Medal of Honor: Rising Sun (PlayStation 2) Review


Despite having my own set of personal preferences, I always try my darnedest to expand my gaming horizons, seeking out genres and titles that I might not usually play in the hopes that I’ll come to enjoy them. One genre that I have plenty of experience with but still haven’t played nearly enough is the first-person shooter.

Although many gamers have come to deride first-person shooters—especially those of the military variety—due to their overwhelmingly ubiquitous nature, I don’t actually hate these types of games. I may not want to play military shooters all day every day, but I can 100 percent appreciate that side of gaming.

That’s why I’m proud to announce that I recently played Medal of Honor: Rising Sun for the PlayStation 2, something I’ll now review for your amusement. Before I begin, I want to thank my old buddy from Gaming Club, Justin J., for letting me have this game. I put it to good use, Justin.

Gameplay

Yes, I know you’ve heard this one before, but hear me out anyway. Medal of Honor: Rising Sun is a first-person military shooter set in World War II. By now, this setting has been played out to death, but I think this title does an excellent job portraying the era. The core gameplay proves as much.

Gunplay, the single-most important facet of the game, is a boatload of fun. Deftly sniping enemies from afar and wildly pumping enemies full of lead were my two favorite strategies when taking out hoards of foes.

Thanks to awesome enemy placement, I was always on my toes, ready to blast some guys in the face if I had to. Sometimes, my heart would race as I crept through levels, hoping some guy didn’t jump out at me before I could get him.

That being said, the enemy AI isn’t the smartest in the world. I often got pretty close to enemies without any trouble, and I’d occasionally walk up to one standing in a corner doing nothing. More skilled players might find these quirks annoying, but I honestly felt a flood of relief whenever I could cheese combat to my advantage.

The combat experience is greatly enhanced by a wide variety of awesome weapons. At your disposal are the Weldrod, M1911 Pistol, Springfield ’03 Rifle, M1 Garand Semi-Automatic Rifle, Sten Mk II Slienced SMG, Thompson M1 SMG, Type 11 LMG, Browning Automatic Rifle LMG, Type 99 LMG, Winchester 1983 Riot Shotgun, M9A1 Bazooka, and the Type 97 Hand Grenade.

I thought all of the weapons were sick as heck, and I generally found unique applications for each. The only weapon I didn’t get to experience the way I wanted was the Bazooka. I picked it up only once in the campaign and didn’t shoot it out of fear of wasting the ammunition. (I’m not particularly bright.)

Speaking of which, ammo conservation is a big part of the game—and a fun one, too. There were moments when I actually ran out of bullets in one of my guns, amplifying the tension tenfold. I liked how I had to carefully consider how I used my weapons: Should I shoot four bullets at his torso or two bullets at his head?

Health is also a major resource to manage. This isn’t one of those “hide-in-the-corner-and-regenerate” cover shooters. Instead, you’ve got a finite life bar, and you’d better be prepared to guard it.

There’s a real sense of challenge to Medal of Honor: Rising Sun, and I feel this challenge is fairly balanced throughout. When I played on the “normal” difficulty setting, I did have to restart at save points a few times, but I always learned from my mistakes. As long you’re always thinking things through, you shouldn’t have a horrible time completing levels.

Funnily enough, I’m already over 600 words in and haven’t even mentioned the level structure yet. As we’ve come to expect from military first-person shooters, each level is fairly linear in design. I get that not everyone likes linearity, but I’m a big fan of it here. Your path is fairly clear—just make sure you don’t die. It’s so much less frustrating that way.

Levels are sectioned into various objectives you’ll need to complete to move on. These often entail finding some dude who can help you, destroying a base, freeing hostages, or other warfare-related tasks. There are also bonus objectives that you can only reveal by completing them, adding a layer of discovery to your journey.

Obviously, while running through a level, there isn’t a big arrow at the top of the screen pointing the way, so you have to scan the environment for helpful clues. Though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get stuck a couple times, I also can’t deny just how well the game guided me without saying a word.

However, if you really can’t figure out what to do next, you can actually press the select-button for hints. Because I’m a bad gamer, I read these hints every now and then and benefited greatly from it. Tell me to “git gud” all you want. I’m just glad Rising Sun respected my time enough to give me hints instead of forcing me to figure out game developer nonsense.

Naturally, these relatively sizable levels are filled with more than just bad guys to kill. Along the way, you’ll find various items and collectibles, including food, medicinal canteens, medical kits, field surgeon packs, ammunition, grenades, weapons, film canisters, and documents.

Food restores 10 percent of total health, medicinal canteens restore 50 percent of total health, medical kits restore 50 percent of total health, and field surgeon packs restore 75 percent of total health. Food was by far my favorite item to pick up, with consumption resulting in winners like “The sushi is raw,” or “The soup is delicious.”

Health restores and ammo were littered everywhere throughout maps, giving me something to lean on after especially difficult encounters. I doubt I would’ve gotten through the game otherwise. Gun, on the other hand, weren’t nearly as common—like, at all—which was really disappointing. I was hoping for some more on-the-fly weapons changes.

Film canisters and documents are the primary collectibles, unlocking additional bonus content when picked up. I tried my best to find all of these in each level, but I guess I wasn’t keen-eyed enough. I don’t think I’ll come back to find them any time soon either.

One thing I want to mention briefly before moving on are the turret sequences found in most levels. Lost them or hate them—I love them—I think this game does a really good job using these brief distractions to shake things up. (Prepare yourself for the majesty that is the elephant turret sequence.)

With a good number of facets to the gameplay, Medal of Honor: Rising Sun is a riveting gameplay experience on the whole. Being the lenient guy I am, I can’t say the handful of minor issues ever seriously detracted from the fun.

Content

While the campaign isn’t very long, Medal of Honor: Rising Sun mostly makes up for it in other departments.

The single-player campaign is comprised of nine missions. It took me about an hour to complete each level, so my playthrough didn’t feel abnormally short. However, if the longplays on YouTube are anything to go by, competent gamers can knock this bad boy out in just over 3 hours.

As I mentioned earlier, there are collectibles hidden in each level, so finding those is a good way to squeeze more enjoyment out of the package. To be perfectly honest, I don’t feel like going back into these levels and digging for secrets, but everyone is different. That may be your idea of fun.

Another good way to extend your playtime, assuming you make quick work of the single-player campaign, would be to play the campaign again in local co-op. I didn’t have anyone to try this mode with—that’s just how it is when your brothers can’t play Teen-rated games—but I’ve heard there are some slight differences between the two campaigns.

On top of that, there’s a local competitive multiplayer mode to play around with in short bouts. Here, you can choose from one of 9 maps, select a character, set which weapons are available, toggle friendly fire on or off, set the time limit or kill limit, and engage in free-for-all or team deathmatch.

What I believe was intended to pad the experience out but unfortunately means all of nothing now is the online multiplayer. Back in the day, if you loved the gunplay but felt the campaign was too short, you could hook up the ol’ Ethernet cable and shoot randos online to make up for it.

Sadly, the online mode doesn’t exist anymore—but Medal of Honor: Rising Sun also isn’t a full-priced game anymore. If a brief single-player campaign and offline multiplayer is enough for you, this game is totally worth the $5 to $10 purchase you’ll make on eBay.

On the bright side, you’ve still got an absolute bevy of extras to unlock and enjoy. In the “Special Features” menu, you can view historical movies, fictional letters from home sent to the protagonist, interviews with World War II veterans, the storyboards for each level, and the credits. (Oh, how I loved those heart-wrenching credits.)

In my opinion, this is fan-freaking-tastic selection of bonuses, especially if you’re a history buff. I still haven’t gone through all of the videos yet, but I appreciate the heck out of what’s there. You don’t see good extras like these in as many games nowadays.

Plus, there are a ton of options to mess with in each mode. Unlike some of my other reviews, I won’t list all of the options because there are just too many for that to be feasible (or interesting). Take that as a good sign, my friends—a very, very good sign.

I firmly believe that the content available here is more than reasonable for a used game, even if the offerings would’ve been on the slim side in 2003.

Controls

Medal of Honor: Rising Sun’s controls are fairly average for a console first-person shooter but not bad by any stretch of the imagination. Movement requires both joysticks. The shoulder buttons enable shooting, aiming, reloading, and throwing grenades. The face buttons enable jumping, crouching, and interaction.

If you don’t feel comfortable with the default control scheme, feel free to screw with the button mapping to heck and back. In the pause menu, you can edit the controller layout, toggle vibration on or off, invert the Y-axis, or adjust analog sensitivity and turn speed until you’ve got everything to your liking.

I found the default analog sensitivity and turn speed to be a tad slow, but I was able to fix it right up, no problem, in the settings. I never changed the controller layout because everything jived with me.

Essentially, whether or not you’ll be able to handle the controls depends on your tolerance for playing first-person shooters on console. If you literally can’t live with your trusty keyboard and mouse—something I fully understand—then it wouldn’t unreasonable to play some other Medal of Honor for PC.

As a console guy myself, I had no problem with performing in-game actions whatsoever. Take that as you will.

Graphics/Presentation

There’s so much I want to say about Medal of Honor: Rising Sun’s graphics and presentation—because, holy moly, everything looks and feels so good.

The presentation whacked me in the face the very second I started the game. See, when you boot up the game for the first time, you won’t be greeted by the main menu. Instead, you’ll be dropped right into the first mission: the bombing on Pearl Harbor. This opening sequence absolutely blew my mind when I first witnessed it, so I almost feel bad alerting you to it in this review.

I became quite invested in the game’s narrative and characters as I went along, despite the fact that military shooters aren’t usually renowned for such. I guess it was just really neat to play as a daring combatant infiltrating enemy bases and gathering intel with a hearty team by my side.

The story, for not in the know, is simple yet effective. You play as Corporal Joseph D. Griffin in the heat of the Pacific War theater of World War II. After continuously completing successful missions, you’re eventually recruited into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to perform even more dangerous feats.

As weird and wrong as this may sound, this was the first game I’ve played in a while that opened my eyes to the true potential of video games as a narrative medium. Thanks to that opening sequence (and others like it), the use of historical footage, and the fairly decent in-engine cinematics, Rising Sun made me feel like I was a soldier on the ground during that era.

The clever presentation is propped up substantially by what I consider very good graphics. The main characters’ models are detailed and unique, and environments are large (albeit linear) and teeming with life. Granted, most of the opposing and friendly NPCs look identical, but I’m willing to forgive that stumble.

The only major issue in an otherwise pretty game is the muddy textures plastered over just about every environmental object. It’s such a darn shame that the game was “this” close to being gorgeous.

Despite generally consistent visual quality, my immersion was also occasionally cracked just a tad by some stilted character animations. Fortunately, these moments were uncommon, as most animations were quite good. Even the mouth movements were fully animated and synchronized with what was being said. I blame the occasional slip-ups on the game coming out in 2003.

There were some instances when the framerate dropped just a bit lower than would be ideal, too, but these slight technical slips never really bothered me. Keep in mind that I’m not a very competitive gamer, so I tend not to care about these issues unless they become absurdly egregious. Suffice it to say that Rising Sun’s dips are not egregious.

The big takeaway here is that Medal of Honor: Rising Sun is a breathtaking visual experience. Maybe I’m veering into hyperbole due to my lack of experience—after all, this is first World War II shooter I’ve ever played—but I still feel very strongly about what I’m saying.

Sound/Music

Sound design is one front where Medal of Honor: Rising Sun absolutely blows many other games out of the water. I’m specifically referring to superb orchestral soundtrack composed and conducted by Christopher Lennertz and performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony.

I know it’s cliché as all get out to say this, but in all honesty, the soundtrack made this game feel like playing a movie. As problematic as it is to compare the mediums of video games and cinema—unfairly implying that cinema is somehow the “superior” medium—it’s really tough for me not to make this comparison.

The music blew me away from the very beginning with the “Main Titles” theme, and I can gleefully confirm that the score remains consistent throughout. By weaving songs of varying intensity in and out as I progressed through levels, the game felt so much more alive and dynamic. The music always matched the intended mood.

The only tiny issue I had with the music is that it doesn’t weave in and out nearly as smoothly as I would’ve like. Often one song simply stops and another begins. On the bright side, the songs are all so dang phenomenal that this wasn’t terribly distracting.

Heck, it’s not just the score that amazing either. All of the sound effects—from the subtle drumroll when selecting an item on a menu to the agonizing screams of enemy troops—made for a positively riveting ensemble. I felt truly immersed in the wartime theatre, especially given the expert use of stereo sound.

Maybe I was just imagining things, but I felt that environments had a certain sense of ambiance to them, as well. The sounds of the world around me further immersed me in an already stunning audio experience. I would argue that even the voice acting was pretty good. I guess none of the performances were, quote/unquote, “Oscar-worthy,” per se, but I still came to love the characters due in part to their lively vocal characterization.

The one aspect I can’t comment on with full certainty is the gun sound effects. They sounded spot-on to me, but since I’m know next to nothing about guns, I don’t feel comfortable giving them my full blessing.

I suppose the wonderful sound design can be attributed not only to the wonderful team behind it but also the game’s THX certification. Although I’m not well-versed in the technical side of audio, I do know that I can trust the good ol’ THX logo on the case.

At this point, I’m comfortable saying that, yes, Medal of Honor: Rising Sun sounds really flippin’ good. Even if you never touch the game in your earthly life, I’d recommend at least listening to the soundtrack on YouTube.

You know, I used to be much more interested in first-person military shooters. From about 4thgrade to 6thgrade, I’d walk or cycle to my friend’s house down the street almost every Saturday and Sunday and play some variation of Call of Duty or Halo.

Somehow—probably because he moved out of the neighborhood—I eventually fell out of the genre. I’ve played shooters since then, of course, but they stopped being such a big part of my life.

Medal of Honor: Rising Sun remind me just how awesome these games can really be—and why so many people go bonkers for annual FPS releases. Considering how much I enjoyed this experience, I think I’ll play additional PS2-era military shooters. It certainly couldn’t hurt, right?

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