The experience of Wii as a FPS console, and Medal of Honor: Vanguard

September 29, 2008

I’ve now had Wii for a while. I was initially torn between Wii and Xbox 360, but I really wanted to check out the Wii’s nonconvential controls (well, I had tried it before, but I wanted to see what it is like to own one). And my understanding is that Xbox360 and PS3 are for much more hardcore gamers, while I am mostly a “casual gamer” these days. I don’t put too many crazy hours into it.

Even then, I had reservations about Wii as a First-Person Shooter console. In my mind, Nintendo and Wii are a whole lot about Super Mario and Zelda and other similar “kidsy”/”cartoony” type of games, and not really the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about “serious” war shooters. But at the same time, I was really curious to check out how the pointing in FPS works.

Well, I’m happy to report that it works very well. When you think about it, pointing at something is the most natural targeting action, and the Wii Remote is a great tool for that. I found the FPS controls to be really intuitive. Perhaps even a bit more natural than using PC and mouse+keyboard, and definitely better than Xbox remote. I played a bit of Halo once, and I found targeting by joysticks to be really awkward and not to my taste.

Medal of Honor: Vanguard

The specific game I played was MOH: Vanguard.

I said many kind words about the Wii as FPS controller, and yes, it worked great. But the game itself leaves a lot to be desired for. If you see its reviews, the ratings are also not so great, and now I understand why.

Let me kick off by saying that I’m a bit of single-player FPS connoisseur, in the sense that I try to really have a good understanding and expectations of the genre. I play quite few FPS-es, but when I do, I really get into them, and I think that for a few years, I played most major single-player ones. Some of them are in my blog history, but there are many others that I haven’t written about, such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein that’s still my favorite to this day. (Apparently there’s a sequel in the making, although with multiplayer emphasis.

So, I have a bit of idea about the genre and I have also played several previous games in the Medal of Honor series on a PC. And in that respect, I found Vanguard a bit less enjoyable than I expected.

As is noted in Wikipedia, the enemy AI was not so great and they were really stupid. Basically they were all scripted, doing exactly the same in each invocation of the game. So, after a few times of getting killed, you basically could learn the script and then it became a matter of “beating the script” instead of playing the game.

To balance out the poor AI, the game designers had done two things. First, increased the distance between checkpoints (savepoints). These days in FPS-es, you can’t save anything yourself, and there are instead “checkpoints” at certain intervals. Some of the intervals were really really long and it was frustrating to have to do the same sequence like four or five times over simply because you couldn’t beat the script right away.

And to balance out the stupid enemies, there were more of them added and they just kept appearing at times. So in a sense you were not really fighting the Nazis, but instead, a peasant army or something where you have waves and waves of poorly equipped men simply sent in as cannon fodder. But of course they were all scripted so after a few tries, you could simply learn and memorize their ways to blast through them.

The last level: Factory

The last level was especially frustrating. I had to try three times on three separate days to get it done (and many attempts on each of these days). This level is also a testimony to the bugginess of the game: the actual gameplay is interluded with cinematic sequences where you still have a FPS perspective, but the action is scripted and you are automatically taken somewhere where something plot-wise relevant happens. And at one of those points, you run up some stairs and your teammates are supposed to follow you. Well guess what, my character ran up, but nobody followed. So it was a very bad bug, because if something like this happened in normal gameplay, you could just get yourself killed to start over from the last checkpoint, but now, you couldn’t do anything except to restart the whole level.

Image from StrategyInformer.

Here’s my recollections from the last part of the last level (for a more detailed story, look for the excellent walkthroughs that are available online).

You first will have to blast your way through a factory, not much to talk about, just kill all the enemies and at one time, also a tank. At one point there is an MG42 shooting at you from the other end of a giant room, but you don’t need to worry about it because there are a lot of posts and planks to separate you from it, so you only kill its operator when you get to the end.

A bonus fun that you can have is that midway through the factory, there is a door to the left that you may miss. You don’t have to go there at all (dead end, nobody there), but there is an unused Bazooka. There are some enemies across the bridge in the factory and instead of having to go “surgical” on them with your rifle from distance, or taking the risky approach of just running up to them to kill them at close range, just grab the bazooka and make your life easier by taking out a guy from distance with it.

Then soon you will get to tunnels under the factory. One VERY IMPORTANT tip that I found in a walkthrough is that you go to a dead end early in the tunnels, and pick up a sniper scope for our rifle from there. It will make what’s about to come a lot easier. And what’s next soon is the “sniper alley” where you have to go through the factory landscape to take down a bunch of pretty good snipers who can spot you immediately from distance and will then play “hide-and-seek”: go behind cover for a while, then stick their head out, and then shoot at you. I actually tried this first without the sniper scope and it is definitely doable, just a lot lot lot more difficult. With the sniper scope, it is not too bad.

As with all hard things, I hated this sniper alley, but now that I think of it, it’s one of the highlights of the game, as it’s a hard sequence that you actually remember, instead of all the other “just shoot at tons of scripted enemies” parts. Even though this part was scripted too so you could remember all the sniper locations, it was difficult to get them at first. And some are easy to spot, as they are a silhouette against a clear sky, whereas others are hiding among tree branches.

After you get through this part, there are again just a bunch of rooms with enemies, and then comes the really very last part, where you again move out to the open (above screenshot is also from that part). This actually took me less time than the sniper alley, once I figured out.

First you just kill everyone on your radar one-by-one. As they are scripted, they pretty much stay where they are and don’t run towards you, so it’s not too hard. Then there’s a cinematic sequence and you end up on the second floor in the open and waves of Nazis come. First there’s only personnel. Don’t be a hero to run to the front row MG42 – you can’t mow them all down, you’ll just get killed. Let your teammates handle most of it.

Ah, automatic teammates. In most FPS-es, as also here, they are mostly annoying, as they can’t kill too many enemies, and the only thing they do is get in your line of fire when you try to do something useful. But in this end sequence, they do good work. All you need to do is to stay on the second floor and just kill a few enemies from distance. By this point in the game, you should be a fairly good marksman, so you don’t even need your rifle, just use your machine gun and pick out a few enemies until the tank comes.

When a tank appears in this sequence, you don’t want to be on the second floor because tank shells will kill you. So get yourself downstairs and find a bazooka from one of the three locations. The ammo there gets replenished from time to time, so come back if you’re out. Then, kill the tank without getting yourself killed. The easiest is to arm the bazooka while you are behind a post, and then peek out so that the tank comes in your sight and shoot. It takes three rounds to take a tank out, and you can carry three bazooka rounds on you, so if you shoot well, you can take a tank out in about ten seconds with three shots. Just don’t shoot at it from the right side of the house, as you THINK you hit the tank, but there’s actually a truck wreck sitting between you and the tank, which catches the rounds.

When you’re done with the tank, more enemy personnel will appear from the west. Again, don’t be a hero to go to the front and get killed. Stay back and pick them out from distance. You need to kill a few to advance the plot, which is – guess what – another tank appears from the west. Same thing, just take three bazooka rounds to it. And after this, it’s exactly the same, but from the east. For all of this, since you can carry only two weapons, I recommend just machine gun and bazooka, forget about the sniper rifle for now.

After you’ve dealt with three rounds of enemies, things get messy because a fourth wave comes where they will actually come over the walls and inside the factory. But again, they won’t come to hunt you, they will stay at their prescripted locations. As said above, do NOT go upstairs because you will be a sitting duck for the tank. Instead, kill a few enemies in your immediate vicinity and then find a good vantage point inside the factory wall ruins. Try to be somewhere where the enemies can’t shoot you, but where you have a good aim at the tank. (And throughout this game, Stand/Crouch/Prone controls are VITAL. So use them now. Crouch to hide, stand to shoot at the tank.)

After delivering three bazooka rounds to this tank and killing it, run upstairs. The very last thing you have to do is to kill the remaining enemy personnel. Just pick them out one by one from above. The most important thing at this stage is not to do something stupid/rash like I did. I used grenades, but managed to mess up the controls and cooked a grenade so that it exploded in my hand, killing myself. And by that point, I had done all the above work and there were maybe three enemies left in the entire game. Argh. But since I had already got so close, I realized I can do this again, so I did, and eventually got through.

The good

The one good and interesting aspect that I would mention is the parachute jumps. When jumping out of the game, you had to hold the Wii controller and Nunchuk upright like actual parachute lines, and you then move them around in “air” to steer your fall somewhat. But parachute jumping was only a few times in the beginning of the missions, so it does not really counterbalance the game’s shortcomings.

Another good aspect was that there was enough variety in the level ambiences. There were open spaces, cityscapes, indoors fighting, fighting in ruins/walls and tunnels, so it was unlike some other previous futuristic FPS-es where some levels are mindnumbingly similar and boring. There is variety here.

Next up: MOH Heroes 2 and Call of Duty 3

I’ll try these two FPS-es next, to see how much better they are from Vanguard and how they compare to each other.