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All About...
Medal Of Honour: Allied Assault
Preview

We will fight them on the beaches, then quick save and fight them on the shore. PC Gamer takes an in-depth look at developments....
Spielberg said: let there be game. And game there was. A Dreamworks PlayStation game, to be precise, called Medal of Honour. It was released. People liked it - especially people bored by the less authentic approach taken by most PlayStation games - and it was recently described by a veteran console journalist to your humble servant as: "Way, way better than any other first-person shooter that was around at the time." So - good news that it's coming to the PC then, yes?

Well, probably not. While direct console conversions can be playable and enjoyable, games are generally best appreciated on their format of origin. The great peril of cross-format development is that a game is created which doesn't play to any one system's strengths, so proves to be mediocre to all. And when it comes to ports from one system to another, being conceived so purely for one platform typically makes a game weaker on another. Look at - say - the PC versions of Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy. Decent entertainment, just not as transcendental as in their place of origin. Which should make you ask what on earth we're doing placing a conversion of a PlayStation game on our cover when - by our own admission - console conversions are not much cop.

Simple answer: Medal of Honour: Allied Assault isn't a console conversion. Here's what it is. It's an example of a trend that's been increasingly invisible in the last few years, but normally with games that originate on the PC: a brand re-imagining. Take, for example, the forthcoming PS2 game, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, which takes the core of Bioware's RPGs then entirely recreates it as something specifically aimed at the sensibilities of console gamers. This is exactly the same situation, but instead takes an extremely popular PlayStation property and totally recreates it from the ground up for our pleasure.

Take a few minutes to step over to your PC, load up PC Gamer 101's CD (or, for the more technologically able, DVD) and locate the Medal of Honour videos. While they're pre-caching, nip out and buy some pop-corn. Return to your seat, settle in and press play. Munch the popped corn. And watch what is clearly one of the most cinematically realistic first-person shooters of all time. To consider that this was even inspired by a PlayStation game is a mighty leap of faith.

This is the Omaha beach scene from the third campaign, and its filmic precedents are obvious, recalling the hyper-kinetic shaky-cam cinematography of Spielberg's opening moments from Saving Private Ryan - perhaps unsurprising, as the great man of populist film was behind the conception of the original Medal of Honour. Starting in the landing boats, you charge into the waters, seeing your teammates blown up and disembowelled all around you. Next follows a tense series of battles, explosions, tracer fire and all manner of man-death. It's enough to make you glad - if you weren't already - that you weren't born fifty years ago and had to do this for real.

However, no matter how impressive all this sound and fury is, it does cause some initial worries. It appears that to create this spectacle, developers 2015 have upped the ante of integration of scripted sequences from Half-Life, with all these spectacular events being pre-planned. The worry is that due to the sheer number of them, it'll make the Omaha levels little more than a military equivalent of a ghost-train, with you being led by hand from impressive moment to impressive moment - and your actions having little effect on them. For example, on the beach you see dozens of fellow soldiers die horribly - since it's impossible to save them, you have to wonder whether the interaction of merely keeping yourself alive, knowing everyone else is ultimately doomed, will be enough to motivate the player? It's a question we won't be able to answer until we actually sit down and play it for hours.

That said, it seems that Omaha beach is the level which most stretches the play elements in this direction, meaning even if these levels only succeed on the graphical front, there are still nineteen levels of authentic WW II action to experience, all presented with the blistering beauty of the Quake III engine. With more than a thousand character animations, all the soldiers move, fight and die with exceptional fluidity and grace.

However, the one area of fluidity we won't be seeing is that of body fluids (he means blood - Ed). While the spasmed collapses prompted by taking a slug through the chest are brutal, the anticipated sprays of gore are noticeable by their absence. The team is justified in their reticence in most cases, since a soldier shot in the front while assaulting a beach won't actually spray blood - instead a spray of dust springs from the backpack, since the slug is absorbed in the pack before it can create a jet of an exit wound. Equally, grenades are more likely to kill by their fragmentation rather than sheer concussive power. However, in the cases of face-shots, it's presumably the decision of Electronic Arts (the publishers) to avoid revelling in the sick joy of decapitation. Is it a wise choice? That's impossible to tell at this point, but it's sure to be one of the most debated points in the FPS universe this year.

Being set in the closing act of World War II, you can imagine a considerable amount of research was required. "Fortunately there is a wealth of information out there regarding WWII, which is not surprising since it directly involved three quarters of the world's population," notes Associate Producer Stephen Townsend. "It's crucial to maintain as much authenticity as possible while still making a fun game. We explore just about every research avenue available to us, from viewing countless hours of WWII archival footage to visiting the actual beaches at Normandy where the D-Day landings occurred. The involvement of our military advisor, Captain Dale Dye, USMC (retired), has been invaluable to the entire Medal of Honour series." Captain Dye served in Vietnam and survived 31 major combat operations before turning to an advisory capacity. He has also acted in similar military advisory roles for films such as Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, Wag The Dog, Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. As such, the game should hopefully avoid any embarrassing inauthenticities.

Missions were chosen, designed and given shape through what the team learned of the real conflict. As Stephen notes: "History is always better than anything you can make up, and we often use real events as a launching point for a mission. There are some very key moments of the European Campaign the game touches on - like Operation Torch in North Africa and the Normandy Invasion in France -but what can be even more fun are the missions that focus on real events or circumstances that were crucial in the progress of the war but perhaps not as well known to the public at large. For example, the second mission of the game puts you on the trail of new Nazi technology that will upset the balance of power between Allied shipping in the North Atlantic and the German U-boat fleet - something that could (pardon the pun) turn the tide of war in the Germans' favour if you don't put a stop to it. It's all real stuff, which makes it all the more exciting."

Equally, while Allied Assault stands separate to previous PlayStation Medal of Honour games, it's treated as an extension of the game's universe rather than a random collection of encounters. "It's important that each game in the Medal of Honour series tells a good story," adds Stephen. "For Allied Assault, we're introducing a new character, Lt. Mike Powell, who is a professional soldier and already involved with fighting the ground war when the game starts. He's a member of the elite U.S. Army Rangers, who were often on the front lines of the major battles in the European Theatre of Operations - including D-Day."

There's also all manner of little crossover in-jokes for the faithful. "If you remember back to the first game there was a plane shot down behind enemy lines carrying a G3 operations officer that Jimmy (the lead character - Ed) had to rescue. Your briefing comes via some intelligence gathered by the plane's pilot, who was rescued the night before in a daring searchand- rescue mission. Who rescued the pilot? Well, Lt. Mike Powell did, of course!" We'd have never have guessed.

However, there's also sufficient to keep newcomers entertained. On the multiplayer front, expect both normal deathmatch and team-based modes to be present and correct. All manner of heavy hardware will roll into view too, such as the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter, M3 half-track transporter and fearsome PZ KPFW VI 'Tiger' Tank. While not all are controllable, on certain missions you should expect to find yourself in the driver's seat. There are twenty-two (count 'em!) different human enemies to face, including Wehrmacht snipers, Kradschutzen motorcycle troops and - boo, hiss - Gestapo officers. Twenty-one weapons are available, including such faithful implements of hurtage as Thompson submachine-guns and .50 calibre mounted machine-guns.

Then - as any real devotee of urban WWII combat would know - there's the astoundingly devastating flamethrower. The more sneaky player is also able to don a disguise, confusing the opposition to allow you to move around more freely. And you'll know when something's gone wrong with unprecedented subtlety too. Due to the power of the Quake III engine, you'll see the change from friendly to hostile on the faces of your foes.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Medal of Honour is how quickly it has managed to reach its current state - it only started full development in August of last year. With a release date currently set for late November, it'll be interesting to see whether this accelerated development hurts the final game.

But enough of our cynicism. We'll know soon enough whether this will be the finest hour of PC shooters. Until then, just stick on your Saving Private Ryan DVD and use your imagination.

Also see our extensive earlier beachhead coverage, including movie.


- Kieron Gillen

 
Preview: 26-10-01
Edge checks out DreamWorks' videogame equivalent of Saving Private Ryan, and chats to the people behind this hotly anticipated project
 


17-9-01
Sniper
Watch Towers
Facial
Boom
Oops
14-9-01
Beachhead
Medic
Paddling
26-10-01
Nice lights
Zoom in
Shootout
Beach assault
Street smart
Not waving
Outflanking them
In the trenches
Wrong place



" The more sneaky player is also able to don a disguise, confusing the opposition to allow you to move around more freely. "

Screens

Storming the beach is a terrifying experience.

This section of the game is probably the most heavily scripted.

No day at the beach this. Except, of course, it is.

Stats
Est. Release Date
November 2001
Developer
2015
Publisher
Electronic Arts
Genre
First Person Shooter
Players
1-16
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