The net effect of all this is that certain sections of the game can get a bit like wading through treacle, as you struggle to complete a particular objective only to be gunned down over and over again near the end. It’s not a deal-breaker, and you can cut back some of the work by finding a better landing spot or finding an alternative route – each objective usually has a couple of choices. However, as the game goes on it can make particular portions a real test of patience. Interestingly, playing through the first third of the game again on the PC seemed much easier, not just because mouse and keyboard controls are always more immediate and responsive – though the 360 controls are perfectly good – but because I had already evolved working strategies for each objective on my first play through.
You might find this yourself, for the simple reason that Airborne is one of the rare FPS games that actually rewards replaying. Feats of marksmanship open up weapon upgrades, which in turn allow you to return to previous levels and show the Nazis that used to give you a hard time how it feels to be on the receiving end. Each map has several different medals to be won, and each has several ‘skill drops.’ These are tricky to manage landing positions on a column or a catwalk or a tower, and having another chance to hit them gives you some solace when you die and have to parachute out for the umpteenth time.
All in all, Airborne doesn’t quite do enough to earn a reputation as a masterpiece. It’s still WWII, and there’s still a little too much ‘destroy these AA guns,’ ‘repel the counter-attack’ stuff to be done. The online options, while entertaining, are also a little under-explored. We get Team Deathmatch and a Battlefield-style control point option, but even the introduction of the parachuting mechanic doesn’t make either option that different from what you’ll have seen before.
What Airborne is, however, is a franchise reboot of ‘Die Another Day’ to ‘Casino Royale’ proportions, and one of the most intense, thoroughly enjoyable FPS games to have appeared in this generation. I would even argue that it might just be the best WWII FPS yet. That doesn’t mean that we’re in desperate need of Airbornes 2, 3 and 4, but if EA can find new ways to evolve this series, then I won’t be calling for its extinction anytime soon.
EA manages to turn around the fortunes of its venerable WWII franchise with a surprising, innovative game that might just be the best of its type.