Review: Medal of Honor

Yesterday I beat Medal of Honor. No, not the 2010 remake. The original on the PlayStation.

You see, a long, long time ago, people used to have to go to a store to buy video games. You know – the brick and mortar kind. You would look at the games on the shelves, see if they had one you liked, and then bought a “copy” of it on a physical medium such as a compact disc or cartridge. Most of the time the game stores only stocked new games that were popular and sold very well. After a while, they would get rid of their old games to make room for new ones. If they didn’t have the one you were looking for, you were out of luck.

Sometimes, though, people would get tired of their old games and sell them back to the game store. Then the game store would put them back on the shelf as a “used game”, mark down the price, and then resell it to another person. If you were lucky, you might find some really old, valuable game buried beneath piles of used Madden and Need for Speed titles. But you had to act fast! Sometimes game stores would stop selling games from certain consoles altogether, and then it was even harder to find the games you were looking for.

This is essentially how my gaming life worked between the ages of 13 to 18. My friends and I were gaming junkies, and we searched high and low for our favorite classics. This was before digital downloads were a big thing, so finding a phyiscal copy of a game you were after was like spotting a unicorn. We scoured bargain bins for anything that seemed valuable at the time. The older, the better.

As you may have surmised, this is basically how I came to own the original Medal of Honor for the PS1. Back when I bought it in 2005, Medal of Honor was still a somewhat cool franchise. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault was still a bad-ass game, and Frontlines was perhaps one of the most memorable console games I had ever played (not to mention it has one of the most stellar soundtracks I have ever heard!). So as was my habit, I wanted to go back to the beginning of the series and play the games I had missed.

Lo and behold, one Saturday I run across the game in a bargain bin at a random GameStop in Philadelphia. I buy it for about $3, take it home, beat about half the game, get stuck, and put it down. Then about seven years pass. I’m putting together my backlog and add the Medal of Honor entry. Hey, I never did beat that game, did I? Well, looks it was time to get it booted up again.

Medal of Honor is not a game that survived the test of time spectacularly well. The series had yet to hit its stride with Allied Assault, and Medal of Honor was actually one of the few first-person shooters ever developed for the PlayStation. In fact, of the dozen or so that exist on the platform, it’s the only name that sticks out besides its sequel, Medal of Honor: Underground, and the infamous Resident Evil: Survivor (hint: it wasn’t infamous because it was good). The platform, with its graphical restrictions and non-analog controller, simply did not make for good FPSs.

The being said, Medal of Honor tries its best, and I would say its an arguably passable FPS. The game progresses almost exactly like the later games in the series. The player progresses through a series of seven “missions”, all of which include at least three or four levels that take around 20 minutes to beat. The basic objective is to simply shoot at the enemy soldiers while also completing objectives that tend to fall along the main route anyway. If you reach the end of the level before completing these objectives, the game will warn you to turn around and try and find the discretely hidden switch you may have overlooked.

The game’s strength is its storyline, which was supposedly written by Steven Spielberg and takes some obvious hints from both Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. This epic-style storytelling of wartime heroism would eventually become the hallmark of the series, and its not surprising to see several story concepts and level designs return in both Allied Assault and especially Frontlines (which tended to be the more “theatric” of the two). Overall you begin to see the “Hollywood influence” of writing in video games in Medal of Honor long before it became an established trend, and its hard not to wonder how much of a say Spielberg had in the final implementation of the product.

That being said, I found myself fighting against the controls more than the enemy in Medal of Honor. The non-analog controls make it hard to aim the gun in any way shape or form, and “hitting” a target often meant simply firing at them at point blank range and then strafing until you hit your target. Later in the game enemies became astoundingly quick, making it even harder to play.

Small nuisances also plagued the pacing. Grenades are impossible to distinguish amongt the pixel-ated environments, making them a cheap, one-hit kill if you are not careful enough to listen for the sound of them dropping. The very short draw distance of the PlayStation made it impossible to see enemies before they were literally on top of you, and by that time a single guard may be able to take out half of your health. There were also some serious clipping issues with certain objects in the environment. Opening doors and climbing ladders was a nightmare.

All this might be more forgivable if Goldeneye 007 hadn’t blown the console FPS market out of the water a full two years prior to Medal of Honor‘s release. Good old Goldeneye had everything Medal of Honor was offering – fully 3D environments, mission objectives, stealth, and a developed storyline – and did it all in a prettier game with better controls and a multiplayer that couldn’t be put down. You tried your best, though, Medal of Honor. You tried your best.

Going away this weekend means I won’t be around for backloggery shenanigans. But who knows – I may just have something non-backlog related to post to fill the gap. I’ve been working on an article that I’ve been meaning to post for some time. Cheers!

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