Medal of Honor – can it stand up to Allied Assault?

The release of the bearded reboot of Medal of Honor is about a week away as of this writing, and we’ve got high hopes that it’ll be able to yank the franchise back into the limelight after years of so-so releases. If it’s going to live up to its title, though, Medal of Honor has some pretty big shoes to fill, and while it might be unreasonable of us, we hope we’ll be able to call it a worthy successor to its towering ancestor: Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, arguably the single most important World War II game ever made.

Above: With one of the most memorable beach-invasion levels ever created

Medal of Honor: Allied Assault was NOT the first to do a lot of things. It was not the first game to introduce hordes of computer-controlled allies into combat. It was not the first to incorporate a rousing score to complement the gunfire and explosions. It was not the first to depict D-Day. And it certainly wasn’t the first to do World War II. Heck, it wasn’t even the first Medal of Honor game. Yet it was the first to tie all of these things together into one of the most beloved WWII shooters of all time. With the next installment so close, we decided to take a look back at exactly what made Allied Assault so great – and to hope Medal of Honor can do it one better.

Developers using the early Quake III engine had a hard time with persistent and believable NPC teammates, and MoH:AA was no different. However, if any game should get a gold star for trying, it’s Allied Assault. The game even opened with the player character huddled in the back of a truck with a squad of Army Rangers, which turned out to offer a good, long look at what was to come.

While most developers might have gone the lazy way and destroyed the truck, with the player character being the only survivor (a la Half-Life: Opposing Force), we actually get to fight alongside the Rangers for the majority of the level. The result is a whirlwind of brief firefights, as your squad efficiently wades through the goose-steppers toward the objective. Some devs might have said ‘good enough’ and made the rest of the game a solo op only, but Allied Assault’s creators were pioneers. In the very next level, we were given as many as two persistent teammates. The mission after D-Day, that number grew to four. And in the super-hard, oh-my-God-are-you-freaking-kidding-me mission known to the uninitiated as “Return to Schmerzen?” You get a freaking medal for keeping at least five of your boys alive.

Keeping your men intact was an incomparable pain in the ass, and yet, we always felt the compulsion to do so… if only to give the enemy someone else to shoot at.

How is MoH 2010 going to stack up? In terms of gaming, it’s a long time between 2002 and 2010. Squad based mechanics have been done, perfected and redone countless times in countless titles. MoH 2010 should do grandpappy proud – though most likely on a smaller scale, because the setting isn’t D-day. Speaking of which…

Until the opening sequence of Steven Spielberg’s WW2 opus, Saving Private Ryan, it would have been difficult for the average person to imagine the horror on France’s beaches that fateful June morning in 1944. And no game offered the experience of ‘being there’ quite like Allied Assault did.

Sure, there was no blood, no dismembered limbs. Play it now, and you can see hard breaks in the level geometry if you go any further than you’re supposed to. There were never more than a dozen NPCs on the beach at a time. And yet… it was undeniably intense and terrifying. Dashing from cover to cover, tufts of sand our only indicator of how much time we had before being ripped to shreds. To our left we could see an American soldier who quit the advance in favor of the fetal position. It was breathtaking. Professional reviewers couldn’t keep themselves from comparing it to everyone’s WWII flick of choice. Here, see for yourself:

It was gripping, frightening, and as of January 22nd, 2002, the only experience of its kind short of actually having been there.

How is MoH 2010 going to stack up? Our own Tyler Wildecouldn't help but noticethat the Belly of the Beast mission was a definite throwback to that iconic June morning. While the atmosphere was more calculated than the ‘everybody run forward’ dynamic on the beach, it still plausibly recreated the sheer, unrelenting terror of the Normandy invasion, but in an Afghanistan scenario. While it does not carry the same weight of tens of thousands of troops invading at once, it’s not the scale of bloodshed that counts; it’s the thought of charging toward an enemy who holds a much more advantageous position and is far more heavily fortified than you are.

Above: This looks promising

Therefore, so long as the developers can capture the emotion of the Afghanistan war; the sheer terror of coming under ambush, or the frustrating perpetual waltz with the military bureaucracy – we could see a game as intense and gripping as the entire D-Day mission.