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I’ve heard many people say Call of Duty 2 is the greatest World War II shooter ever released. Some even say the original Call of Duty, including the United Offensive expansion is the best. While I agree that those games are excellent, I don’t know if they quite reach the number one spot. Saving Private Ryan released in 1998 and is one of the greatest World War II movies ever made. I still remember watching the Normandy Invasion scene for the first time and being in awe from the brutality of what I was seeing. The Band of Brothers miniseries released in 2001 and it was during this time, in the late 90s and early 2000s, that World War II shooters saturated the video game market. In 1999 the first Medal of Honor was released for the Sony PlayStation and it was during a time when console first-person shooters were in their infancy. With a story created by Steven Spielberg, Medal of Honor took a cinematic approach which would carry over into its sequels, including Medal of Honor: Allied Assault which was also the first Medal of Honor game released on PC. Michael Giacchino had composed the phenomenal music scores for the series up to this point and I think his work is the primary reason why these games are so atmospheric.
When Allied Assault released I was in Middle School but I can still remember a kid at the bus stop going on and on about the game and how great it was. I didn’t have a PC that could run it at the time so I just listened and made a mental note to play it when I got the chance. It wasn’t until several years later when I purchased the Medal of Honor: 10th Anniversary Bundle that I got my chance to finally play it. The bundle also included the two Allied Assault expansion packs, Spearhead and Breakthrough. I think I played through the main game and the expansions in only two sittings and was captivated by the game’s cinematic appeal. I thought it was the greatest World War II shooter I had ever played. The Medal of Honor: Allied Assault War Chest was released on GOG in 2012 which includes the main game and the expansions and is definitely worth the ten dollar asking price. For those who have never played it, you might be wondering if it still holds up fourteen years later.
Like the previous two games, the main menu is like a command room of sorts where you click different parts of the room to access different menu options. It’s a welcome change from most games, including games today, that just list the menu options in text form. It’s also the game’s first way of immersing you into the experience. Before starting Allied Assault’s main campaign is a training course that shows you the mechanics of the gameplay. You’re guided threw each lesson by the voice work of Dale Dye, a captain in the U.S. military and a technical advisor for war films. If you don’t know who I’m talking about he played Colonel Robert Sink in Band of Brothers and even had a small role in Saving Private Ryan. In Allied Assault you play as Lieutenant Mike Powell, an Army Ranger and an operative for the Office of Strategic Services, abbreviated OSS. Just like the previous games, he’s a silent protagonist and becomes a war hero by the end of the game. There are six missions total that have you fighting Germans in various locations including North Africa, Norway, France, and even Germany, behind enemy lines. Each mission has several objectives and they vary from mission to mission. You’ll rescue a POW, infiltrate a U-Boat, drive tanks, and one mission has you invading Omaha Beach during the Normandy Invasion, the entire sequence being very reminiscent of the famous opening in Saving Private Ryan. This is probably most iconic mission in the entire game and is still one of the greatest set pieces in video games, period.
Before starting each mission is a briefing with stock footage of the war and every now and then you’ll hear references to previous games and even see some familiar characters. There’s no real overarching story other than it’s World War II and you need to complete your objectives. You’ll fight alongside fellow soldiers in several missions but there’s no real character development and if you don’t listen to the briefings you might not even know your character’s name. Nevertheless, this is how all of these games were at the time and the voice work that is included is rather well done for the most part. Besides the voice work in the briefings are characters or soldiers you need to meet with during missions and they’ll have a few lines but other than that it’s your typical soldier screams and groans. German soldiers will shout in German and overall the voice work gets the job done.
In the Spearhead expansion you play as Sergeant Jack Barnes of the 101st Airborne voiced by Gary Oldman. He gives monologues before and after each mission but Jack doesn’t speak during gameplay. Gary Oldman does a good job and you can hear the emotion in the voice work but much like the main game there’s no real character development and it’s just a story about war. Spearhead consists of three missions with the first two being the most memorable. The first mission opens with Jack and his squad members parachuting into Normandy behind enemy lines and borrows heavily from the jump scene in Band of Brothers. It’s not as intense as the Omaha Beach sequence in Allied Assault’s main campaign but it’s still one of the better missions in the game. The next mission takes place in Bastogne where Jack is required to assist the 101st paratroopers against relentless German attacks and at one point you’re running from cover to cover avoiding German artillery, another nod to Band of Brothers. In the final mission, Jack teams up with a small squad of Red Army soldiers behind enemy lines to infiltrate the Reich Chancellary building and defend a bridge.
Breakthrough is the second and weakest expansion of the two. You play as silent protagonist John Baker, a soldier from the 34th Infantry. This expansion also includes only three missions. This campaign takes you to North Africa during the Battle of Kasserine Pass before fighting your way through Italy in the Battle of Monte Cassino, the landings and defense of the beachhead at Anzio, and the battle of Monte Battaglia. The problem with this is expansions is that it doesn’t really do anything memorable. Yeah, it’s just more of the same, but in the end, the experience is mostly forgettable.
The missions in Allied Assault and both expansions each have varying objectives that normally include balls to the wall action like blowing stuff up, defending positions, or infiltration, among others. Sometimes objectives have you going from point A to B and require you to steal documents or obtain information or maybe you need to escort a soldier to a specific location. The action is broken up by some excellent stealth missions. These missions normally require you to dress up as a German officer and flash your papers at guards for clearance. It can be fun to just stroll right past German guards and then turn their day to shit as you blast your way back out.
Some missions require you to drive a tank or man a machinegun atop a vehicle and fend off German attackers. During the tank sequences in Allied Assault you can only fire the main cannon but these missions all boil down to trial and error because every time you turn a corner there’s going to be an enemy tank or anti-tank guns that normally shoot you before you can see them. In Spearhead and Breakthrough you can switch between the tank cannon and machinegun at will and these sequences are generally more pleasant.
Mission five in Allied Assault is one of the most infamous missions in the entire game, with players dubbing it “Sniper Town”. You navigate through a destroyed city and avoid sniper fire while trying to reach your objectives. The problem is that enemies have ridiculously quick reaction times and near perfect accuracy so not only does this mission boil down to trial and error but it becomes extremely tedious. You can’t always see where the shots are coming from and even when you’re looking in the right direction you may not even see the enemy. The problems with this mission actually carry over into the sniper sequences in the expansions. They all have the same problem. It’s tedious to navigate these areas and it’s made even worse by the fact that you can’t see these fuckers. It can be very easy to be surrounded by sniper fire because you couldn’t see the enemy or you’ve reached a certain point and now they’re spawning all over the place and you’re an open target.
As you play through the campaigns you can earn medals. In Allied Assault most medals are awarded for completing hidden bonus objectives but, unfortunately in the expansions, medals are awarded for just completing missions. If you’re really into the Allied Assault campaign, medals can be a cool incentive to replay missions but it’s just a shame that the expansions just basically hand them out. Ironically, Powell will never earn the Congressional Medal of Honor.
At your disposal is an arsenal of authentic World War II weaponry. You know, the typical guns like the M1 Garand, Thompson, MP40, Kar 98, but man, those reload animations are awesome. Watching the hands put a clip into a rifle and listening to it snap and clang is just mesmerizing. Both expansions include some additional weapons and Breakthrough has you using the new weapons throughout most of the campaign. You can only acquire new weapons that are specifically placed in the environments for you to pick up but you can’t pick up any weapons from fallen enemies. Instead, you’ll just acquire ammo. Seems like an odd design choice. In Allied Assault you can only perform a melee attack with the pistol but the expansions enable you to perform melee attacks with any weapons equipped.
Right from the start, you’ll take notice of the game’s cinematic style. The enemies’ scripted death animations can be cool to watch and the phenomenal music score can really get you pumped up during some of the more intense sequences. The enemy AI was pretty good for it’s time but as I play the game now, in 2016, I don’t know if the AI is really that good or more that they have quick reaction times and great accuracy. They’re not downright stupid but I don’t want to confuse smart AI with cheap AI. During stealth missions, if you’re detected, enemies will run to activate the nearest alarm alerting all the enemy soldiers to your presence but you can always shut the alarm off. Ideally, you’d want to kill them before they can get to the alarm. Whenever you’re accompanied by fellow soldiers they do a great job at killing enemies but will often get in your way which can become really annoying. A good example of stupid enemy AI is when I was slaughtering German soldiers with an MG42 and more soldiers would just keep running out and in the same pattern. In general enemies will take cover, lean out from corners, go prone, and do a decent enough job of avoiding your gunfire. Unfortunately, you, as the player, can’t lean or go prone in the Allied Assault campaign but you can lean in the expansions which can be helpful in certain situations.
Allied Assault and even the expansions have some great little details that really help accentuate the cinematic elements and immersion. When going for a headshot you’ll sometimes shoot the helmet off the enemy’s head. If a fellow soldier is injured you’ll see them limping along with you. Sometimes a mortally wounded German will crawl before collapsing to his death or maybe the German you thought you killed is still alive, on his back and firing at you with his pistol in a final effort to kill you. In addition to explosive barrels, if you shoot an oil drum you’ll see the oil come pouring out of the bullet hole. You’ll notice actual radios in certain areas playing music of the time and during specific stealth missions you may happen across several Germans at a table just shooting the shit.
Now visually, the game is dated. You need to edit the configuration files to get this running in widescreen but with the right settings, you can actually get the game to look pretty decent with textures looking really crisp. But character animations can be stiff and wonky, you’ll notice some glitches like guns and dead bodies floating in mid-air, and object pop-in is common. The short draw distance is one of the bigger problems. Not only does it suck that you can’t see that far but it really sucks when your getting shot from enemies in the distance that you can’t even see. Yeah, that actually happens. It’s very frustrating and I found myself constantly having to load quicksaves late in the game when I was up against a larger number of enemies. One thing I’d like to point out is that Allied Assault and its expansions have no single player stat tracking like the previous games did. You know, stats to track how many kills, accuracy, helmets shot off, that kind of stuff. This is more of a minor disappointment than a problem and I think I’m the only one who really gives a shit about it.
In addition to the regular problems of the main game, Breakthrough has all kinds of other issues. While Allied Assault and Spearhead have plenty of health and ammo scattered throughout the environments, Breakthrough seems to be lacking in both. I found that most of the new weapons introduced in Breakthrough can kill enemies much easier than those of the main game but by the end of several missions I was down to almost no ammo for most of my weapons. In fact I had used up all of my ammo in one of the later sniper sections and then I reached a point where I needed to avoid tank fire in addition to ground and sniper forces. Yeah, okay. Breakthrough also feels like a shooting gallery much of the time. And by that I mean many of the missions require you to blow up or disable guns but you always have the option to use them against the enemy beforehand. With that said, it seems like whenever you approach an anti-tank gun or even a machine gun nest, enemies just come pouring in. Every time. Sometimes in waves. And this leads to the problem of ambushes. Breakthrough has too many. I don’t mind them every now and then to add tension but if you manage to survive a hectic firefight leaving you with almost no health and no ammo only for enemies to suddenly come charging in from behind, that’s just annoying.
Getting shot in this game is one of the most aggravating things I’ve ever experienced in a video game, ever. If I’m constantly getting shot I’ll sometimes get angry to the point of screaming obscenities at the screen like a dumbass. You get shot, the screen briefly turns red, and your aim goes all out of wack and if you’re getting shot repeatedly, like from an automatic weapon, you pretty much lose control completely making it very hard to shoot back and defend yourself. Not only that but unless you can see the enemy or glance up at your compass you may have no idea where the shots came from. In addition to pointing you to your next objective your compass doubles as a directional hit indicator but this, ultimately, fails because you have to take your eyes off the action to look at the top left corner of the screen to see the compass, losing all focus on what’s happening. It’s even worse during the sniper sections. My method for success in these areas was to quicksave, walk out into the open and get shot, look at the compass to see where the shot came from, and then quickload and take out the sniper.
From what I understand, Allied Assault had a really active multiplayer scene back in the day and fans will still get games going even to this day. I have never cared much for multiplayer in any game and I wouldn’t have it played it much back in the day anyway. This game does have a dedicated following and there’s all kinds of mods you can find. They’re really easy to install and some can really enhance the experience. There’s mods for better textures, iron sights, and unfortunately for me, most mods are for multiplayer. But there are some good fan-made single player missions if you can find them.
In the end, even with all of its issues, I still think Medal of Honor: Allied Assault is the greatest World War II shooter to date. Yes, the first two Call of Duty games are great games, they’re more refined, and do several things better than Allied Assault. However, Allied Assault is unparalleled when it comes to atmosphere and most of the good outweighs the bad. It has quirks, annoyances, and glitches that keep it from reaching perfection but it also has some of the most memorable sequences no other war-based shooter can even come close to. When you’re not getting your head blown off by cheap AI enemies with sniper rifles, the game really shines with fun missions, great combat, and from what I hear, excellent multiplayer. Maybe it’s the frequent nods to the Hollywood depictions of World War II or maybe it’s just Michael’s Giacchino’s award-winning musical score but whatever it is, this is an amazing game and definitely worth the ten dollar asking price on GOG. So I’d highly recommend you obtain a copy.