Our Jake has a wonderful sense of timing, this review would have been published a week ago but as the editor did not have any electricity in his home it had to be delayed somewhat. So here he is, a week after the D-Day celebrations to tell the tale of PlayStation’s war-themed answer (or not( to GoldenEye. After you’ve read this you should really go watch some vids on his gaming YouTube channel.
The Nintendo 64 was making waves with its beloved shooter Goldeneye 64. Its engaging story mode and addictive multiplayer mode made it a best-seller. Dreamworks Interactive wanted to one-up the title with their 1999 first-person shooter by getting Steven Spielberg of all people to pitch an idea: a World War II shooter featuring an espionage specialist blasting and sneaking his way through Nazi territory. Medal of Honor pushed the boundaries in many ways for the time (some of them are very impressive, even that by today’s standards). It may be a product of its time, naturally, but it’s difficult not to be impressed by what it brought to the table.
History geeks will love the cutscene briefings, of which are primarily made up of wartime footage and slideshows with gravelly narrations by the late William Sheppard. As the one-man army Jimmy Patterson, your goal is to thwart the Nazi war effort, from sabotaging a rail-mounted artillery to clearing out a mustard gas laboratory inside a heavily-fortified castle. There are some fun sneaking missions where you’re disguised (using your silenced pistol to
do some damage control before you’re outnumbered is fab). You’ll be whisked around the world, taking on historically-accurate events that took place during the most gruelling conflict in human history. Exciting stuff!
Each chapter is made up of three missions with a variety of objectives that must be completed before exiting the area. A lack of a map is more of a hindrance than a setback, but these are predominantly linear levels you’ll be going through, so it’s not too hard to get lost. The story has enough content to keep you occupied for a handful of hours; replaying for higher ranks to unlock bonus multiplayer outfits, artwork, movies and medals to ponder at, so there’s an additional incentive to retry levels (hint: kill lots of enemies and stay healthy for the best scores).
Often you’ll start with a small arsenal of weapons, with others to be found along the way. You’ll get your hands on weapons like a M1 Garand, MP40, panzerschreck, and grenades. They’re all great to use and have some meaty firing sounds. There tends to be enough ammo, since German rifle ammo magically works with your Yank guns, and so on. Aiming felt clunky back then, and still does to this day, especially if you’re trying to go for accurate shots.
Shooters of the nineties often threw buckets of enemies that scuttled around while taking potshots at you. The AI here, though, is much more advanced than that, to the point where it’s actually really impressive for the time. Troops will either be slowly patrolling the area or rushing out of the blue to take you on, either by spraying bullets up-front, taking plugging you behind cover, or even dropping down to the ground mid-fight. Some will throw grenades, while others may kick or throw your own back at you (they might even leap on one to sacrifice themselves for their allies!). Even the dogs will catch your bombs like a chew toy, eagerly returning it to sender. The “Jerries” are reactive and intelligent, but far from indestructible. They’ll flinch and flop around as you hit certain body parts, and their helmets
can even be shot off as well. The worst of the bunch are the ones with bazookas, as they can kill you with only one hit. A lack of saving mid-level makes these foes a particularly annoying threat. Aside from that, the game isn’t too difficult, and altering the difficulty will only tweak whether you’ll get any bonus health points upon entering a new level.
For the time, Medal of Honor had some damn good graphics and animations. Nowadays, they’re not so pretty. There’s the usual issue with things like texture-warping and a limited draw distance that can make being flanked a bit sudden at times. Fret not, as the orchestral, movie-like soundtrack has truly stood the test of time. The main theme is a heroic fanfare with a beautiful leitmotif, while tracks like “Taking Out The Railgun” and “Merker’s Salt Mine” are simply breathtaking compositions. Michael Giacchino certainly deserves a medal for its excellent music.
Split-screen multiplayer is an option for two and it works fairly well, but it’s no Goldeneye-killer. You can pick between a handful of maps and weapon loadouts for each player, but the nasty draw-distance covering the map ahead in shroud does not do it any favours, same with the lack of additional game modes. Still, it has many unlockable playable characters, some of which are downright bizarre. Ever played as Winston Churchill or an
Alsatian on its hind legs in a WWII shooter? Didn’t think so. There’s more fun to be had when the ‘Wacky Multiplayer’ cheat is unlocked, as this adds unpredictable side-effects when you collect your enemy’s ammo, making you levitate, fire reflective bullets, and so on.
Medal of Honor was no doubt a great shooter for its time, but it’s definitely showing its age nowadays. While the missions on offer are varied with their objectives, the layout for each map is rather streamlined and gunfights can feel a tad janky, especially in multiplayer mode. Its other merits, like its gripping storytelling, advanced AI and amazing soundtrack, still shine brightly after two decades. Admittedly, it’s tough to recommend to anyone without any nostalgic connection to the PlayStation. Otherwise, retro fans whom have a bit more patience for dated game mechanics will certainly get a kick out of helping end the Second World War.