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Medal of Honor was an excellent series before the developers fucked it up with that atrocious reboot in 2010. The series peaked in 2002 and then it was pretty much downhill from there. If you were one of the unlucky few who didn’t have a PC that could run Allied Assault back in the day, then Medal of Honor: Frontline was for you. One could say it’s poor man’s Allied Assault, or simply Allied Assault’s console counterpart but I see them as separate games. My favorite Medal of Honor game has always been Allied Assault and I think the next runner up would be Frontline, released in May of 2002 for PlayStation 2, Xbox, and the Nintendo GameCube. In fact I liked it so much that the only reason I bought the Medal of Honor 2010 reboot was because it came with a digital version of Frontline HD which was eventually released separately on PlayStation Network. With that said, this review will cover the original Xbox version and the HD remaster so let’s take a look.
Lieutenant James Patterson returns to kill more Nazi scum. For those who don’t know, he was the silent protagonist in the first game in the series. There’s actually somewhat of an overarching story here other than “it’s war, complete the objectives”. James is an agent of the Office of Strategic Services and you must battle through six missions and hunt down a dangerous Nazi named Sturmgeist who is the head of a secret Nazi project. The story really isn’t amazing or anything but just the fact that there’s a central villain makes this game a little more interesting than others in the series. As always, the voice acting that is here is decent and Germans actually shout in German. It’s all good stuff and your typical Medal of Honor shit.
Like most games in the series, each mission begins with a briefing accompanied by photos of the war. Each mission contains numerous levels and once again you can earn medals for missions by meeting specific requirements. You must earn a gold star in every level to be rewarded with a medal for that mission. Gold stars require you to kill a specific number of enemy soldiers while maintaining a specific amount of health. Failing to meet any of the requirements rewards you with a bronze or silver star. During missions you can press a button to bring up hints if you’re stuck and this is really helpful. These hints are usually specific and don’t interrupt the gameplay. Pressing the Start button will bring up your objectives.
The campaign opens with an excellent sequence where you invade Omaha Beach in Normandy. It’s very similar to the Omaha Beach level in Allied Assault and just like that level, this borrows heavily from Saving Private Ryan. Afterwards, you infiltrate a German U-boat, battle through Holland during Operation: Market Garden, before finally working your way to Gotha to face Sturmgeist. In that traditional Medal of Honor fashion, Frontline takes a cinematic approach and Michael Giacchino’s original music score is one of the greatest soundtracks in video games.
The levels contain a variety of objectives like planting explosives, stealing documents, rescuing people, escorting soldiers, nothing you haven’t seen before. Stealth missions return but they’re not quite as engaging as the ones found in Allied Assault. They lack any form of real tension and all feel very scripted but they can have their moments like spilling some beer causing two guards to fight while you slip out the back. Unlike Allied Assault the sniper sections in Frontline are not as horrible but locating the snipers can be a pain in the ass since they always seem to blend in with the environments or are hiding behind objects or structures.
An in-game video claims the AI is astounding but I wouldn’t go that far. Soldiers aren’t dumb as all fuck but they aren’t the brightest bulbs either. They’ll frequently run into walls and objects and stand in the same positions even after getting shot. Other than that they hop around, take cover, lean out from cover to shoot back, go prone, all the typical shit you’ve seen before in this series. If they manage to pick up one of your thrown grenades they’ll throw it back or maybe even kick it out of the way. If there’s an alarm nearby they’ll run to it and you’ll want to destroy it if it goes off. Believe it or not, the AI is better here than it is in Airborne. All of the enemy’s death animations are scripted and very dramatic but that adds to the charm. Shooting an enemy in the head and watching him touch the back of his head and then look at non-existent blood on his hand before collapsing is pretty cool and made me chuckle a few times. Yes, you can still shoot helmet’s off their heads and head shots are instant kills.
Most of your authentic World War II weapons are here and the reload animations are good but not as good as in Allied Assault and future games but they still get the job done. Unfortunatley, James reloads like an old man. I mean it’s painfully slow. Visually, the game is dated but it looks decent for an early Xbox title. When I first fired up the Xbox version, the game was extremely dark. So dark that I couldn’t see anything in certain sections. There’s no video options or a way to adjust the brightness so I had to up the brightness in the recording software. I think it may have been my monitor because I didn’t notice the problem playing on my CRT television. I did do some research and apparently other players have reported this game being very dark so maybe it’s not just me. Although, I didn’t have this issue with the HD version.
Now the sound effects are phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal. From the sounds of sniper fire, to the sounds of footsteps, this game delivers. When walking on the ground, each surface has a different sound and it really helps to immerse you in the experience. One level has you escorting a soldier through some farmland to blow up tanks and it’s hard not notice the ambient sounds of chickens and cows. Even the screams of dying German soldiers is fantastic like when they’re up high and you snipe them only for them to scream as they fall to their death. The sound effects are a key factor in making the environments feel realistic.
Frontline does have a bunch of problems that lie in both the gameplay and technical side of things. The compass on the bottom left of the screen not only points to your next objective but also doubles as your directional hit indicator, nothing new there. But just like in Allied Assault it has the same problem in that you have to take your eyes off the action to see where shots are coming from. This becomes annoying during sniper sections, especially considering that it’s hard to locate the snipers. The game poses a decent challenge up until the end of mission four when all of a sudden the difficulty spikes significantly. And I mean significantly. What makes it worse is that if you die, you have to start the level over from the beginning. There are no checkpoints. Dying at the end of levels can become frustrating. Some of the gameplay can become predictable. For example using almost any MG42 will cause German soldiers to come flooding out from somewhere. Obviously you can gun them down with the MG42 but it’s just so obvious. If you don’t man the MG42, the German’s don’t come. I guess it’s not a bad thing, it’s just predictable. The draw distance in this game is really short and just like in Allied Assault you’ll be getting shot by enemies you may not even see.
On the technical side, the HD version has more problems than the original Xbox version. However, both do contain some of the same issues like enemy death animations may be delayed, and the frame rate will occasionally slow down although that’s more noticeable in the Xbox version like when things get hectic or you have to run through smokey areas.
Before I get to the problems with the HD version, let’s take a look at the positives. In addition to a modern control scheme which also includes iron sights, you also have the option of the classic controls. The HD displays at a higher resolution and widescreen, it has some decent depth of field effects, and the lighting is significantly improved. The frame rate is relatively smooth and the gameplay is basically the same as the original game. There’s also an autosave feature now but you can still save manually.
Now the HD version has some significant issues and I’m kind of pissed that the developers didn’t patch any of these problems out. Right from the get go you’ll notice some serious screen tearing. The audio is of better quality but it’s all kinds of fucked up. Every now and then sound effects will just stop playing like the reload or ambient sounds and then maybe the menu music will become distorted. Even NPC dialogue would be missing. It’s really irritating. The sound problems don’t carry over from level to level but they will return as you keep playing. This version also has some annoying stuttering problem where every so often the gameplay briefly pauses for like half of a second or so but it’s noticeable. I don’t know if the game is loading or what but it’s really annoying and can throw off the rhythm of shooting. And last but not least is I noticed items like ammo and health just floating in the air. I really wish they released some kind of patch. I can deal with most of the problems but the audio issues become really irritating and can take you out of the immersion.
I had no real problem with the Xbox or PlayStation 3 controls but in the Xbox version, when you aim it brings up a crosshair for precise shooting. You can’t move around when aiming but you can lean which is helpful. As for the HD version, if you play with the modern control scheme, you can bring up iron sights rather than a crosshair when you aim and you can move while aiming but you can’t lean. So they both have their ups and downs.
The Xbox and even the GameCube version included local multiplayer with up to four players but I didn’t try it. I believe the HD version is a remaster of the original PlayStation 2 game since it does not include any multiplayer. However, all versions of this game include single player stat tracking which I think is really cool.
Medal of Honor: Frontline is an amazing game. Maybe not the HD version, but the original definitely is. It’s atmospheric, it’s fun, and if I had played this back when it released, I think I would have been addicted. It can feel clunky at times but it still holds up pretty well with some satisfying gunplay. It’s a shame the HD version has so many problems because the added modern touches can really help bring new players into a fantastic experience. However, I would still recommend playing the original first just so the HD version doesn’t leave you with a bad taste. But in the end, this game, and even the HD version, are still better than that piece of shit reboot. Frontline released when the series was at its peak and I would highly recommend this game to anyone.