Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault (PC)

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Just a typical day.

A little while ago, I received Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, a World War II shooter I was meaning to play for a long time, as a free download from EA’s Origin. Pacific Assault received many glowing reviews upon its release, so I was excited to play it.

As the name implies, Pacific Assault is an entry in the long-standing Medal of Honor series of first-person shooters, and it is the second one to be released on PC after Allied Assault, and the second one to be set in the Pacific war against the Japanese after Rising Sun. Overall, the game was full of good ideas, but none of them seem to have been executed perfectly.

Unlike in previous Medal of Honor titles, which had you as a lone badass fighting the whole German army on your own, Pacific Assault has you slogging through pacific jungles with your ever-present squad. As Marine Private Tommy Conlin, you can issue basic orders to your squad to help you fight the hordes of Japanese infantrymen you will encounter.

Pacific Assault is more tactical while the previous games were run-and-gun. Bullets hurt a lot more in Pacific Assault and health packs are practically nonexistent in most of the game’s levels. If you get hurt, you can get patched up by your squad’s Navy corpsman, but he only seems to carry four Tommy-specific kits for a level (though he can heal others as many times as he needs to) so it becomes important to ration out how many times you heal yourself and keep yourself from getting hurt as much as you can. When your health drops to zero, you will fall over and bleed while waiting for the corpsman to save you, to bleed out and die while voiceovers dramatically flashback, or to get anticlimactically executed by a Japanese soldier.

Depending on difficulty setting, this can be a task that’s easier said than done. Since Pacific Assault happened after Call of Duty, you can raise your weapons to eye-level. The problem is, in what seems to be the game’s attempt at realism, Tommy seems to take his time raising is rifle to his shoulder. This can be a real headache since the Japanese soldiers won’t patiently halt their banzai charge for you. I would also swear the iron-sights of the Type 38 Arisaka, the predominant rifle used by the Japanese (though in reality it was the Type 99, but let’s not get into that now), is misaligned. I would be sure I have a target lined up in my sights, only to miss.

Things aren’t helped by the fact that the squad tactics don’t seem to be as sophisticated as EA seemed to have hoped. You can issue basic orders like “Go forward” or “rally on me”, but you can’t direct fire or tell your squadmates to set up at a particular position. It doesn’t really matter because most levels, while set in jungles, are set up as corridors that don’t lend themselves to flanking maneuvers. Despite that, I find myself having to actually do the killing since I’ve seen one-on-one rifle duels between allies and enemies where the ally is missing point blank shots.

The Japanese soldiers were also designed as if EA had more sophisticated AI for them in mind. The Japanese are often led by an officer, but I couldn’t discern any change in their behavior when (not if) the officer gets killed.

While the Japanese will rush you with little regard for their own personal safety. While I seem to have trouble with the Japanese rifles, the soldiers sure don’t since their marksmanship is pinpoint accurate. Add the fact that most infantry squads have a machine gun nest covering them and you’ll eventually find encounters to be a chore to get through. I also couldn’t help feeling like a paranoid schizophrenic because the Japanese soldiers seemed to ignore my squadmates and pretty much exclusively come after me.

Sometimes in games, less is more. Pacific Assault’s main problem was that it tried to be too much at once. In addition to being a squad tactical shooter, Pacific Assault seemed to want to be a character-driven drama, complete with characters seemingly written to die heroic deaths. In practice, Tommy is a thoroughly uninteresting (and somewhat uninterested) character who seemed to be written as a Nick Carraway-esque passive observer to squadmates whose names I struggle to remember because nobody had anything of import happen to them. If you want a character drama along the lines of HBO’s The Pacific, then you’re better off looking elsewhere.

In addition, the game randomly puts your character, who once again is supposed to be an infantry Marine private, behind the yoke of an aircraft seemingly at random for one (thankfully brief) level where you’re trying to come to grips with the game’s flying controls in the middle of a dogfight.

Where the game overall succeeds is in its production values. For a 2004 game, Pacific Assault has some pretty neat visuals, though at a cost of system requirements at that time since reviews written upon the game’s release agree it was hard to maintain playable framerates, though my Radeon R9 270 has no problem with it. In Medal of Honor tradition, the game sounds terrific with realistic gun fire and terrific voice acting for the Japanese soldiers.

Despite that, the mid-2000s was a good time for first-person shooters, and for everything Pacific Assault tried to do, I can point you to a game that did it better. Do you want a fun World War II run-and-gun? You can go to 2003’s Call of Duty. How about squad tactics and a dramatic story? Then I would recommend 2005’s Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 (and its followup Earned in Blood) in a heartbeat. If you just want to play a better shooter in general, Half-Life 2 came out the same year as Pacific Assault. Overall, I really have a hard time suggesting someone pick up and play Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault even as a freebie, let along recommending buying the game.

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