correct paths you're supposed to take are obscured behind buildings or hidden. One hut in the Burma mission signifies my whole case. It's pitch black, the hut is barely lit, and the corridors for the stairways are sharp and inconspicuous. It took me four or five passes just to figure out there were three levels in the whole structure.
Still, I was able to finish the entire game in little over four hours; much of the time spent backtracking. Rising Sun has a co-operative feature that lets two people battle it out in front of the console. I really appreciated this part, but I thought I'd give a forewarning that the co-operative game is not the same as the single player one. To reduce overhead on the console hardware, many of the allied characters are taken out. Missions are made simpler and complex scripted sequences are eliminated.
You'll see the difference in the very beginning. Rising Sun makes some attempts to make the game like Halo, with people running around trying to escape the sinking ship in Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, none of these cinematic elements show up in the co-operative game. Many times you feel like the two of you are lone commandos as allied units conveniently disappear at the onset of each mission.
Rising Sun also features competitive multiplayer features. With only four players, though, it's more of an afterthought than a serious component of the product.
Electronic Arts will probably have a hard time keeping the formula fresh, especially after so many iterations and in the face of Activision's Call of Duty, but I believe even in the face of those odds, Medal of Honor fans deserve better. Rising Sun begins in Pearl Harbor with a bang, but drags on to finish with a whimper.