Summary: It comes in a fancy schmancy new box. Does it live up to the hype? Will it outscore Return to Castle Wolfenstein? Read our review and find out what we thought of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.
Officlal site: http://mohaa.ea.com
Ever notice how movies with similar plots and themes seem to all come out at the same time? In 1997, we endured two volcano movies: Volcano and Dante’s Peak. Then we had a pair of comet-colliding-with-earth movies in 1998: Armageddon and Deep Impact. That same year saw the release of two World War II movies - Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line.
The gaming industry, in its efforts to mimic film as high art, also goes through this sort of me-too business. WarCraft II and C&C Red Alert were released near to one another. Quake III and Unreal Tournament both made it out for the 1999 holiday season. This time around, the inevitable comparisons between Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Medal of Honor: Allied Assault will be made. And why not? They’re both Quake 3 engine-based FPS games set in the European theater of World War II. RTCW takes more of a fantasy, arcade approach, while MOHAA takes more of a hardcore historical, realistic angle.
Who’s responsible for all of this?
Grey Matter Studios (founded by many of the former members of Xatrix, makers of Kingpin) collaborated with Activision to release RTCW last year. Electronic Arts utilized helpful licenses from its association with Dreamworks SKG (producers of Saving Private Ryan) and contracted 2015 to develop Medal of Honor Allied Assault. Interestingly, 2015 had no prior experience making a full game – they’re best known for their work on Wages of Sin, the expansion pack to the ill-fated SiN. Now who remembers all the comparisons being made between SiN and Half-Life before they were released?
Medal of Honor franchise
The Medal of Honor series made its first appearance on the Playstation 1 in late 1999, and became arguably that platform’s best first person shooter. You played as Lt. Jimmy Patterson, running covert missions deep into German occupied territory, shooting up Nazis with 12 authentic WWII weapons. The original Medal of Honor was so popular among critics and the buying public that it spawned a sequel (prequel) on Playstation 1, Medal of Honor Underground, where you took a lead role in the French resistance. MOHU was released in late 2000, but wasn’t quite the runaway hit that the original was.
1.2 GB HD space
16MB OpenGL accelerator
1GHz+ P3 or Athlon
GeForce 3 or Radeon 8500
With the graphics settings turned up all or most of the way, Allied Assault is one of the prettier games we’ve played in a long time. The texturing isn’t quite on a par with RTCW, but arguing between the two is like debating whether you’d rather date Heidi Klum or Britney Spears. Both make for worthwhile eye candy. Character models are exquisitely detailed with facial expressions, widely varying styles of clothing, and tons of equipment (canteens, shovels, and the like) hanging off them. Weapon models in hand and on the ground are both attractive, and uniquely distinctive, making it easy to discern what type of gun an enemy is holding. Clearly the developers have done their homework on what the guns of WWII look like, and how they operate. Vehicles like tanks and aircraft have also been painstakingly modeled after their real-life counterparts.
Animation is smooth and lifelike, particularly the death animations, which can be quite gruesome and pitiful all at once. Sometimes they quickly slump to the ground in a heap after being shot. At other times your victims will twist down in pain, doubling over into a macabre, almost inhuman position. Sometimes they aren’t quite dead – they’ll get knocked on their back in shock, sitting half up as if struggling to do an abdominal crunch. Or they’ll whimper in pain as they crawl away on their hands and knees. These half dead soldiers need to be dealt with, or else they get up and start shooting again. Finishing them off with an extra spray to the head brings out the ugliness of war, even without any blood in the game.
It’s also worth noting the versatility of the MOHAA engine – vast outdoor scenes with dozens of buildings and trees in the vicinity are possible. The sniper town level is simply amazing with the number of bombed out buildings you can enter and explore, and windows you need to scan for possible snipers. You’ll also play through snow levels in the dead of winter with snowflakes blowing about in the wind as you hunt deep in German forests. MOHAA also features vast networks of underground bunkers with multiple levels, dozens of fully furnished rooms, and a maze of possible pathways.
…but she’s very high maintenance
The downside to all of this is the hefty system requirements. I played MOHAA’s single player campaign (see sidebar for my systems) at 32 bit color, with most of the model detail, curve detail, and terrain details on their highest or near highest setting, full entity lighting, and volumetric smoke. At first I was able to plod through at 1024x768, while putting up with lossy framerate during big firefights. As the missions wore on, and more and more enemies came on screen, these settings became unacceptably slow. I had to punch it down to 800x600. In multiplayer where framerate = life, forget about it. I had to knock off the shadows, set simple models, move it to 16 bit color, shut off dynamic lighting, and volumetric smoke to stay competitive. For a while now we’ve been waiting for legitimate reasons to need a GeForce 3. MOHAA might be one of the first reasons for me to run out and get one. Make no mistake – you need a beefy machine to run the game the way it was meant to be seen.
Crank up the Speakers
One area where Medal of Honor stands head and shoulders above the rest is in the sound department. Its sound effects are motion-picture quality exquisite, particularly with the weapons. It’s extraordinary the way you can hear the sniper rifle echo after you fire it, and listen to the fumbling and clicking as you work the bolt to load a new round into the breech. The Thompson lets loose with a rapid thump-thumping of its huge .45ACP rounds, while the smaller caliber German MP40 submachine gun has a higher pitched ratatat. Also noteworthy is the distinctive “plink” of the M1 Garand rifle ejecting a spent clip when you empty it. Ambient sound effects add to the atmosphere. German soldiers yell at each other in German, distant wolves howl in the forest, rain pitter patters on the ground, and planes drone overhead. The Omaha level will leave you as breathless and disoriented as when you first watched Saving Private Ryan.
GeForce 2 GTS
GeForce 2 GTS
As mentioned earlier, Medal of Honor’s single player campaign is broken up into six missions – actually six different settings, each subdivided into several levels One complaint we have, is that each mission seems fairly standalone; there’s no real sense of continuity from one to the next aside from the historical chronology. But in light of what the game has to offer, the discontinuity is merely a minor complaint.
**SPOILER ALERT – SKIP TO THE LAST PARAGRAPH ON THE PAGE IF YOU DON’T WANT SOME OF THE BEST SURPRISES REVEALED**
It’s not just endless killing
It’s not so much that MOHAA is innovative. Certainly a lot of the gameplay ideas they use are borrowed from other games or movies. This isn’t the first time you get to ride on the back of a jeep as the machine gunner and shoot enemies while the computer drives for you. But you’re immersed in the game b/c you not only have to shoot men on the ground, but troop carrying trucks chasing you and Stukas strafing you from the air. It’s almost like an Indiana Jones film. In the middle of another level in a bombed out French town, a German Tiger tank appears (just like in Saving Private Ryan, and you have to hit it several times with a slow reloading bazooka to kill it. All the while, the escorting German troops are peppering the windows with covering fire, and the Tiger is literally blowing holes in the house that you’re standing in, collapsing it around you. It’s not often a game gives me an adrenaline rush. Simply awesome.
I’ll come out and admit it – I’m a sucker for scripted sequences, and MOHAA delivers plenty of them. The opening mission is chock full of them; before the game even starts, half your platoon is blown up when a Panzerschreck blows up the truck carrying half your men. That’s when you have to hop out of your truck with the remaining men and do the mission at half-strength. Another example of this was the house to house fighting in the hedgerows where you rescue some Airborne men trapped in a house. After you clear the house of Germans and unbarricade the trapped men in an upstairs room, you witness a conversation between your partner and one of the Airborne – it’s abruptly cut off when a German sniper nails the poor Airborne guy in the head, triggering an invasion of spawning German troops from the backyard (whom you fight by shooting out from various windows of the house) and then the frontyard.
A few of the missions require you to, or turn out easier if you use stealth techniques to sneak past certain areas. Sometimes you’ll dress up as a Nazi officer in order to penetrate deep inside German installations. Drawing your weapon will blow your cover, as will running into another officer who will ask to see your papers. It’s possible to try and play through these levels with guns blazing, but that makes an already difficult game even more trying. Other times you’ll have to deal with searchlights mounted on guard towers with MG42s. If the searchlight spots you, you get torn up by the machine gun in a hurry. If you shoot out the spotlight, the soldier manning the MG42 somehow spots you immediately and turns you into hamburger. So it almost forces you to watch the pattern of the light, and dodge accordingly. We say almost, because there’s a way around this. If you use the sniper rifle to shoot the soldier manning the MG42 first, you can knock out the light with no real consequence.
In most cases, the AI in Medal of Honor is quite good. In missions where you have buddies, they are competent shots, and will use terrain, practice covering techniques, and advance intelligently for the most part. Enemy AI is pretty good as well, as they will also use cover, line up sideways on doorways to reduce their profile, lie prone while shooting, retreat when necessary, move to get better firing angles, and run out of the way of grenades. One time I even had a grenade that I tossed thrown back at me. However it’s not all good. The sensory ranges of the enemies don’t always make sense. Sometimes they will hear a nearby shot and go to investigate. At other times, you can snipe a guard standing 10 yards away from a machine gun nest, and the machine gunners don’t realize anything is amiss. Opening fire with a Thompson inside of a house should bring everyone in the building, or at least on the same floor, running to see what the fuss is, right? But more often than not, soldiers stay in their own neighboring rooms no matter what. Sometimes they’ll be hiding with weapons at the ready, waiting for you to enter, so it seems like they heard you. Other times not. I guess the German army is full of cowards?
Enemy aim, for the most part, is realistic. They don’t always hit you with the first shot, and if you stay in motion, it radically reduces their ability to hit you. You’ll still get plenty of abuse, so there are lots of health packs around to keep your hitpoints up. The exception to this rule are the snipers and some of the riflemen, who seem to have aim that is too good, and sensory ranges that rival that of a good hunting dog. The sniper town level was incredibly annoying, with dozens of possible windows and broken buildings to check as you advance. In a couple of the later levels, the game bogged down to saving dozens of times and reloading every minute or so b/c another unseen sniper would nail you repeatedly.
Adding to this problem is that the German sniper rifle, the Mauser Kar98, can be reloaded a lot more rapidly than the American Springfield 1903 sniper rifle. So once they start hitting you, you can’t even return fire effectively. Oh, and don’t forget, that they’ll sometimes shoot and move to another window or duck, meaning that a window you just checked could very well be harboring that one irritating sniper. How about walking instead of running, and hiding amongst cover or trees/brush? Forget about it – they seem to spot you every time, no matter what you do. Thankfully these annoying missions are the minority of the levels in MOHAA.
SIDEBAR: Making an appearance late in the game is the German Sturmgewehr, the world’s first assault rifle. Its design was slightly modified by the Russians in making the AK-47. The Sturmgewehr in MOHAA is loads of fun!
The one sad thing about MOHAA is that multiplayer seems to have been very much an afterthought. Four standard game types are included – Free For All, Team Deathmatch, Round-based match, and Objective-based match. Objective-based Match is MOHAA’s answer to RTCW’s heralded multiplayer objective-based games, but it’s not done as well. The maps are generally large, affording a good amount of room for maneuvering, and hiding, but the problem is that deaths are permanent. There’s no periodic respawn as in RTCW or medics to revive you. What this means is that almost all matches degenerate into team DM. The objectives hardly ever get completed before one of the teams gets wiped out and the other wins by default.
Perhaps the most irritating thing is that MOHAA shipped without an in-game server browser. Version 1.1 added it, but it operates like a hastily cobbled hack, with few useful features. There’s no way to set favorites, or filter out servers that are full/empty, or that ping too high. This is rather inexcusable for a top rate FPS these days, and players have a right to expect better from within the game without having to resort to using external Gamespy or some other utility. As it stands, not everyone has patched to 1.1, and the two builds are incompatible for multiplayer. Guess what? There’s no way to discern which servers are 1.0 and which are 1.1. Try to join a server on the old build? The browser kicks you back to the main menu, and you’re forced to refresh the server list again. ARGH!
Unlike the single player game, multi MOHAA only allows players to carry one primary weapon, and a pistol. You can choose any weapon to spawn with, depending on your side. Allied get the M1 Garand, 1903 sniper rifle, Thompson, BAR, Bazooka, or Shotgun. Axis get the Mauser, Mauser Kar98, MP40, Sturmgewehr, Panzerschreck, or Shotgun.
One thing that’s worth noting is that every dead player in MOHAA multi drops 50 health. If you’re skilled (and lucky), it’s possible to go on huge killing sprees without dying by simply picking up the many health packs lying around. However, death quite often comes instantaneously. It only takes a few bullets from any gun to bring you down, and in the case of the sniper rifle or shotgun, maybe only one shot. A well placed grenade can often kill three and four men at a time. That brings us to another point – every player spawns with six grenades. These are powerful and can be thrown good distances, making grenade spamming quite a common tactic in team play.
Best single player campaign in years: Tons of entertaining scripted scenes, thoughtful level design and mission objectives, and several surprises will keep players on their toes and interested from start to finish. Everyone raves about the Omaha level, but that’s not even close to the best MOHAA has to offer.
Multiplayer is lackluster: Both the execution and the interface woes make MOHAA multiplayer pale even more in comparison to the stellar single player game. Objective-based match is mis-labeled. In practice, it’s just round-based team deathmatch
Medal of Honor: Allied Assault proves that sometimes it’s better to be extraordinary at one thing, than just average or merely good at two or more things. Yes, the multiplayer leaves something to be desired, but we were so enthralled with the single player campaign that we just don’t care that much. MOHAA whisks players off to six very unique settings that effectively capture the spirit of the European theater in World War II. The game designers did a wonderful job at modeling the weapons of the Allies and the Axis, both in appearance, and in their sound effects. MOHAA’s missions are brilliantly designed, keeping the player interested from start to finish with scripted sequences that move the story along, and twists that don’t leave the player feeling cheated with stale, repetitive gameplay.
EA and 2015 have crafted an early candidate for 2002 game of the year (on any platform) in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. FPS fans and World War II buffs alike should rush out and get this game immediately, if they have a beefy enough system.
SIDEBAR: What do you think of MOHAA? Is RTCW better? Sound off in our comment section
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