You’re probably wondering “why am I reading a review of a random first person shooter from 2005?”. Well two reasons dear reader, for one I am currently working through my backlog of games and this just so happens what I chose to play this week and secondly, I wanted to take a look at what would be seen as a ‘standard’ military FPS before the great game-changer that was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare hit the scene. So grab your Thompson M1 and combat rations soldier, we’re going back to 1942 for a retro-review of Medal of Honor: European Assault.

The premise of European Assault has you playing as Lt. William Holt, a member of the American OSS (Office of Strategic Services) on a mission to gather intelligence on secret Nazi war machines. These missions take place throughout some of WW2’s most dramatic battles and include the raid on the submarine base at St. Nazaire, France, the North African theater, the Battle of Stalingrad and the Battle of the Bulge. Your story might be fictional, but these were real battles and the game presents them as such, with trench warfare and desperate defenses of towns feeling particularly poignant.

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Being the 8th game in the series (a series that started a mere six years earlier), European Assault benefits from many refinements to EA’s take on the first person shooter genre. The game makes use of an early version of cover based shooting I like to call ‘peak and lean’. Essentially you move from one defensible position to the next and every ‘peak’ around the corner to make sure you aren’t surprised by the enemy. The game encourages you to do this by allowing you to ‘lean’ behind coverage. Essentially when you are against a wall, aim down your sites and then use the left stick to lean behind the corner. I hadn’t played a game that used this scheme in a while and felt a tinge of nostalgia as I peaked around corners, taking out my enemies.

One thing I did not anticipate hitting me as hard as it did was the difficulty. I played through the game on normal (I just wanted to finish it, not challenge myself) and wow did this game kick my butt. The enemies punished any thought of rampaging through with almost instant death and you can easily find yourself scrambling to get to cover. Thankfully the game scatters a generous heaping of first aid kits (remember those?!) around and every time I died I didn’t feel cheated, just foolish.

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It’s not all retro-elements though as the game also has some pretty novel elements that would be cool to see in more shooters today. For one, every level gives you a squad to command. You can either set them be on the defensive, cover you through enemy fire or even charge head first to distract your foes. Sadly the AI that controls your partners is dumb as nails and they will constantly run in your line of site or jump into situations that guarantee death. Gotta love that go-getter attitude though. Another element that I really appreciated was the use of open ended levels with multiple objectives that you could choose to complete. While the game never takes it to Goldeneye 007 or Perfect Dark levels it is nice to have the variety.

Apart from the single player campaign you also get a multiplayer suite that features local games on roughly a dozen maps across three gameplay types. While European Assault‘s multiplayer mode never lit the world on fire it serves as a nice compliment to a rather short single player campaign. All in all in took me about six hours to get through the game (and that’s with multiple deaths and restarts as the game does not have checkpoints). So it’s definitely not a long game by any stretch of the imagination though their is a fair bit of replayability in trying to complete all the objectives within a given level.

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Playing an 11 year game I expected the graphics and overall presentation to not have aged well and I can honestly say I was pleasantly surprised. The visuals while a bit muddy have actually held up decently which can somewhat be attributed to Medal of Honor: European Assault being considered a graphics powerhouse on consoles in 2005. The sound design is also top-notch, opting for a more pensive and almost sad soundtrack over the bombastic themes of it’s contemporaries. That’s not to say the game doesn’t know when to turn up the tension, it’s just that the whole presentation treats World War II and it’s horrors with a certain respect that extends even to the sound design.

Like I mentioned earlier, the game won’t last you more than six or seven hours, which while comparable to modern first person shooters won’t keep your beyond that unless you and your friends really like local multiplayer first person shooters. If you can find the game (and you should, it sold very well on each of the system’s it released on), I would try to pay no more than $15 if you’re interested in playing the game though.

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Medal of Honor: European Assault is all in all, a very solid World War II first person shooter. The gameplay is tighter, varied and challenging and the presentation is also top notch. What ends up holding it back is it’s short length, and lack of replay value which, while might hold the game back from becoming a ‘classic’ in your collection I would still recommend it to fans of shooters, especially those who are feeling burnt out after playing so many ‘modern’ shooters of the years. Though it is ironic, to suggest going back to this game, since it’s because of games like this that gamers grew tired of the WW2 setting and demanded a ‘refresh’ which led to the genre-changing Modern Warfare and it’s sequels.