If you’ve read a history textbook, watched Saving Private Ryan or played any World War II game since, you already know what happens. The Allied army storms the beaches of Normandy in a dizzying flurry of boats, bullets and blood. Slow motion and stirring orchestral accompaniment drive home the point – this is some deeply significant shit.
What makes it special?
Never before had the mood and intensity of a videogame scene so closely matched that of a movie scene. The claustrophobic naval craft, slicing through the storm of spray and the nausea of waves. The soldiers, nervously chatting and then suddenly dying all around. The crashes, the explosions and the horrifying submersion. The brutal march across the sand, with shouted orders and pained cries fading into an unnerving and unnatural quiet.
Everything that you had witnessed in the opening of Saving Private Ryan, you were now playing in the opening of Medal of Honor: Frontline. Everything Tom Hanks’ character saw, you saw, and from a much more direct perspective. Console gamers had never experienced anything so stylishly cinematic and viscerally immersive at once – no surprise, since the level was lifted from the middle of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault on PC. Which, arriving full circle, was created by Steven Spielberg.
Holy crap, what doesn’t happen? In less than a second, you’re somersaulting over alien robots and demonic dogs, blasting assault rifles from both manly hands and exploding everything you see – walls, cars, buildings, power ups – into screen burning bursts of neon orange pixels. A second later, you’re crashing down the street in a stolen tank, and a second after that, you’re ducking as a missile firing jet fighter appears to literally fly out of your television. Before the end, you’ve annihilated a giant, three-story turtle (yes, turtle) with lasers and extraterrestrial maggots shooting out of its orifices. In the first level!
What makes it special?
As soon as you started Contra III, you understood why the Super Nintendo itself was so special. The console had launched eight months earlier, and the newest Mario had obviously proven its worth, but Contra III threw down the technological gauntlet. Complex background layers. Ultra destructible environments. High-quality music and realistic sound effects. Scaling, zooming, rotation and Mode 7. Mounted vehicles and massive bosses. A laser turtle, for God’s sake.
Contra III wasted no time. Contra III made no apologies. The SNES was the superior system of the early ‘90s and this starting level singlehandedly proved it.