Medal of Honor Heroes 2 Preview

As I began my session with Medal of Honor Heroes 2 on the Wii during EA's recent fall showcase event, associate producer Matt Tomporowski asked if this was my first time checking out the game.

"I'm not sure," I responded. "I saw...uh, one of these at your party after Game Developers Conference." In this job, the World War II games tend to blur together.

"Oh, no no no," he hastily responded, "that was Vanguard." Tomporowski was eager to replace my impressions of that title with new impressions of this one, which is understandable since, as I then recalled, Vanguard was released months ago to mediocre reception.

His eagerness seems justified. With what look to be the best third party FPS controls on Wii yet, two single-player game modes, and an ambitious online component, Medal of Honor Heroes 2 is shaping up well.

Back to Basics
For Medal of Honor Heroes 2, the EA Canada group Team Fusion went back to square one with the controls in an attempt to stand out among the small pile of fairly forgettable World War II shooters that has already cropped up on the system.

"We looked at the early FPS on Wii and thought the boat had kind of been missed," said Tomporowski, so the team decided to take a few new directions that, in hindsight, are obvious. "We didn't want any gestures that were difficult to learn or not fun," he continued. "Climbing a ladder with gestures wasn't fun, so we didn't do it."

Gestures that did make the cut were motion-based reloading mimicking the well-known pump-action shotgun reloading as seen in countless action films, as well as the act of "hoisting" a bazooka onto your shoulder.

Control Freaks
Perhaps the most inventive and sensible control element Heroes 2 brings to the table is the depth of customizability it lends players over aiming sensitivity. Not only can you independent adjust sliders for horizontal and vertical sensitivity, you can actually adjust both the length and width of the aiming "dead zone," the invisible screen area in which moving the aiming reticule does not move the camera.

If you're a twitch player who needs quick turning, you can dial down the dead zone so that any movement of the reticule with move the field of view; if you're a slower-paced, more deliberate player, you can enlarge the box such that you must aim to the edge to turn. Most players will fall somewhere in between--but regardless of your sensitivity settings, you can take advantage of the quick 180-degree turn control that the team has thankfully included.

In one clever bit of gameplay, you find yourself navigating a minefield and using the Wii remote as a minesweeper. As your character approaches a mine, the remote will vibrate and emit a beeping pattern through its speaker; the closer you are to the mind, the stronger the vibration and the louder the sound.

Take Matters into Your Own Hands
Heroes 2 is one of the first games to be optimized for the upcoming Wii Zapper, the system's light gun-like shell for the remote and nunchuk combination. Players can use either the Zapper or the standard tethered configuration, with the controls adjusting accordingly for convenience and button layout.

The game includes two single-player modes, the standard full campaign as well as an arcade rail shooter mode. As far as I can tell, the Zapper seems well-suited to the arcade mode, with stripped-down gameplay that requires very few buttons. It takes place in essentially the same levels as the single-player mode, and largely consists of enemy soldiers popping out from behind cover and getting gunned down by you. There's not much else to it, beyond reloading and shooting health pickups.

While not as fully-featured as other upcoming dedicated rail shooters for Wii, Heroes 2's arcade mode actually has a better feel to it than some of its standalone competitors and would probably a fun diversion. As a secondary mode in a larger game, it works.

The Zapper doesn't work quite as well in the campaign mode. While doable--the game even modifies the controls and gestures to better suit the single-piece nature of the device--it simply feels cumbersome. As many Wii owners would doubtless agree, when playing a long, intensive game on the system, it is much more comfortable to be able to keep your hands separate and rest them individually.

Kill Your Friends--and Your Friend Codes
"We had to make a development time choice between split-screen and online," explained Tomporowski, "and we decided to go for online."

That was probably a wise choice, as Wii is currently suffering a dearth of online shooters. Team Fusion is even taking the feature a little farther than some might expect for the system, promising 32 simultaneous players with 60 frames per second across team and free-for-all deathmatch and capture the flag.

Even better, EA will be handling the server hosting itself through its own EA Nation, which means no friend codes are required. Let's hope Nintendo takes the hint.

In the Top Ten Good-Looking Girls on the Street (Depending on the Street)
If the controls were one primary area of focus, the game's visuals were another. Clearly, Heroes 2 cannot approach its graphically intensive WWII cousins on Xbox 360 and PS3 when it comes to looks, but the team has obviously put in more effort than many third party developers have on Wii.

It is of course yet another WWII game--from the most populous WWII franchise at that--so the art direction and atmosphere isn't going to surprise or blow anyone away, but the game is a cut above the bafflingly unimpressive string of multiplatform dreck that has plagued the system.

All in all, Medal of Honor Heroes 2 looks to be a solid effort all around, with touches such as the highly-configurable controls, complete multiplayer, and bonus arcade mode making a big difference amongst a sea of average multiplatform Wii titles. If you're looking for an other good shooter on Wii after Metroid, and you're still interested in suiting up for the Second World War, give it a look.

Team Fusion's Medal of Honor Heroes 2 is set to release for Wii on November 6, 2007. A separate version of the game for PSP is also in development and planned to ship simultaneously.