Medal of Honor: Frontline
Published by Electronic Arts
The Medal of Honor series has stood out among the plethora of first-person shooter games for a simple reason: firing a weapon in Medal of Honor is a big deal. As the game starts and you're using the most pedestrian weapon in your arsenal, the M-1 rifle, it's already clear you're not in the fantasy world of a Duke Nukem. Firing your M-1 jerks your point of view back and upwards -- after all, you've just fired a spinning piece of supersonic lead which you're hoping takes someone's life on the other side. This innate seriousness is extended in a big way in Medal of Honor: Frontline for the PS2 (the most recent Xbox incarnation, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, is similar).
Frontline's first level is Omaha Beach on D-day. This is most intense level of the game, the gamemakers' attempt to invoke the hellish experience of landing on the beach under intense German fire. It's successful in its stress-producing goal; I've never been so unsettled by a videogame level. Shells continually rain down, blowing huge craters in the sand and shaking you to the ground. The determined Germans pour fire down on the beach, knowing that making a stand here is their only chance. Your comrades -- a dozen of whom are shot in the opening second of the level -- are disoriented and scattered around the beach, and need your reassurance and your covering fire in order to make it up the beach to begin and claw a hole in Hitler's Atlantic wall.
It's a terrific opening -- and, truth be told, the best single moment of the game. Afterwards, a few more of the conventions of traditional first-person shooter games reappear, and by the end of the game you're switching between bazooka and heavy machine gun in mid-air whilst turning. But the game never loses the more authentic take on the genre that has made Medal of Honor a hit. Even in the most predictable, single-path of the levels there's always an unexpected German sniper in a patrol tower to send you back to your save game.
The enemy AI in the series has advanced considerably. Annoyingly, the Germans are now quite adept at taking cover, and their snipers are painfully well-placed. The D-day level is the most harrowing, but not necessarily the most difficult: I think the most restarts for me was the intense Arnhem scenario occurring during the denoument of the doomed Operation Market-Garden, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery's attempt to bypass the last few months of the war. Why so many British paratroops perished in that operation becomes painfully evident.
If you didn't like the earlier Medal of Honor games, this one won't change your mind. But for me, the grittier take on the genre and the authenticity of the setting have always made this series stand out from the fragfests, and the new version takes it to the highest level yet.