Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Classic Review - Medal of Honor: Allied Assault [2002]


In 1997 when Steven Spielberg was making Saving Private Ryan he observed his son playing GoldenEye 007 and had the great idea of creating a realistic World War II experience that would satisfy both history buffs and people what wanted to kill Nazis. Two years later, Electronic Arts published Dreamworks Interactive's Medal of Honor for the Playstation. The game, in which players filled the shoes of fictional Lt. Jimmy Patterson, an OSS officer, received favourable reviews and quickly spawned a sequel in 2000 entitled Medal of Honor: Underground in which players became french resistance operative Manon Batiste. It was not until 2002 however that developers 2015 granted the franchise it's true form - Medal of Honor: Allied Assault for the PC. It exceeded the mark famously, earning earning millions for EA and won universal acclaim including 91% on Metacritic.

Using a modified version of the id-Tech 3 game engine, developers 2015, inc crafted Medal of Honor's best self - a genre-defining game that rejuvenated interest in the the era and propelled the developers to later create the Call of Duty franchise. Allied Assault was able to utilise the superior power of the PC to push graphical boundaries and introduce superior gameplay elements into players hands which was most notably seen during the harrowing Invasion of Normandy and the Omaha Beach Landings where the action on screen featured many characters moving during the relentless assault from German guns. Spielberg himself considered his work done when he saw this work and left the series to EA at this point but not before crafting the interwoven stories of his three protagonists with the Allied Assault saga telling the story of Lt. Mike Powell as he undertook dangerous missions for the OSS (meeting Manon Batiste and raiding the same fort as Lt. Patterson did in the original Playstation game).

MOH:AA is a bit more than Quake with a WWII skin however. While you get to use and shoot authentic WWII weapons at hundreds of Germans there's a little more 'realism' at work here influenced by Spielberg with his angle of educating the masses about the era. Your run speed and jumping height are a lot less than you may be used to as an FPS player, likely an effort to be more realistic. That said, you can still in common FPS fashion, can quite happily lug a fine collection of weapons such as a Thompson SMG, M1 Garand rifle, Springfield Sniper rifle, Browning Automatic Rifle, Winchester Shotgun and a Panzershrek anti-tank weapon along with a pocket full of grenades and a Colt 45 sidearm all at once - maybe that's why running and jumping are curtailed? Unlike most games at the time however the Medal of Honor franchise did not feature blood or gore, as Spielberg asked for it to be absent as the Columbine Massacre happened just months before release.

There are a number of elements that set MOH:AA apart and were used in many later games. One of the more useful mechanics was a compass with objection pointers rather than the staple mini-map. This allowed the player to follow his practically linear objectives quickly without breaking immersion or consulting a map every few minutes wondering where he needed to be going. While not the first game to use the 'lean' mechanic, it was the first time I used it and by all accounts much better implemented than previous efforts such as Soldier of Fortune and Return to Castle Wolfenstein . It was also the first non-tactical FPS game in which you had an AI 'squad'. They were basically useless and died easily but it did give the appearance that at least for some of the game, you were not responsible for winning WWII entirely on your own, but for the vast majority you were.

Along with the obvious attention to graphical details, the weapons, uniforms, vehicles and scenery of the era, sound played a very important part in Medal of Honor. Everything from the 'ping' of the M1 Garand to the rumble of a Tiger tank sounded unique and atmospheric while Captain Dale Dye and W. Morgan Sheppard among others leant their voice talents to NPCs. However it was the music of the game that stole the show. A young Michael Giacchino who had only composed scores for either little known or movie tie-in games up to the point where Dreamworks got him to compose Medal of Honor and Underground, took the scores for both games, added some new Allied Assault themes and crafted what is not only one my my favourite but easily one of the best video game scores of all time many years before achieving the fame he enjoys now.

While it feels overall very like Saving Private Ryan and the Omaha landing remains one of PC Gaming's defining moments, the majority of the game feels like a very sanitised version of WWII in comparison to more modern efforts. However it's still worth taking for a spin especially with 3rd party enhancements such as this texture pack

Medal of Honor:Allied Assault is only available with the Medal of Honor: Allied Assault Warchest, which includes the expansions Breakthrough and Spearhead on Origin for €9.99 or on GOG for €9.09.

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