Review by StaplerFahrer

"A Great Game Killed Halfway Through"

Ahh, war movies. They're all the same, aren't they? We watch as a group of inexperienced young man are first trained under a brutal drill instructor before they sent into the heat of the battle. We know that at some point the grizzled old veteran will jump on a grenade to save the new guy. We know that the soldiers will grumble over the poor quality of their rations, saying things "if we fed this stuff to the krauts we'd win the war by tomorrow." We know that the moron who foolishly showed someone the picture of his sweetheart back home will get blown to pieces, and we know that someone will look around and say what a nice place this, but it's too bad there's a war on, and that when it's all over they'll come back, and of course, we know he'll get shot by a sniper soon after. Naturally, with such a rich source to draw from, EA's Medal of Honor: Allied Assault is like an interactive war movie, minus most of the cliches.

You take on the role of one Lt. Mike Powell, a faceless, voiceless grunt who distinguished himself in some way or another. Like most first person shooter protagonists, we don't really get to know our hero, save for the fact that he's obviously a total bad-ass. As Lt. Powell, you'll be embarking on various quests across Europe and North Africa during World War II, taking you from the beaches of Normandy to a secret Nazi stronghold deep inside the frozen forests of Germany. And of course, you'll be doing it all alone; the motto of MOH:AA is "Can one man truly make a difference?" which means you're not getting help from anyone.

MO:HAA's graphics utilize the Quake III engine, which is something of a mixed blessing. No one disputes the QIII engines ability to render indoor environments well, and MO:HAA is no exception. From French mansions to underground bunkers, Medal of Honor recreates it all with stunning precision. The highlight comes when the player gets to crawl about inside a German U-Boat, and see every little switch, gauge, and dial all accurately textured and modelled. Character models are nice and detailed, and you'll encounter a good variety of enemies and allies across the battlefield, from the common grunts to trenchcoat-wearing SS officers. Unfortunately, once you move outside MO:HAA takes a serious turn for the ugly. The Quake III engine just cannot render exterior environments well, and it shows. The landscape is flat, boxy, and filled with terribly unconvincing foliage, with blurry, low-resolution textures to boot. Finally, the most controversial issue is the blood, or lack thereof. Rivers of blood were spilt during the Second World War, yet there's not a drop of the red stuff to be found in MO:HAA. EA was clearly aiming for a "Teen" ESRB rating in order to sell more copies, and I find the sanitizing of war in the name of profit a little disturbing.

But one thing MO:HAA does not lack is atmosphere, partly due to the spectacular and immersive audio. MO:HAA is one of the few games to a true, orchestrated soundtrack, whose triumphant, patriotic tunes instantly conjure up almost any old war film you can think of and set the tone for the game perfectly. Gun shots, explosions, the rumbling of far-off artillery, the shouts in German from your enemies, everything is spot on, making MO:HAA a game that demands that you play it with the volume cranked up to "maximum."

And when MO:HAA manages to put it all together, the result is spectacular indeed. Take, for example, the game's centerpiece Omaha Beach mission. You begin as just one of many troops jammed onto a Higgins boat making its way towards the beach. The men around you look on nervously; some pray and another vomits in sheer terror. Everything goes quiet, and then the door drops down and all hell breaks loose. You are instantly bombarded by an endless stream of MG42 fire, instantly cutting down those unlucky enough to be in its path. The machine gun and artillery barges never let up for a second as you scramble from cover to cover, trying to make your way to the "shingle" or head of the beach. Even then it's not over, as you must run through a minefield with German machinegun nests ready to mow you all down in an instant. For this one mission, you truly feel like you're caught in something totally outside your control, and the phrase war is hell suddenly takes on a whole new meaning. Nothing can ever compare to having actually been there for real, but the MO:HAA's Omaha Beach mission is the closest a computer game has ever gotten to actually placing you in a combat situation. It's that good.

But as you play on, MO:HAA begins to run out of steam, and it does so very quickly. It quickly abandons any pretense being an accurate depiction of WWII and becomes yet another "one man versus the entire Wehrmacht" type of game where German soldiers came at you in waves and you cut them down with the greatest of ease. Some missions do provide you with fellow soldiers that fight alongside you, but their presence feels purely optional. Indeed, you needn't bother protecting them; they can apparently jump on grenades and take ten seconds of sustained MG42 fire and come away with nothing more than a limp. True "stealth" missions, such as disguising yourself as a German officer, are few and far between. Too many missions involve you scurrying about, blasting ridiculous numbers of Germans and their woefully inadequate weapons. You needn't even worry about which weapons to carry either; as Lt. Mike Powell is apparently capable of carrying a Colt .45, Thompson submachinegun, Browning Automatic Rifle, Springfield '03 sniper rifle, Bazooka, 12 grenades, and full combat gear and STILL be able to run at a decent clip. In terms of realism, MO:HAA is no more realistic than the other Quake III-powered WWII shooter Return to Castle Wolfenstein.

Part of the problem is the enemy AI. Simply put, they are all crack shots capable of turning around, bring their rifles to bear, and nailing you the moment you stick your head out. To make matters worse, enemy soldiers can do such things as lean around corners or simply poke their rifle out from behind, go prone, lean out while crouching, all the while you can do absolutely none of this. It seems rather unfair that MO:HAA won't even deign to give you a lean command. The poor AI and lack of movement options don't totally ruin gameplay, but it becomes very irritating to be constantly shot in situations when ever a world-class marksman would be hard pressed to hit you.

But the worst part of the whole game, by far, has the be the infamous "Sniper Town" mission. Here you must make you way through the ruins of a French town that's infested by German snipers. A recipe for frustration and tedium on its own; it stands out in my mind as one of the most unpleasant first-person shooter experiences I've ever encountered. The problem is that the enemy snipers are located in places that are physically impossible for you to reach, and hidden in such a way that you must pixel hunt every square inch of doors, rooftops, and windows to find them. Combined with the unfairly accurate AI, this means you'll often find yourself being shot repeatedly from seemingly out of nowhere, and on higher difficulties, all it takes is a few sniper rounds to kill you. Being killed repeatedly because I was foolish I was one thing, but being killed repeatedly because I failed to see the German sniper hiding on a grey rooftop in a grey uniform set against a grey sky with a tree in front of him is another thing altogether, Throughout the whole miserable ordeal, there is not one iota of fun or enjoyment to be had, and at the end of it all, your skin will be crawlin' for some uninstallin'. It brings whatever momentum the game had up to this point and brings it to a screeching halt. Sadly, MO:HAA never really recovers after this; the rest of the missions lead up to a one-man assault against a German mustard gas plant, which in turns leads to a very anti-climactic and unsatisfying ending.

And once you finish the game, there's very little to keep you coming back. The vast majority of events in the game are scripted; it's spectacular the first time around, but after one play-through, you'll notice that certain soldiers always live or die no matter what you do, and the game takes on a theme park ride-like atmosphere, with events occurring the moment you reach a certain point. This effectively removes all incentive to replay the game, making MO:HAA essentially one-shot deal.

However, there is some multiplayer action to liven things up a bit. There's your standard free-for-all Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch along with additional objective-based play modes. The maps are varied enough and the netcode of the QIII engine is solid, but it doesn't really compare to the awesome multiplayer of RTCW. And for reasons unexplained, there is no absolutely no in-game server browser, meaning you've got to use something like the god-awful GameSpy. Other than that, the multiplayer is fairly enjoyable, which is good thing, because the game would gone from your hard drive in a week at most without it.

Which is a real shame, because for the first half of the single player, MO:HAA is an absolute blast. But whatever momentum the game built up is quickly killed off when the Sniper Town level is reached, and the completely linear nature of the game means that there's little reason to come back when all is said and done. For that first half, though, it's definitely worth a look.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 04/04/05


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