How the World War was won.
War is a horrible, bloody, terrifying ordeal. If military fighting were to break out on American soil today, there's no doubt that the Game Revolution crew would serve our country proud - from behind the warm glow of a computer screen, that is. Or in this a case, a control pad. We bruise easy.
Rarely have we looked forward to war as much as with EA's stylish Medal of Honor: Frontline, which finally made it out of boot camp and on to my Playstation 2. It's a truly prestigious medal indeed, yet not completely bereft of a few scuff marks.
One of these is the linear gameplay, which can be attributed to a plot based on real-life events. There's nothing wrong with real-life adaptations, although the closer you follow the real-life model, the less flexibility you have regarding story. Still, this one is done exceptionally well.
You play through 19 engrossing, war-torn missions, all of which have been seen before in movies and/or previous video games. It's June 6, 1944. You take 24 year-old Lieutenant James Patterson from the great battle on the Omaha beach in Normandy all the way to Market Garden. Objectives run the gaming gamut, from low-level commands such as clearing an area of hostiles and providing cover fire to more famous feats deep behind enemy lines like seizing the Nijmegen Bridge, sabotaging German U-Boats and, of course, defeating the ominous Nazi War Machine.
Speaking of War Machines, the Playstation 2 works overtime to capture the chaos of war in vivid detail. In other words, she looks and sounds gorgeous. The map design is inspired (albeit a bit familiar - Medal of Honor: AA, Saving Private Ryan, etc.) and the textures are smooth and convincing. Characters move nicely, are modeled well and have moving lips and eyes. The overall attention to detail is easily PC quality.
This is represented, irrefutably, in the more chaotic battles. Your first mission, Finest Hour, is brimming with the kind of prime atmospheric video game moments usually found in PC games. Bodies fly in the air while aircraft whiz past overhead, randomly dumping bombs that kill you and/or vibrate your controller. The effect is supremely engrossing.
MOH: Frontline is a feast for the ears as well as the eyes, and the sounds compliment the entire package with various types of gunfire, ambient noises, conversations in the distance and great explosions which shake the image on-screen and make precise targeting impossible. It's sheer carnage. Hearing a hoarse commanding officer bark orders at you while the world is ending requires precognitive skill and adds splendidly to the game's intensity.
While real war may be alien to most gamers, MOH: Frontline's gameplay is far from it. Surviving and completing your objectives is a matter of shooting your way through hordes of Nazis (The Universal Enemy) in order to plant a bomb, meet your contact, or simply reach the door that progresses you further. The gameplay is strictly linear, but your objectives are varied enough to keep things interesting.
The game's sixty-year old munitions will also keep you on your toes. There are a total of 18 authentic WWII weapons with authentic WWII drawbacks and hindrances. You'll wrestle with the Thompson sub-machine gun and its incredible kick, the M1 Garand that can't be reloaded until the clip is completely spent, grenades that can reduce your hand to hamburger before you can even throw them, and many other exquisitely tweaked real-world weapons. They may seem like deathtraps to the untrained civilian, but they'll become your best friends for about 10-15 hours of grueling battle-ridden gameplay.
It's just a blast convincing the Nazis to dance, hop and twirl to your symphony of bullets thanks to the cool hit detection. NPCs can lose their hats and remain alive, hop around from a shot to the leg, stagger before toppling over - the death animations are just great. Foes sniped from a distance may even look down and put their hand to their chest where they received the wound, only to collapse very soon after.
However, the AI isn't that impressive. Enemies will hide behind objects and blindly shoot around corners, and you'll even come across a couple Nazi officers hiding behind a fallen friend and armed with pistols. But these events are the result of good scripting and not good A.I. Often you can run right up behind guys and they won't turn around until it's too late. Cool death sequences are a nice way of making up for faulty AI and enticing the player to continue.
You'll need a bit of enticing, too, because not much can save a console FPS from that infernal thumbstick control. To EA's credit, this is easily the most user-friendly FPS the PS2 has seen thus far. Still, show me the guy who has more dexterity in his thumbs than most people do in their entire hand and I'll show you a Shaolin Monk in seclusion practicing his "Golden Thumb" technique. There's no thumbstick sensitivity toggle and my keyboard showed no response when I plugged it into the PS2 USB ports. Drat and double drat!
I said before that this was a medal harboring a few scuffs. Well, not harboring is more pertinent here, as there is no multiplayer of any sort. This is a shame, because the level design is great and would have lent itself nicely to a Bot option and/or Player Vs. Player skirmishes.
What you do get is a near PC quality experience without the patches and expensive hardware. MOH: Frontline is very linear and doesn't warrant much of your time after perhaps the third play through, but the ride is still very, very fun. I guess this is what war is good for.