|If you saw (and loved) "Saving Private Ryan" and wanted
it to be a videogame, you're in luck. Medal of Honor, from Dreamworks, has
transformed World War II into a first-person shooter for the PlayStation. Although
it's decidedly less graphic than "Saving Private Ryan," you can still
get a fair idea of what it might be like to be a member of the O.S.S. in WWII.
You take on the role of Sgt. James Patterson, who's been recruited into the
O.S.S. because of his marksman skills and quick wit. You're given 7 missions
to accomplish, each of which is made up of several levels. Some missions require
you to find something. Others have you doing demolition work. You'll sometimes
go undercover, wearing the uniform of a German officer to get inside enemy
headquarters. In every case, you'll carry a number of weapons with you, ranging
from a small, silenced pistol to a bazooka.
From the moment you boot your PlayStation,
it's very apparent that a lot of work went into the overall presentation
of the game. From the packaging to
the game's loading screens, everything has a 1940s look and feel. Even the
game's save screen is made to look like a confidential O.S.S. document. The
level designs are some of the best I've seen in a console first-person shooter.
The layouts are logical while remaining challenging. The enemy soldiers may
not look great compared to other games, but the artificial intelligence that
drives them is second to none. Throw a grenade at a soldier and he doesn't
just stand there and die. Nope. He might run away or pick it up and throw it
right back at you. He's definitely not going to die like a lifeless stick figure.
When you're undercover and suddenly pull a gun on a soldier, he might exclaim, "Sir,
you're confusing me!"
of Honor also excels in the sound department. The background music is
a full, orchestral soundtrack that sounds like it was scored by John Williams.
It wasn't, but it's so good you can actually buy the CD soundtrack for the
game. The sound effects are chillingly atmospheric. You'll hear German voices
all around you in the cold, night air as you sneak around a town late at night.
You'll hear the dogs that are chasing you through a sewer system as if they're
right behind you. The sound effects, along with the music, really add to the
experience that the game works so hard at creating.
The game's 3D graphics are very
ambitious, but are let down by the aging PlayStation hardware. The game's
levels are very dark and suffer from extreme pixelization.
When in the distance, enemy soldiers seem to emerge from a fog bank and then
retreat again. Once, while looking through the game's sniper scope, I watched
soldiers on a bridge run back and forth in one spot, disappearing and reappearing
as if they were cloaking and de-cloaking like in "Star Trek." Another
graphical quirk occurs with bullet holes that will hang in mid air occasionally.
Really, though, these are minor quibbles considering that they affect the game's
atmosphere more than the actual gameplay. It's just a shame that the game's
lofty goals of creating such a lush and immersive experience are let down by
a five-year old console's graphical limitations.
The controls are pretty good, considering
that first-person shooters tend to lend themselves to a much more complicated
(and flexible) control set-up
than a single PlayStation controller can provide. Although the Dual Shock controller
isn't a match for a mouse and a keyboard, Dreamworks has done a very good job
getting the most from the controller. The left analog stick moves you forward
and backward, with the speed controlled by the angle of the stick. The right
analog stick controls your vision. The X button is the "shoot" button.
The square controls any actions that may need done, like opening doors and
setting explosives. The circle button cycles through your weapons and triangle
button is the jump button. Strafing is done via the L1 and R1 buttons. L2 is
a crawl/crouch button and R2 is a look/aim button. On a standard controller,
the look/aim function becomes critical, as it makes up for the lack of the
right analog stick. There is a problem with the game's programming that causes
the analog controller to shut off periodically. It's damn unnerving when you're
trying to line up a shot and realize that you've got enemy soldiers bearing
down on you and the controller's not responding. I spent a lot of time playing
with a standard controller and that alleviated the problem for me.
The biggest problem with this game is that -- since it is so well-crafted
-- the minor problems stick out more than they would on a lesser title. On
a console with a bit more horsepower, this could have been one of the greatest
first-person shooters ever. For now, it has to settle for being the greatest
PlayStation first-person shooter ever. That's still not such a bad thing.
If you've got the slightest notion of playing Army on your PlayStation, forget
the Army Men series and pick up this game. Medal of Honor deserves a place
in your PlayStation collection.