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Game Name:  Medal of Honor: Allied Assault
Developer:  2015, Inc.
Publisher:  Electronic Arts
PC Release Year:  2002
Review Date:  August 10, 2013

Saving Private Ryan is an excellent and important film.  Not only did it help to popularize World War II in a way that had not happened since the bonanza of war movies from the 1950s and 1960s, but it did so in a gritty yet extremely human way.  It was a motion picture that made the horrors of war accessible to modern audiences, while putting viewers right into the middle of the action.  Unsurprisingly, video game developers rushed to cash in on the experience with a slew of historically themed titles that quickly filled the market space.  One of the first to do this was Medal of Honor, a franchise that helped to cement the WWII FPS as a steady fixture of the gaming landscape from the late 1990s through the early 2000s.  At the time of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault’s release (henceforth known as Allied Assault), the series’ third installment and first to PC was heralded as a truly unique and unparalleled gaming experience.  While that may have been the case in 2002, a modern playthrough shows just how tired the 1940s setting is and illustrates the extent to which the genre has moved past its moorings in the last 11 years.

The biggest disappointment with Allied Assault stems from how very little emotional engagement is created through either the main character or the game’s narrative.  In fact, it is safe to say that there is not much of a story at all; merely a string of elaborate historical set pieces that play out in chronological order.  Starting just before the invasion of North Africa during Operation Torch, the game winds its way through the war to end at a secret Nazi facility in the winter of 1945.  Between those two points, you will be able to do all sorts of cool things like impersonate a German officer at a U-boat base, assault the beaches of Normandy, and hijack a King Tiger tank.  The problem is, you will not care because you play the part of a lone wolf OSS agent and generally go it alone.  For those unfamiliar with the terminology, they were kind of like a hybrid between spies and special forces.  Even when you are afforded computer controlled compatriots, they are generally only there as a means of providing a greater sense of realism.  Unlike modern genre standouts like Call of Duty and Bioshock, there are no relationships that develop between the characters and as such, you do not care when they risk their lives for you or are gunned down by an enemy sniper.  Without the casual banter, jokes, and insightful talks you expect to take place between soldiers in combat, the game fails to deliver upon perhaps the most important part of the Saving Private Ryan experience.

While Allied Assault was undoubtedly at the pinnacle of production value during its release, dated graphics and questionable music tracks also detract from the experience today.  Visually, the game would not look so bad if it had been constrained to indoor environments where there are right-angled models and simple, but good looking textures available for use.  Urban environments were not where WWII was predominantly fought though, and it is in the expanses of Africa and Europe where the design falls apart.  The most noticeable example of this is the ever-present green or sandy colored environmental wall that cordons off the gaming space.  While primitive foliage models and overly generic earth textures try to hide this, the modern gamer will not be fooled into believing that this is one component of a wider world.  On the audio front, the quality of the sound is top-notch but the music caused me to raise my eyebrow more than once.  While I expected an intense instrumental track to remind me of the game’s dramatic settings, it is much less somber than what you would hear in a serious war film and more along the lines of the bombastic compositions in an adventure movie like Indiana Jones.  This unfortunately drives home the fact that your character is not a simple soldier caught up in a great and terrible conflict, but is instead some kind of Nazi stomping action hero.

Considering Allied Assault rapidly devolves into a one man battle against the Third Reich, it is a shame that the gameplay is only just passable.  The sniper rifle is one of the primary weapons in the player’s arsenal, but it is a little too simple for my tastes.  I tend to like shooting models that require compensation for breathing, gravity, and target movement.  You will not have to worry about any of that here, as the process is as simple as point-and-click.  The Thompson, which is the other go-to weapon, is thankfully more satisfying and challenging.  With a wide spread during automatic shooting and a small magazine, you have to stay conscious of when to reload while reminding yourself to fire in short bursts during intense firefights.  Whatever enjoyment that comes from the gunplay though, it is not a result of the computer opposition.  Rather than develop AI that could hold its own with a human player, the developers simply gave the German forces unreasonable accuracy.  If it were not so frustrating, it would be easy to laugh at the very common scene of an enemy solder throwing his arm around or over his cover to successfully shoot you repeatedly without looking.  This is at its worst on the city maps where there are countless areas for snipers to hide.  Fully expect to play portions of a level repeatedly until you find the enemy positions, because no matter what direction you run and jump, you will be hit.

As I have never particularly cared for the generic WWII FPS clones that have popped up over the years, I did not have high expectations for Allied Assault at the start of my playthrough.  Given the lofty historical review scores though, I definitely expected better than what I found, which was an absolutely shallow and unfulfilling title.  The problem ultimately springs from the fact that the game seems to have two completely irreconcilable threads.  On the one hand, it tries to accurately mirror the people, places, and events of a WWII drama, with all of the weight and gravitas.  Then on the other , it tries to provide an airy solo adventure where you are the person who singlehandedly brings Germany to its knees.  The end result is a fast-action thriller that takes itself way too seriously and ultimately lacks both character and soul.  It was honestly painful for me to complete Allied Assault and I would advise everyone out there to stay away.

Verdict:  Not Recommended