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Medal of Honor (PlayStation) artwork

Medal of Honor (PlayStation) review

"A scant few games offer you the chance to actually step into the ragged, crusty, filth-stained boots of a soldier and plunge directly into the heat of combat during the grittiest of them all: World War II. Sure, you have your Close Combat knock-offs and POW games like the cleverly named Prisoner of War that are just too ambitious for their own good. A conflict this terrible, this sprawling, this epic, require technically competent games to do it justice and avoid trivializing anything. "

A scant few games offer you the chance to actually step into the ragged, crusty, filth-stained boots of a soldier and plunge directly into the heat of combat during the grittiest of them all: World War II. Sure, you have your Close Combat knock-offs and POW games like the cleverly named Prisoner of War that are just too ambitious for their own good. A conflict this terrible, this sprawling, this epic, require technically competent games to do it justice and avoid trivializing anything.

Steven Spielberg aimed at the latter target when he released the instant classic Saving Private Ryan in 1998. He gave surprised audiences a purely unadulterated taste of war by ramming it down their throats while their mouths were still open with awe. Without a doubt he succeeded at complete, utter de-glamorizing of the greatest conflict known to mankind—no longer did you see John Wayne hobbling up the beach flanked by indestructible Green Berets making soufflé out of the dastardly Germans. With that hurdle mounted, now he had to make a First-Person Shooter that honored the countless casualties of war without offending them with Wolfenstein-like violence. And it had to be fun. DreamWorks (helmed by Spielberg) and Electronic Arts teamed up on this large-scale assignment, which would also somehow tie into the events in Saving Private Ryan. Non-believers scoffed at the idea of such a project for the aging PSX. They laughed and laughed. Then Medal of Honor stormed from the gates and handed them their asses in spades!!

On the fiery eve of June 6th, 1944, 101st Airborne trooper James “Jimmy” Patterson is dropped into occupied France to soften German resistance come the next day. However, Patterson is hopelessly separated from his buddies and ends up landing miles off target! By sunup, he’ll have managed to rescue a wounded comrade deep within enemy territory and bring him back to friendly soil, Forrest Gump-style. Having proven himself an Übermensch, he attracts the attentions of muckety-mucks high up in the mysterious “Black Ops” section of the government. Before he knows it, he’s been inducted into the elite ranks of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a TOP SECRET division of the military dedicated to running covert operations behind German lines.

If that sounds suspiciously like Goldeneye during WWII, you’re right. Goldeneye was also an excellent example of what all can be done in an FPS. All naysayers would be wrong to totally snub Medal of Honor as a knock-off—in the vital departments of atmosphere and personality, this game dwarfs it tenfold. You wouldn’t believe how much those contribute to the overall game experience!

Patterson’s first assignment is deceptively simple: locate a missing American intelligence officer behind German lines and extract him if he’s still alive and well. Pre-mission briefings are done with style to burn; gravel-voiced Colonel Hargrove acquaints Patterson with the current assignment using the “Bat On Principle”: the use of photographs, diagrams, pie graphs, histograms and in-depth relief maps. It’s all done with such a silky-smooth ease that you can’t help but tingle with excitement when Hargrove utters hoary clichés such as “We’re all counting on you.”

Seconds later, you’re in Germany clutching your M-1, the useless peashooter that isn’t. It’s dark outside, and a light mist hangs in the air. Either that, or it’s the horribly short draw distance of the PSX coming into play. But no, you can actually hear the soft pattering of raindrops. Wow. You venture forward, wary of the PlayStation’s inability to have a FPS that actually controls well—but surprise, it’s not at all difficult to move, even with a non-Dual Shock controller. Shoulder buttons are utilized as the strafing keys, the trigger is located at an intuitive position and soon you’ll be handling Medal of Honor like a veteran.

Two Germans are patrolling ahead, walking with the tired swagger of someone who’s been doing the same patrol route for 20 years. One goes down easy enough with a puff of vapor, but his comrade is no Soldier of Fortune-level slouch—he runs off screaming for help in his native tongue! Various opponents are randomly given different AI patterns; some will hold their ground while others will run and hide and some try to alert their fellow slimy bastards. How tough are these thugs? If there’s cover to be found, they’ll usually make a beeline for it. From there they might cower and cry out for reinforcements or point their guns out and fire randomly. Their treatment of grenades is probably the most inventive I’ve ever seen; mainly the fact that they’ll immediately throw the pineapple right back at you or heave themselves onto the explosive to save their buddies! If there’s a warning klaxon nearby they’ll be sure to pull it.

Enemies tote standard German sidearms such as Walther pistols and MP-40 semiautomatics. You’ll be given butch Nazi-blasting guns like the BAR and Thompson “gangbuster” submachine gun. I would never have forgiven Electronic Arts if they had given Patterson a Thermo Hydro-Modulating Pulse Blaster Rifle™ to roast the Germans with or any other oddball sci-fi stuff you only see in rotten pulp novels. The developers were undoubtedly sticklers for authenticity.

It’s satisfying to down a bad guy with one of these cannons; particularly noteworthy are the death animations. Gauging from where they were hit, an enemy will appropriately crumple into a still, unmoving lump. There are also the random after-effects of close quarters battling; a surprise headshot will cause someone to die with the neurons in his brain shooting off like roman candles, his finger spasmodically tugging the trigger of his MP-40—hellfire still shooting from his gun and ricocheting off every surface. Dying in spectacular fashions are almost every Nazi you exterminate. Oh yeah, you can shoot them in the nuts. Ho ho.

Missions are often unpredictable, even the very first. The intelligence officer has gone missing and you’re immediately sent into the sewer beneath the nearby occupied city to locate his attaché case containing Vital Documents. Rabid, bloodthirsty dogs and Kleigsmarine troopers have been alerted to your presence and they vigilantly patrol the catacombs. In mid-mission you stumble across a German arms cache and you must then find a means with which to take it out, et al. While the objectives don’t deviate from Ye Olde “go here, destroy this, fetch me a toothpick” formula, the uninspired mission structure is cleverly camouflaged with some truly inventive level design and, above everything else, a convincing atmosphere. Even though Patterson will have killed over a thousand Nazis by the time the game ends, you’ll never make a “Pff!” sound out of disbelief. All this could plausibly happen, even though all Jimmy has to do after taking a shotgun blast to the groin is chug back a couple Health Canteens and all’s well. Yay!

Medal of Honor has received endless accolades for its sound, which comes to no surprise to audiophiles such as myself. A desperate few sound engineers actually left the house and hand-recorded all the different ambient noises—birds chirping, planes buzzing overhead, distant explosions, trees rustling in the wind. Fire your BAR into a fat German’s butt, and what you’re hearing is the sound of an actual BAR instead of a canned sound effect (as well as the agonized yelp of pain). Nazis bark orders to each other in German, which is helpful for picking up useful phrases like “Your papers, please”, “The Fuhrer would like to size you up” and “Wow, my ass really hurts!” I’m a huge fan of the “THPFFF” noise whenever your pistol goes off in an officer’s face.

It gets sweeter. Amidst all this chaos, you might be able to discern the distant sounds of a full orchestra belting out a lush melody. No, the guys next door aren’t watching Lawrence of Arabia, that’s the actual background score. Yes, composer Michael Giacchino comes out of obscurity, his only previous credit being the horrendous Lost World game for the PSX, and delivers a score that would make John Williams fear for his career. This game represents the end of the “Moog Synthesizer” era in terms of videogame music, and instead ushers in a 60-piece orchestra to handle the score! Every stage is accompanied by its own rip-roaring action cue. Some are methodical and slowly build up, while others are played at frantic, fast tempos. The music is dynamic; in other words it changes volume and intensity when the action heats up onscreen and lowers itself whenever you’re slinking around shooting Nazis in their fat German skulls. Two central themes are recurring—Jimmy Patterson’s theme and the Nazi Theme—both of which are the stuff of legend. Every track is a tapestry of beautiful musical ideas, and worth a listen on its own. It’s a crime that the soundtrack was only available for a limited time and is now sadly out of print. If only more companies had the money to invest in such quality music!

You’ve played Medal of Honor before if you’ve played Wolfenstein, right? WRONG, CHUMP. This game is what those punks at id Software can only have wet dreams about. The apparent “T” rating might turn off snobs who only play games with buckets of pixilated gore drenching the walls. This is the most tasteful shooter I’ve played in a while—dare I say it’s classy. You’re slow if you’re able to finish this in 10 hours, even. It seems like only yesterday when this game blew my socks off after I paid $50 for it; you can now buy MoH at the cost of a rental.

Steven Spielberg needs your money.

The end.

johnny_cairo's avatar
Community review by johnny_cairo (September 04, 2003)

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