The Theatrics of Battle:
Medal of Honor is one of the FPS franchises that dominated the early 2000s. The first in the series came out in late 1999, but the sequels exploded in popularity and I remember playing LAN games with friends. We’d make strange rules and battle using them. We played a mode we made up in Allied Assault where we could only use sniper rifles without using their scopes and we had to reload after every shot. We called it “Revolutionary War.” It was good fun.
But that is not what this is going to be about. That was just me rambling. Medal of Honor moved to the PC in Allied Assault. It continued on consoles in Underground and then Medal of Honor: Frontline.
We’re going to talk about that one thing that you know that I know that you know that I’m going to talk about. I’m going to talk about “Your Finest Hour” when the Normandy landings take place.
This is the first level in the game. Medal of Honor’s first two games are also created by Steven Spielberg, the director of the fantastic World War II film Saving Private Ryan. Frontline continues that trend of being like that film. The long anticipation getting to the beach is very memorable. All you see is that horizon and you know that it’s deadly. After your boat gets hit and you walk up to the captain, the sound effects in this game blare off. I mean, they really, really go off. Bullets, bombs, airplanes, and the screaming of men flood your ears.
I actually went back to listen to players playing the level. I thought to myself, what makes this scene so intense? Why does this feel so much more intense than say, most of Modern Warfare 2’s intense firefights? The intensity of the moment would be completely different were it not for the thing that makes Medal of Honor and Call of Duty scenes so hectic: allies.
I don’t mean the allies you have in games like Mass Effect or Uncharted. The thing that sets missions like the Normandy scene differently is that, especially in the beginning of the game, you’re not really set out to be a hero. You’re a lieutenant, yes, but you can get killed just like any of those other NPCs who are screaming for their lives. At least, that is the intended premise. You don’t have a super ability or unusually convincing charisma. You’re just another man with a gun.
So, initially at least, when you first get off that boat, that onslaught of sound is frightening. The outright destruction is shocking. I mean, for the most part, this is not an experimental game, so the likeliness of you not being the main character is low. We get that, but in the moment? Hrm… all we see and hear is your allies under stress, in danger, and being slain. Oh, and we’re just like them.
I think that kind of joint vulnerability makes games feel like those wars and I believe it is one of the reasons why World War games tend to feel intense. In those games when your people were getting overwhelmed, there is no capital ship flying above from where we could call down the thunder. We don’t have lightsaber skills or magic to fight back. If we’re overwhelmed, that’s it. If our allies are dying, that’s it.
I understand how some gamers really want that “immersiveness” in video games, but I think there is also a certain amount of responsibility to let yourself be immersed as well. If little things are not right or not fulfilled, we can let them ruin the game. We also have the power to run them over with our imagination as well though. This is not to say that the developer doesn’t have a responsibility to fulfil immersiveness. So how did EA deal with it? If you look back at gameplay of Medal of Honor: Frontline, there actually aren’t that many men on the beach. But how many men did it feel like were on the beach? A lot of good game design is not about what is actually there, but what feels like is there, and Medal of Honor: Frontline’s first mission performs this very well.
The rest of the game is also very good fun, and we cannot forget about the great multiplayer. The music by Michael Giacchino is some of the best in any video game. Those songs combined with the events in the game can move you to tears. Alas, a major bad thing about the game is the fact that it can be difficult to obtain. You can get it for PS2, Xbox, or Gamecube if you still have those working. A remaster is available on Playstation Network, which may be the easier option.
If you really like World War II FPS games, I can definitely recommend this treasure. Right now it is number 128 on the Ultimate Loosely Thought Ranked Analysis, or ULTRA. A reminder that the games that make it on the list were on my Current Top 12 Games list at one point before they graduated to the ULTRA, so most of the time they’ll be worth playing if you’re interested. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time on Game Praisers!