If you ever owned a PlayStation, chances are you tried the original Medal of Honor, a first-person shooter set in World War Two that registered on the realistic end of the action game spectrum. If you never got into consoles, chances are you at least heard about the game, because it and its sequel won a helmet full of awards. In either case, you probably also said to yourself, "damn, this would be such a killer PC game!"
You were right.
In 2015's well-crafted shooter, you play the role of Lieutenant Michael Powell, an American Ranger officer who manages to switch between covert operations, beach assaults, patrols, sabotage, and even tank command missions during the course of the single player game. You begin in North Africa, with the task of taking out German artillery covering an invasion beach. In subsequent multipart missions, you hit the highlights of Nazi sub pens in Norway, Omaha Beach, the Norman Bocage, and ruined villages, picturesque German towns, and secret factories and underground research centers. Each locale has several sections, covering as different situations.
There's no carry-over between missions, and there's no story branching. Still, the missions themselves are well thought out, and offer extraordinary variety. In North Africa, after storming a town, rescuing a prisoner, and making your escape, you man the machine gun in the back of a jeep, strafing up an airfield. In France, you'll rescue a tank crew, capture a King Tiger tank, and then troll through a village infested with Nazi troops and Panzers. Some missions are straight up firefights, while others require a modicum of stealth, though as in most shooters killing everything that moves is always an option, and usually a good one. Most of the time, you'll find a use for all of your weapons, and success will require a judicious mix of fight, flight, and tactics. The enemy AI is good, though sometimes supernaturally accurate.
The good enemy AI is a godsend, because Medal of Honor is first and foremost a game about combat. Luckily, that's where the game excels. The weapons feel superb, and are among the best ever featured in a real-world first-person shooter. The M1 Garand packs a wallop and has a satisfying sound and impact, while its 8-round clip that you have to exhaust before reloading is a real limitation. The Thompson SMG tosses enemies around like a rag-doll, but lacks range, while the 1903 Springfield sniper rifle is deadly accurate at range but terrifyingly slow in closer actions. You can pick up German weapons too, and you'll often find yourself using the MP40 SMG and, much later, the assault rifle. Grenades play a vital role as well, and you can use both Allied and German varieties. They bounce realistically, and have reasonable areas of effect. This isn't a wargame, though, so grognards will have to forgive the fudging here and there, like generic ammunition, health power-ups, and a rather durable character.
Unlike Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Medal of Honor eschews zombies, the occult, cyborgs, and other sci-fi trappings. The secret weapons you encounter are all drawn more or less from history, and the Nazis you kill are all flesh and bloodand definitely not undead. There's always a danger that such verisimilitude can lead to stagnation and boredom, but that doesn't happen here. There are many different types of enemies, from Afrika Korps regulars to fresh-faced garrison troops, to steely paratroopers and vicious SS grenadiers. They speak in German, which adds immensely to the atmosphere, as do the authentic posters and magazines from the era, which make up some of the background scenery.
Your mission objectives are varied as well, ranging from your basic get from here to there tasking to stealing plans, blowing up guns, and freeing prisoners. Many of the missions include friendly forces beyond your control, and often they can be of some assistance. You can't kill them even if you try, though the enemy can, and in some cases you have to keep them alive to succeed. The game keeps you informed of your objectives, and rarely are you at a loss. You'll know, for instance, that you have to take out a machine gun nest, but working out how to go about it, and then finally doing it, is what makes Medal of Honor so entertaining. The only real puzzles are a couple of timing and navigation challenges towards the end of the game that are more annoying than entertaining.