|Medal Of Honor - Pacific Assault
WWII first person shooters are now so prevalent in the marketplace that they’ve become
their own specialist genre. The psychological connection with post-war generations,
raised on combat films from the period, is so strong you could sell anything, seemingly,
as long as there are men in khaki combats with a carbine on the packaging. Medal Of
Honor is the most successful, distinctive and best realised of these franchises, and
Pacific Assault builds on that reputation, though it’s only a qualified success.
On the downside, relocating the theatre of war to the Pacific Rim means far more dense
foilage. And foilage, as any experienced gamer knows, can look as blocky as one of Ian
Dury’s backing band if you take an unexpected turn. One day graphics engines will be
able to cope with rendering plant life as anything other than shockingly one-
dimensional, but that day isn’t here yet. There’s also a grasping for the epic that
smacks uneasily of the designers fancying themselves on a Hollywood set. And while
the cut-scenes and intros are diverting, it can be aggravating waiting for up to 20
seconds, even on a fast PC, for the game to reload, before you can get back in there
and right the wrongs inflicted on you by the very game’s generally able AI.
Otherwise the integration of action and strategy is engrossing. It’s not the first time that
an extended flight sequence has been grafted on to an earth-bound FPS, but I can’t
remember it being done better than in the ‘Flyboy’ sequences here, where you’ll enjoy
dog-fighting and bombing runs that are neither over-technical nor simplistic. The
storyboarding is strong, if a little directional. You are Private Tommy Colin, and the
game kicks off with a beach landing which similar to the opening of the original game.
But then you’re pulled straight out of there back to basic training. It’s a little
disorientating but instructional in of itself. From there you’re transferred to Pearl
Harbour. The visual splendour of the subsequent passages is breathtaking, though
there are times when gameplay appears to have been sacrificed for the sumptuous
graphics and atmosphere. Running round the interiors of ships looking to locate a
given GI or flick the right switch isn’t precisely my idea of fun, however pretty the ship’s
exploding innards look.
If there’s an upside to this delayed engagement with flying lead, it’s that when you finally
get dropped into a combat zone, you’re gagging for it. The innovation of the combat
medic as a more realistic (well, barely) alternative to the standard scenario of running
over med-packs to restore health. And the gunplay, when you get to it, is cool. Perhaps
the slickness does diminish the gob-smacking effect of the original, but there’s a kind
of carnal elegance to the set-pieces, a good sense of close-up drama and anxiety, a
balletic sense of corporeal destruction. The timing required in, for example, using a
Lewis gun to explode incoming torpedoes, renders the hands-on experience taut,
demanding and, at times, exhausting.
HOW MUCH DO I LOVE THEE?
THE CHOKE’S ON US FOR UNHAPPY AUSTRALIANS
Was that the most sensational one-day cricket game in history? Oh, sure. By a country
mile. It was also close to being the most improbable sporting event ever witnessed.
Before I’m accused of hyperbole, consider the following: No-one had ever scored 400 in
a one-day international before. All three of the previous highest one-day international
scores had been against weaker nations – Kenya, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. The
Australians tore into an anaemic Saffers attack with astounding brutality, spurred on by
opposition skipper Graeme Smith’s comments that the Australians, the most insanely
competitive sports nation in the world, were ‘chokers’. Sometimes you get the feeling
that Smith, for all his obdurate qualities, isn’t the brightest Kookaburra in the box.
If the Baggy Green upper order took exception to those remarks, they administered a
cuffing to the South African bowling that nearly left grown men weeping, never mind
contrite. With an attack lacking Pollock’s accuracy and Nel’s pantomime bad guy
schtick, the South African seamers looked weak on paper and insipid on the field. After
Gilchrist had been dismissed for a typically lusty 55, the Saffers may have thought they
could pause for breath. If they did, they had sorely misjudged the mood of Ricky
Pointing, who joined Katich at the wicket and began to play an innings of sustained,
dismissive brutality. It was mesmerising viewing. Ponting’s focus was absolute. On
each occasion you assumed that, by heaving the hapless Saffers attack over long on or
slashing them square, he had reached maximum velocity, he seemed to find another
gear. To this orgy of violent strokeplay came Hussey, the bright, though not so young,
new thing of the Australian cricket sides. For a few overs of sublime efficiency he kept
pace with his skipper. Smith’s body language began to take on the aspect of a
condemned man, expectant of the chorus of local disapproval from the Wanderers
crowd, his home press, and more acutely, of an Australian team whose mental
qualities he had chosen to critique. The Oz critique of his bowling attack concluded with
Andrew Symonds and a promoted Brett Lee pushing the total to a world record score of
434 for four.
South Africa, after holding a 2-0 advantage in the series, had been overwhelmed and
humiliated in front of their home support. In the over in which the Australians brought up
the world record 400, the hapless Telemachus managed to open with four consecutive
no-balls, which went for four, a single, four and six. 15 runs conceded without a legal
delivery being registered. It looked odds-on at that stage that Telemachus would set his
own world record for the most runs conceded in a single over. In the end, that particular
world record stood, but others were to fall like ninepins today.
An Australian victory was now assured. Hard cash, the hardest of all, that exchanged by
traders on internet exchange Betfair, confirmed that. £800,000 was traded at a price of
1.01. Battle-hardened traders actually advocated that as a bargain – that backing
Australia at these skinny prices (staking £100 to make £1) was exceptional value in the
circumstances. I agreed with them. But thank God I didn’t put my money where my
It’s hard to believe that when Smith walked to the wicket with Dippenaar he was
motivated by anything other than the prospect of a face-saving lunge at the Australian
bowling. Did he really entertain the concept of victory in such unlikely circumstances?
He would have to be something of a fantasist to do so, which is not the sort of quality
you would readily welcome in international cricket captains. With Dippenaar, a batsman
fantastically unsuited to a hell for leather run chase, gone in the second over, it was
quite conceivable that not only would Australia record a world record score, but also a
world record winning margin.
Smith whacked two fours off the first two balls of Lee’s second over. Steadily, he and
Gibbs started to build a partnership, as they applied the sort of pressure you would
normally associate only with the last 10 overs of a one-dayer, following the careful
construction of a platform. That’s the conventional logic anyway, though logic of any sort
seemed to be in short supply. Given the hysterical run rate from the outset, whittling
away at the total and preparing for a final charge was never an option. This was a full-
scale land assault, shock and awe. And under its examination, the Australians wilted
and eventually buckled. Smith is one of the world’s ugliest batsmen. He has all the
grace of a freight train, but he knows how to hit a cricket ball.
When Smith departed after holing out, Gibbs looked destiny in the face. In 1999, in what
was previously generally accepted as the greatest one-day match, he had dropped the
catch in the semifinal that would have surely brought the Saffers victory. The escapee,
Steve Waugh, taunted him that he’d just dropped the World Cup. Whether thoughts of
that moment entered his head during one of the greatest knocks ever seen, a
masterpiece of timing, technique and power, only he can say. A whole battalion of
ghosts had been slain by the end of his innings as the Wanderers, by this point utterly
intoxicated with the surreal events unfolding before them, breathed in time with their
hero. Perhaps Bracken slipped on an ectoplasmic puddle when he should have held
the straightforward catch that Gibbs offered him on 130.
With Gibbs finally gone from the third ball of a Symonds’ over that began with two
smited sixes, Australia again tilted back to favouritism. Kallis, looking bewildered at
events, came and went, as did the Saffers’ howitzer Justin Kemp. But the impish but
hugely experienced Mark Boucher persevered, alternately nudging and lashing the Oz
attack, particularly the hapless Mick Lewis. Yet such was the depletion of Ponting’s
resources, and the attrition levelled at allcomers, that he was recalled for the 48th over.
It went for 17 runs and Mick Lewis now had match figures of 10-0-113-0. Cruel
observers wondered whether Australia had, in the form of the slightly pudgy Lewis,
finally found their own Ian Austin.
And yet still it was not over. Wickets were tumbling and it was clear that the match was
set to shred nerves further still. Andrew Hall looked to have won it in the last over when
he clubbed Lee over mid on to take South Africa within a couple of runs of sensational,
delirious, impossible victory, only to brainlessly chip the next delivery to Clarke. Nine
wickets were down and Makiah Ntini, not known for either the accomplishment or the
restraint of his batting, strode to the wicket. At this stage, all three results, including a
tie, were entirely possible. But Ntini conjured a neat dab to third man and Boucher, the
calm man at the rudder, clipped Lee to the onside and victory was South Africa’s.
It was as terrific a match fashioned by mortals as is imaginable, and some of its
participants will have joined the pantheon of South African cricket.