Medal of Honour: Allied Assault
MOVIETONE NEWS: Game publisher Electronic Arts has begun its assault on the North American continent. The assault has been described as "The best interactive representation of the second world war ever made!" American soldiers have been found far and wide throughout the land, armed with both cash and credit in their preparations for dealing with the product. Sources reveal that Electronic Arts' plan includes an all-out assault on the European continent in only a matter of weeks.
For gamers of the current generation, World War II is a dark period of history that they have read about in books and seen depictions of on film. Regardless of how educated on the subject we may be, the simple truth of the matter is that we will really never know what it was like to play a role in that half-century old life or death struggle against the ultimate evil. Until virtual reality systems become as standard as gaming consoles in everyone's homes, it would appear that Medal of Honor: Allied Assault is the closest we are going to get to being able to understand what grandpa has been talking about all these years.
MOH: AA is, of course, a title of the first-person-shooter variety. Players assume the role of Lieutenant Mike Powell, an American soldier working for the Office of Strategic Services, through 6 combat-intensive missions that require the completion of over 33 levels. All of the various weaponry used during the war is available at one point or another (both allied and axis weaponry, that is), ranging from the Colt .45, Walther P38, M1 Garand Rifle, Springfield '03 Sniper, Kar-98 (both standard and sniper), Thompson Submachine Gun, MP40 Submachine Gun, Browning Automatic Rifle a.k.a. "BAR", StG44 Sturmgewehr, as well as many mounted, unmovable weapons. Players up against impossible odds will also be able to call in the occasional air strike.
The graphics, (this reviewer used a 1.1Ghz P3 w/Geforce 2GTS, and another machine, 2.2Ghz P4/Geforce 3TI500) are top notch on lower-end systems, and utterly jaw-dropping on faster beasts. It's core graphics engine is the Quake III: Team Arena engine, with all the predictable results associated with it. Every scene is dripping with beautiful detail, from the gorgeous villas of Remagen, to the elegant masonry of Algiers. The character models are equally impressive, including down-to-the-last-detail uniforms, and full facial expressions with eye models that are rendered separately from the face "skin" to allow independent eye movement (that soldier you think is watching you from the corner of his eye actually is). Walk up to a Nazi during the mission where you must impersonate one by stealing a uniform. Show him your papers and then just stare at his face. You'll be amazed as his expressions, mostly around the eyes and mouth, change as he sizes you up and thinks, "Hmmm..."
The AI of both Allied team members and Nazi soldiers is remarkable (they get dopier on the easy difficulty levels). Nazis duck, run, hide, and plan attacks against you. Some of these attacks are implemented with real lethal cunning, yet sometimes they just run in front of your weapon and wait to be shot. They will surprise you quite often by the things they do... without giving away too much (the example cited next is an obvious one), expect to have your own grenades thrown back at you a lot.
Ever since the release of Valve's Half-Life, much ado has been made about the interaction with NPCs, and how scripted events can enhance the overall storyline of a title. This reviewer has played just about every single FPS to come down the pike, and although Half-Life and titles of its ilk have their excellent points, MOH: AA was able to provoke an emotion that no NPC or scripted event has been able to achieve in the past... fear. You will start several missions as one member of a squad or team, and you will have the pleasure (?) of watching all of your friends die in front of you. Most of the time these events are scripted to happen this way, leaving you as the lone survivor who must accomplish the mission without anyone's help, but there will be many times throughout this title that you just may find yourself replaying the mission in an effort to find out if it is possible to save any of them. During the Omaha Beach invasion (this level drops you, directly, into the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan. This thought will probably be repeated in many reviews you may read of this title, but there is a reason for that... it's absolutely true), your first objective is to get off the damned Higgins boat (the beach barriers sticking out of the sand provide the only shield against the enemy's turrets... just a tip) before you're ventilated, and believe you me, this is not easy. When you eventually do make it to a point on the beach that provides temporary cover, look around. The fallen soldiers are whimpering, the medic to your right administers a health aid to you, and the other soldier to your left is shaking in his boots... literally. He stares back at you with an expression of sheer, stark terror that has to be seen to believed... and all of this is taking place amongst all the gunfire, explosions, and chaos that this little marvel of sound design (persistent wailing, cries of "What do we do, Sarge?", "This is a slaughter!", and "What are we doing here?" echo through the scene both near and far) can throw at you. It took ten minutes, and the death of the quivering soldier to my left, before I touched the mouse again. Yes, this is a computer game you're reading about. Even when the danger is fictional, when lives are destroyed because you goofed, it's a shame.
As the last paragraph states, this gem's sound design is exceptional. The music is of Hollywood film score caliber, and the sound effects are not only perfectly delivered, but are completely accurate to the weapon or situation. The cold, "you're done" clink of a spent magazine as it flies out of an M1 is indicative of the kind of attention to detail that was paid to this game's production, and that's only one small example. The ambient noise creates tension where it should. The dogs bark, tree branches crack like a rifle shot from the weight of the snow resting on them, which, as you can imagine, can make a chap a bit jumpy, and faint German screaming can sometimes be heard from a melee taking place far in the distance. Immersive hardly seems to explain it.
Now for the complaints. The title's violence is bloodless, and the story lacks any kind of satisfying ending scene. As for the blood, there's not a drop to be found, regardless of injury. This presents a bit of a disappointment in an exceptional title that took such great pains to adhere to realism. This is not meant to suggest that this title should have been as gory as, say, Soldier of Fortune, but when you put a round through the mid section of a soldier standing against a wall, the wall is going to get splattered. Perhaps this will be addressed with a nice little "blood" patch in the future, but the likelihood of that is slim to none. (Hello, mod community!) When you complete the single-player campaign, you've done just that. Game Over. No ending scene. It's a shameful omission, but these two complaints are really all that is wrong with this game... the rest of it is so right, these things get reduced to minor status.
The multiplayer modes are incredibly addictive, (this reviewer spent a whole day with 3 other friends and our own little server) full of axis v. allies combat across many areas of Europe. Again, due to the enhanced QIII engine in this game, the multiplayer aspect functions beautifully and simply. Be sure to download the update patch, however, if you plan on running your own server.
Medal of Honor: Allied Assault is the best FPS in years. It's exceptional design succeeds where others fail due to its ability to affect you on a gameplay "fun" level, and a visceral "What if I were REALLY in the middle of this?" emotional level. Bear in mind that this is coming from a veteran gamer who has seen and played it all... twice. It takes that certain something within a product to actually raise the hair on the back of my neck and cause me to back off from the mouse for a moment, and this title delivered exactly that. For some of you, playing this title will clue you in as to what Grandpa has been talking about all these years, and others may actually look at the old man in a completely different way.