Medal of Honor: Allied Assault Review
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 450 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 16 MB video card (but you'll want more power), 1.2 GB HD space
Medal of Honor: Allied Assault follows Lt. Mike Powell, a U.S. Ranger, through the events surrounding Operation Overlord (the Allied landing on D-Day), as he helps to turn the tide of war against the German forces occupying Western Europe. Recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) from the 1st Ranger Battalion, Lt. Powell must rescue a covert agent from enemy hands in North Africa; sabotage a Kriegsmarine U-Boat in Norway; participate in Operation Overlord; destroy artillery emplacements, rescue a reconnaissance pilot and disrupt communications in France; steal a German King Tiger tank; and destroy a mustard gas plant in Germany. Facing the assembled might of Nazi Germany, Lt. Powell strives to do his part for the Allied operations in Europe.
Medal of Honor: Allied Assault includes multiplayer capabilities. Deathmatch, team deathmatch, and objective-based team action are all available for play on a Local Area Network or over the internet.
Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (MoH:AA) provides a short, but rich single player experience. MoH:AA breaks ground with brilliant sound and enemies that are more clever than standard computer game opponents. At the same time, it provides a beautiful and detailed game world, and consistently state of the art production values across the board. While the game has minor flaws, they don't detract from its immersive, cinematic appeal.
MoH:AA demonstrates just how integral to a game's experience sound should be. The score swells in accordance with the action, moving from the urgent tones of combat to a calm, victorious theme once an area has been cleared. The music is skillfully composed, performed by a 64-piece orchestra, and reacts in a dynamic way to Lt. Powell's actions in increasingly difficult missions. The voice talent is superb, full of urgency, inflections of stress and pain, and evokes a sense of combat and danger. MoH:AA is also replete with ambient dialog and conversation. Instead of German soldiers acting out jokes in drunken English, they speak casually in German, reacting with surprise and anger when they detect Lt. Powell's presence. American soldiers cry out in fear and wish for armored support during the Omaha Beach landing. There is no pressing need to halt the action and wait for the dialog to play out – it becomes yet another part of the tapestry of sound that enriches MoH:AA.
Both enemy and allied soldiers act with more intelligence than one expects from a conventional action game. While far from sentient, they flee from grenades, go prone to snipe, avail themselves of cover, shoot around corners, and more. Enemy soldiers use grenades to flush hidden players from cover and leave their machine guns if approached from outside the gun's cone of fire. Most remarkable, allied soldiers are actually helpful – they sometimes eliminate enemies before you do. They offer covering fire as you advance, and provide much needed protection from flanking attacks. Nowhere is this more visible than in the opening mission, in which you infiltrate a coastal village with your squad. The proficiency of the AI allows the player to get used to the controls and interface – your squad will eliminate the first enemies you encounter, if you don't get there first.
The graphics in the world of MoH:AA are impressive, and use the licensed Quake III engine very effectively. Be warned, though – MoH:AA is not gentle on your system's resources. It is difficult to conceive of the game running on a machine with the minimum system requirements. The graphics are scalable, so there will be some combination of settings for graphics and sound detail that will function on your system at an acceptable speed. If, however, you are used to running games with maximum detail, be prepared for disappointment unless you own a cutting edge machine. The graphics were still impressive on a 1 GHz machine, but occasionally the lack of optimal detail was a hindrance. Enemy snipers are deadly accurate, and one mission which constitutes a significant fraction of the game involves clearing a town of German snipers. Regrettably, snipers sometimes shot me from such distances that I could not see the sniper due to the graphics settings, even when looking directly at his position. I had to advance under his withering fire just to be able to see my enemy. This detracted from the fun of these levels and led to a continuing cycle of quick-save/quick-load. By the same token, sometimes allies would shout "Fire!" or "Shoot them!" before the aforementioned enemies were within visual range at my level of detail.
In most areas, the level design is excellent, relying on interesting terrain and groups of intelligent enemies to provide a challenge. Occasionally, though, enemies appear from seemingly nowhere to surprise the player. Usually, this comes in the form of Nazis jumping out of wardrobes. In fact, there were so many Nazis hidden in French wardrobes that I almost fear purchasing European antique furniture. Speaking of level design, the Omaha Beach landing is impressive. It begins with a long ride in a Higgins' boat, while your comrade's faces manifest mortal fear as nearby boats succumb to artillery. Finally, the boat lands, and you begin your assault on the beach as your fellow soldiers are mown down by machine gun fire. Then, so are you – over and over. At first, this preserves the gritty, movie interpretation of the famed allied landing – then it gets irritating, and feels like MoH:AA's take on the standard jumping puzzle. You run from tank trap to crater, quick-saving every time you cover some additional ground. The addition of landmines just makes this experience more frustrating. Fortunately, the levels offer excellent variety. Lt. Powell occasionally takes a break from his role as special infantry to man a vehicle. On one occasion, it is a .30 caliber, jeep-mounted machine gun which Powell can operate with abandon as someone else drives a predetermined path. Later, after slogging through a small town riddled with snipers, Powell commands a tank crew, running down infantry and destroying heavily armored vehicles with an 88 mm cannon.
So what flaws remain? You might point out that MoH:AA is entirely bloodless. I suppose that this is not completely realistic, but it is hardly a problem. In fact, it bothered me considerably less than I expected. The sound design and music more than compensated. When shot, the enemy screams and falls down – I didn't need to see blood pool on the ground to enjoy the game. There were, however, some odd bugs. Once, during the single player campaign, I got the icon indicating that I had been disconnected from the server, and the controls became unresponsive. More puzzling was the Omaha beach landing. After a surprisingly realistic landing on the Axis-held beach (as best I can imagine), I was taking cover from enemy machine gun emplacements when I noticed that the line of Higgins' boats were continuing to float through the air, up the beach toward the German-controlled bunkers. Had I or my squad known, I'm sure we would have chosen to float up the beach, secure in our boat, rather than sustaining heavy casualties. Finally, while the game maintains an incredibly high level of tension, two moments were especially anti-climactic. Upon finally securing a foothold on Omaha Beach, and reaching the top of the Axis bunkers, the mission ends and fades to yet another briefing. Blowing up artillery, or seeing troops rush up after Lt. Powell would have been cathartic. Also, once you complete the final mission, the game rewards you with two words: "The End." We've been trained to expect a closing movie, and while that might not be necessary, it would have been nice to receive some additional commendation.
The Multiplayer aspect of MoH:AA is less satisfying than the campaign mode. Even with all detail settings minimized, and a reliable, broadband connection to the internet, play in MoH:AA multiplayer seems jerky and disorienting. The game initially required the GameSpy Arcade player-matching service, and needed a recent patch to add an in-game browser, simplifying the process of joining a game. The objective-based teamplay is not intuitive, and while the functionality has been improved through patches, aspects of the multiplayer (such as changing weapons) were cryptic to begin with. Simply put, multiplayer in MoH:AA seems like an afterthought, tacked on to a well-conceived single player game. Several maps are adaptations of maps from the single player campaign, such that they feel imbalanced. The need for patches to add menus and functions to the multiplayer only confirm the feeling that multiplayer is not as fully-fleshed as the single-player game.
The single-player campaign in MoH:AA is a deeply immersive, cinematic experience that pushes you to play ever longer. It is well paced, maintaining a sense of tension and excitement throughout, enhanced by an incredible sound scheme with orchestral music and reasonably intelligent foes set in clever missions. The multiplayer game is not nearly as impressive, but MoH:AA is a worthwhile purchase, especially with the discounts that are beginning to appear.