War. Good god, y'all. What is it good for?
Games and movies, of course. After Saving Private Ryan, it comes as little surprise that Steven Spielberg's company, Dreamworks, is now releasing a WWII game. After all, Dreamworks has its own game developement studio as well (anyone remember Skullmonkeys?). In Medal of Honor, Spielberg brings first-person shooting to the Playstation
You are Lieutenant James Patterson, World War II hero and a recent enlistment to the OSS -- The Office of Strategic Services. As a member of the OSS, you must undergo secret missions to stop the Nazis and help the Allies win the war.
You do all this all from a first person perspective. However, this game is far from the frag fest of Castle Wolfenstein 3D, or Doom. It plays much more like the thoughtful action of Goldeneye for the Nintendo.
Controls work best with dual analog, letting you use the second analog stick to look around. For finer aiming, holding down the top right key in the familiar and welcomed Goldeneye style gives you access to your crosshairs. The default control of the game lends itself more to quick, precise aiming rather than a strafing approach.
Missions are given through briefings, explaining each new threat in the ongoing war. The objectives feel authentic -- most of them involve sabotaging weapons projects. While fanatasy WWII objectives would be an interesting trip (imagine missions where you go gunning for Adolf and his legions of clones), I'm sure historical buffs will appreciate this grounded aspect of the game, as well as the war-time consultant that made sure everything from guns to uniforms were accurate.
But it's the way that the Nazi's react that really make the game feel real. Some missions require you to infiltrate enemy lines under the guise of a Nazi officer. Lets say you make your way around, when suddenly you come upon a soldier. In a heavy German accent he asks to see your identification papers. You can:
A. Whip out that ID
B. Screw the papers and blast the guy dead!!!
C. Show him the papers, and then plug him in the head when his back is turned.
Then lets say another soldier sees you take out his good buddy. That guy will probably run over and sound the alarm. The soldiers in the game react pretty intelligently -- all the more reason for them to meet their end. The bullhorn starts blaring, and more of his goose-stepping "friends" start running your way. Take them all out, and then turn off that damn alarm so they won't keep coming. Nifty!
Having to make choices and seeing the consequences add to the whole realism of undergoing missions. You can finish the stage whether you went at it in gangbusters or stealth style. At the end of every stage, you get rated on your performance. What I don't understand is that sometimes you're given better ratings for violent craziness over stealth, but not always. Better ratings allow you to open up secrets, as well as adding in some replay.
There's also a two-player mode that would've been better if two more players were accommodated. Expect frame rates to drop lower and the distance you can see ahead of you to become even shorter while squaring off against another.
The environments evoke the many backdrops of war: the battlefield, deserted towns, warehouses, factories etc. They look just about as good as it can possibly get on the Playstation, with fluctuating frame-rates. You can only see a short way ahead of you before things dissolve into a murky black -- while that's okay for the night time stages, watching a not so distant building appear suddenly when you take a step forward is a sure sign more graphic power is needed.
Walk into the corner of any object and you'll see some of that graphic imperfection. The system tries to make a visual correction resulting in a weird frame flash. And sometimes in order to snipe a distant enemy, you have to be able to see him in normal view, thereby defeating the whole point of sniping.
The music, by itself, excellently captures the period feel with a full orchestra sound, and a variety of genres (classical, swing, and so on). Within the actual game, I would have liked it if the music were keyed and dependent on the action -- if you run into some soldiers the music would increase in tempo and urgency. While the music was great, I still sometimes heard that looped quality.
There are also loads of German language voice samplings -- listen up and you'll hear "Wir brauchen jemand zum Subermachen im Speisesaal!" (We need a clean-up crew in the dining area!). I had to look that one up, so a subtitle option would've been a nice addition.
Medal of Honor is the closest Playstation will get to Goldeneye, both in terms of system performance as well as the standard set by Mr. Bond's breakthrough gameplay. This game was a complete surprise, a great game released with little to no hype. Though it doesn't change any paradigms, it is most importantly fun. I guess in the end, it's a case of the right game on what is gradually becoming the wrong system. As much as I love her, the Playstation is showing her limits.