You're witnessing a scene from hell: tracer fire is whizzing about your head; Japanese soldiers run at you, teeth and bayonets bared, screaming angry death; planes fly overhead raining bombs and missiles; a fellow soldier is cowering behind a wooden pillar too frightened to move; dozens of bodies float lifelessly in the sea. As the final level in EA's new WWII FPS Medal Of Honor: Pacific Assault, the island raid on the fortified Tarawa Atoll could be the series' finest hour, eclipsing even the epic Omaha Beach landings from the first game.
"Pacific Assault is very chaotic," says EALA's product manager Ben Kusin. "One of the most important things we've realised conceptually and put in the game, is that war is a manic, hellish experience. A lot of shooters are simple - they put you in a situation, and you move forward very quickly. However, in real war, bullets are coming behind you from the left and right, bombs are flying in; so you always need to have your head on a swivel, checking everywhere around you at all times."
Welcome To The Jungle
The sequel to the 2002 smash hit Allied Assault bravely moves away from the European theatre of operations towards the bitter fight against the Japanese in the Far East. As new recruit Tom Conlin, you begin your battle for survival at Pearl Harbor and end your tour of duty with the brutal assault on Tarawa, described above.
"There's a reason most other shooters stick in Europe - the Pacific is very difficult to recreate," continues Kusin. "You have dense jungle environments, with vivid colour schemes. The graphical intensity needs a big team, which is why we have more than 100 people working on it. It's paid off though, as we feel we're on a par with the Doom 3s and Half-Life 2s, although the game will be scaleable so we don't alienate any fans with lower-spec machines."
The visual splendour on show is demonstrated aptly by one of the first missions we get to play. The River Walk level had me and my squad yomping through beautifully realised misty jungle, teeming with different trees, flora and fauna, grass that flattens as you crawl through it, changes in light from the forest canopy, flowing rivers with varying currents, waterfalls, and tropical birds that fly off when you disturb them.
Yet the one thing that becomes immediately apparent when you play Pacific Assault, is that this isn't a straight run-and-gun shooter. You have an AI-controlled squad that you have to work with to complete missions, with an icon popping up in the right-hand corner when your captain wants you to carry out orders. Kusin: "We're taking the game off-rails with our new non-scripted dynamic AI system that's based around morale. You'll notice this, for example, if your squad goes into a situation and kills the Japanese captain. Although there's no actual number displayed or anything, the enemy's morale would drop and your squad would want to move double-time and charge them."
In practice, this means a much more open and fluid 'push-pull' aspect of combat, with levels never playing the same way twice and events during skirmishes determining you and your enemy's battle strategy and mental state. This was proven in a later part of the River Walk level, when I threw a grenade into a formation of Japanese soldiers killing and scattering many of their squad. As almost a last resort, they suddenly performed a 'banzai' attack, running suicidally straight at my squad with bayonets bared, requiring a quick barrage of machine-gun fire to see them off. Even after the shoot-out, I had to carefully check the bodies, as any surviving Japanese soldiers will attempt to set off a grenade as a final act of defiance.