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I’ve heard mixed things about Vanguard over the years. I’ve heard some say it’s the worst game in the series and others say it’s pretty good. But I’ve never heard anyone say it’s the best. I got it for PS2 years ago and never tried until now mainly because I was occupied with other games. Plus, I wanted to get the Wii version because I had heard it looked a little better and the performance was improved. So I bought the Wii version not too long ago with the intention of playing it for this review. Well I played it for about five minutes before deciding I would hook up my PS2. Developed and published by EA, Medal of Honor: Vanguard was released for the PlayStation 2 in March, 2007. Budcat Creations developed the Wii version which released at the same time and despite some of the improvements, I was turned off by the aiming which I feel is way too “loose” for lack of a better word.
The protagonist is Corporal Frank Keegan, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, who is eventually promoted to Sergeant during the story. The story focuses on his efforts during four campaigns – Operation Husky, Operation Neptune, Operation Market Garden, and Operation Varsity. It’s your typical World War II video game story kind of stuff. You progress through areas, shooting enemies, completing objectives, and there are no standout characters. Each operation opens with commentary accompanied by video clips from the war and the voice performances during these sequences are okay. The story is more or less the game’s way of representing these historic operations and you are provided a little history in text form.
The game includes three difficulty modes – Recruit, Veteran, and Elite and it plays like any other first-person shooter. You play as Frank Keegan and you can walk, run, sprint which drains a stamina meter, crouch, go prone, jump, perform a melee attack, aim down sights, and lean left and right while aiming. But you can’t move while aiming. Each operation includes multiple missions and the game is quite short. You can beat it in about five hours or less. Vanguard can be a challenging game and you will need to utilize cover. A lot. If you’re out in the open when enemies appear on your compass, you can die pretty quick. When you take damage, you lose health and when you lose all your health, you die and will have to restart from the last checkpoint. Your health does regenerate so you don’t have to worry about finding health packs or medkits. You’ll get the opportunity to parachute onto battlefields at the start of some missions and if you land in certain spots, you can acquire weapon upgrades. While the parachute feature is neat, it doesn’t really make or break the experience. It’s just something you can do. I think the feature is implemented much better in Airborne.
Frank can only carry two weapons and grenades and you can swap out the weapons with others found throughout the environments. You’ll get your hands on the typical World War II weaponry we’ve seen in other Medal of Honor games but the arsenal is somewhat lacking. There’s only eight weapons you can use in single player if you don’t include the MG42 which is an emplacement only and certain weapons are only available in multiplayer which I didn’t get a chance to try. The single player does include weapon upgrades that can be found in the environments and some of them can only be found at parachute landing spots. Unfortunately, the upgrades do very little to improve the experience. Eight usable weapons and only the M1 Garand and Thompson can be upgraded. The M1 Garand can be upgraded with a scope and the Thompson can be upgraded to use fifty round drum magazines. Ultimately, the upgrades provide little benefit and feel more like a novelty. The scope for the Garand is probably the most useful. Weapons and ammo will be dropped by fallen enemies and since you can also find them in the environments, these items are not hard to come by so the drum magazines for the Thompson feels almost unnecessary.
You’ll be accompanied by friendly soldiers in each mission but some segments require you to fight through areas solo. You’ll primarily be battling the Germans but you will engage Italian soldiers in the very first mission. The friendly and enemy AI share the same basic behavior and they’re not very intelligent. They’ll run around, shoot, take cover, shoot from cover, and throw grenades. In fact, the enemies can be very grenade-happy. I’ve seen enemies run into live grenades, I’ve seen friendlies and enemies run right past each other, and the friendlies would frequently get in my way which is annoying. On the plus side, they will shoot at and kill enemies and they can draw enemy fire away from you. The enemies have decent aim so if you’re out in the open for too long, they can drop you easily which is why taking cover is so important. They’ll shoot at you from windows, snipers are often located at higher elevations, and it would be wise to approach encounters with caution. Running into every situation guns blazing will most likely get you killed. As soon as you enter a new area, enemies usually appear and/or come pouring in from somewhere so you’ll want to lean around corners and take your time. MG42’s seem to be everywhere and the enemies will use them to gun you down if you’re not careful. The best time to take out the gunners is when they’re reloading. You will also have to engage a half-track at one point and some missions throw tanks at you.
The environments in Vanguard are linear. At the start of certain missions, you can parachute onto different locations but you’ll always be funneled down specific paths once you hit the ground. However, most of the battles take place in open areas with plenty of objects and structures to use as cover. I think Vanguard could have benefited from the open environment design seen in the prior games, European Assault and Heroes, which allow you to freely roam around the maps and complete objectives in any order you want. It could have added more replay value to the game and allowed you to experiment with different approaches. Instead, you’ll have to complete objectives in a specific order. You’ll plant explosives, defend areas, retrieve intel, clear buildings, and secure locations. In each campaign, you can earn medals based on your performance. These include things like completing all campaign missions, complete a mission without dying, complete a campaign without dying, land in designated drop locations, and some others. Being rewarded with certain medals does grant you awards like a sprint recovery bonus, health recovery bonus, and an overall health bonus.
As far as the visual presentation goes, Vanguard doesn’t look terrible for a PlayStation 2 game. It’s got that washed out look so there’s not much color but the environments are well detailed and the foliage looks pretty good. You’ll often see planes flying overhead and smoke puffs from explosions in the skies. Explosions and structures destroyed by tanks result in clouds of smoke. There’s not a lot of gore but blood puffs appear when bodies are hit with bullets and bodies will go flying from explosions. I really like the muzzle flashes, they illuminate dark areas, and when enemies are firing from behind cover, the flashes make it easy to spot them. When it comes to the audio, the sound effects are excellent overall. Most of the weapons sound satisfying, gunfire and explosions will often echo, and you can hear bullets zipping past your head during firefights. The presentation can really make the combat feel intense or at the very least, look and sound flashy. The action is accompanied by classic Medal of Honor tunes and from what I understand, most of the songs were recycled from previous games. Regardless, the music is still great. On the technical side, the frame rate will dip frequently and I noticed an object disappear at one point.
I really think Vanguard could have been a much better game. The gunplay is fun, the presentation isn’t bad, and the gameplay puts up a decent challenge. However, it does feel like the developers were just using Vanguard to test out ideas for Airborne. I’m not saying that’s true, it’s just my guess because there are many elements here that were implemented better in Airborne. The parachute stuff is cool but I think it certainly works better in open environments. I think the arsenal could have used some more weapons and the weapon upgrade feature is probably the weakest feature implementation in the game. It seems like the developers just threw them in last minute. You can only upgrade two weapons and in my experience they are of very little benefit. Don’t get me wrong, they can be useful but I never felt like I needed them. In addition to all of this, the game is quite short and you will take part in the same Operations in Airborne, although the locations are different. I do think Vanguard is a solid game that could have used some more development time because it’s not really of the same quality as the prior titles.
I would recommend Medal of Honor: Vanguard and only because you can find it for pretty cheap. It’s not really a bad game, it shows potential, but it does feel like it may have been rushed. There were three Medal of Honor games released in 2007 – Vanguard, Airborne, and Heroes 2, and all three of them were developed by EA Los Angeles, specifically the PSP version of Heroes 2 and the PS2 version of Vanguard. And out of these three entries, I do think Airborne is the best. There’s nothing that really makes Vanguard stand out and many of the game’s features were implemented in Airborne which easily surpasses this. I think fans of the series can get something out of Vanguard and since you can find it for under ten dollars, I would say give it a shot if you’re at all interested.