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Medal of Honor (PlayStation) artwork

Medal of Honor (PlayStation) review

"In his briefing, Jimmy is given authorization papers to show guards. He’s told to AVOID combat, sneak around, do what he has to do and get out as quickly as possible. And when he does that, the one-star (maybe two) rating he’ll get upon achieving this hollow success will weigh upon his heart like a scarlet letter of shame."

When it comes to villains in the entertainment business, it’s hard to name a group easier to hate than the Nazis. Not only do they tend to come off as soulless instruments of evil, but they have the added advantage of being based on REAL-LIFE EVIL-DOERS!!! That makes it pretty easy to come up with a plot, as minor details like giving the villain something resembling a motive become unnecessary when all one has to do is say, “Of course he’s evil, you dolt! He’s a frickin’ Nazi, for God’s sake!”

And that, in a nutshell, is Overdrive’s Excellent Theory on the popularity of World War II-based entertainment. Things using this subject matter are constantly churned out because writers are lazy and love the opportunity to create a black-and-white world where the plot can be simply summed up as “we’re good, they’re evil and that’s that”.

All of that probably goes a long way towards explaining exactly why I’m so fond of Medal of Honor. Released by EA and Dreamworks for the Playstation in 1999 (at the height of the Saving Private Ryan hysteria), this first-person shooter is the epitome of what I expect my Nazi-killing fun to be. Minor details like plot are taken care of before each mission, while a bit of historical background is provided by classic footage that gets played before and after each group of missions is completed. As for the game itself, there is only one goal: to kill each and every Nazi bastard out there!

Sure, the game gives you a number of objectives for each mission and you have to complete them all, but they’re secondary to the killing. Most of Medal of Honor’s 20-some stages are very linear, making it child’s play for the heroic (i.e. NOT a Nazi) Jimmy Patterson to find all the machinery he needs to sabotage and top secret plans he’s supposed to swipe. But when Jimmy’s accomplished all that and advanced to the end of the level, if there are more than one or two living Nazis out there, he won’t get an excellent rating for his hard work.

Hilariously, this rule even applies to the so-called “stealth” stages thrown at the player early on. In his briefing, Jimmy is given authorization papers to show guards. He’s told to AVOID combat, sneak around, do what he has to do and get out as quickly as possible. And when he does that, the one-star (maybe two) rating he’ll get upon achieving this hollow success will weigh upon his heart like a scarlet letter of shame.

No, what Jimmy’s REALLY supposed to do is conveniently “forget” he was given those clearance papers. He also needs to ignore the fact he’s only carrying a small handgun while many Nazis are equipped with far superior weaponry. And, with a gleeful smile on his face, he must exterminate all the human vermin he comes across. Jimmy Patterson doesn’t do stealth....regardless of his orders.

I’m guessing most players won’t have a problem with that, as it’s simply a lot more fun to kill Nazis than skulk around them and Jimmy’s pretty good at the killing game. In any given group of missions, that weak handgun will only get a tiny bit of use before giving way to high-powered rifles, machine guns, a bazooka launcher and various other tools of death.

Early in the game, the fighting isn’t particularly intense, as Jimmy’s foes only tend to come at him one or two at a time and rarely exercise any strategy beyond pointing their guns and firing wildly. However, as Jimmy progresses through more and more missions, the firefights start getting intense. Some enemies will lurk around corners, only peeking out to fire periodic streams of bullets. Others prefer flinging a grenade toward Jimmy’s general location, hoping to flush him out. They also take posts high in trees, behind boxes and in other secluded places in an attempt to gain the upper hand. I found many of the game’s early missions to be easy and simplistic, but after getting about midway through the third group of stages, I found myself challenged regularly and grateful whenever I found life-restoring first-aid kits or canteens.

As I played through Medal of Honor, I also found myself grateful for the effort made in creating the sort of atmosphere that many games (FPS or otherwise) can’t match. Not only does the historical footage work to create the illusion that the player is truly in the heart of a great conflict, but the actual levels do a great job of maintaining that fantasy.

The dark outdoor levels provide a tense setting where it seems an ambush could be lurking behind any tree or corner. Buildings are even more claustrophobic as the shouts of Nazi soldiers echo through narrow corridors while enemies besiege Jimmy from all sides. Not even a few jagged edges and minor graphical glitches can detract from the engrossing nature of Medal of Honor. It was all-too-easy to lose myself in the world of Jimmy Patterson as I meandered through a hazardous forest on my way to infiltrating a supposedly impenetrable fortress, or as I crept along the rooftops of a city in a desperate attempt to reach (and sabotage) a U-Boat before it was launched.

Medal of Honor also tacks on a few other options, primarily a multi-player deathmatch mode. This feature starts out small, but by getting excellent ratings on all the levels, it’s possible to unlock a horde of new characters and arenas. Players can also view any historical footage they unlocked, as well as look at medals obtained for consistently earning excellent ratings in completing missions.

Those diversions aside, what continues to attract me to Medal of Honor is the intense FPS gameplay that most levels have. As I said before, the first few levels aren’t particularly exciting, as the Nazis are predictable and slow-witted. The soldiers standing in Jimmy’s way later in the game are a different story, though. If they aren’t dropped instantly, there’s a good chance they’ll scurry for cover and turn what should have been a quick-and-easy kill-fest into a grueling battle for survival. But Jimmy Patterson (who, like I said, DOESN’T like stealth) wouldn’t have it any other way. And after going through such levels as “The Roaring Penstocks” and “Vengeance Production”, it’s likely you and he will be of the same mind.

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Staff review by Rob Hamilton (April 27, 2006)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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