Medal of Honor: Frontline
Medal of Honor was one of the best first person shooters to ever grace the original PlayStation. It provided great audio with realistic (for the time) visuals that was the recipe for instant success. Now GameCube gamers are treated to the third installment in the much-heralded series in the form of a PS2 port. While the game does provide the best World War II gaming experience on the Cube, its extreme linearity and choppy framerate keeps it from matching the caliber of first person shooters such as 007: Nightfire and TimeSplitters 2.
The first thing you notice after popping in Medal of Honor: Frontline is the great detail put into the game’s presentation. The opening cutscene combines great music with actual WWII footage, enhancing the patriotic atmosphere perfectly and making you anxious to grab a rifle and run into the fray. Even the game’s menus are stellar, as you cycle through game modes by sifting through items on what appears to be a general’s desk. After choosing a new game, you are sent to a debriefing room where a gravelly-voiced officer informs you of your upcoming mission objectives.
The first mission has you aboard a landing boat on the infamous D-Day at Normandy. The first time you play this level you will be in awe of the wonderful cinematic scripting that takes place during the chaos of the invasion. As your boat nears landing you see a neighboring vessel get bombarded by a German warplane, causing it to lurch to the side and strike your craft. Then, as soon as you touch ground, a huge explosion rocks your boat and everyone aboard is either killed or thrown into the water. Luckily, you fall into the latter category, and as you struggle to reach the surface, you see fellow soldiers getting killed by bullets piercing through the water. Finally breaking the surface, you scamper up the beach and find your commanding officer, and he gives you a set of objects to perform that will lead you up to the eventual conquering of the beachhead. Playing through this D-Day invasion mission is quite fun during your first run through, but after going back a few times, the main shortcomings of the level (and game) become very apparent.
First, the graphics are much too choppy. In nearly all of the outdoor environments, the game’s framerate takes a serious hit. Even more annoying, and baffling, is that the game actually slows down significantly in the indoor areas as well. It is especially noticeable when turning quickly, and often makes aiming much more of a chore than it needs to be. I’ve also played the PlayStation 2 version of this game, and for some strange reason the GameCube port chops up more. Why does Electronic Arts refuse to take advantage of the GameCube’s advanced hardware when they bring games over from the PS2? It may be smart business by EA to concentrate on the system with the bigger user base, but it certainly isn’t making them popular with the several million Cube owners out there. *steps off soapbox* Anyway, the choppiness of the graphics is inexcusable and takes quite a bit away from the game’s overall worth.
The actual environments are fittingly rendered, and are good representations of war-torn French cities and countryside locales. Many textures have the same ‘washed-out’ look that was in the PS2 version, but for the most part they portray the gritty war environment well. The architecture of the bunkers, houses, bases and other structures is above average, but nothing spectacular. The water effects (or lack of effects) are laughably bad, but luckily you won’t be forced to see them all too often. The character models are the game’s biggest bright spot when it comes to visuals, as they are wonderfully textured, even upon close inspection. Lips move perfectly with speech, and helmets can actually be shot off. Animation quality is also very good, and soldiers react realistically to the area of the body they are shot in.
Besides the choppy framerate, another problem with Frontline is the linearity of its gameplay; It just often feels way too cinematic. The developers never make you think as you progress through the missions, essentially forcing you to go in one direction until the end. This seriously detracts from the realism in the game. Even in levels that take place in war-torn cities, 95% of the doors you come across are just ”painted-on.” How is the gamer supposed to stay immersed in the war setting when every door to every house is just for show? Another big detraction in the realism is the fact that your squad mates cannot die. Yes, on the first mission you do see many of the allied troops get killed, but their deaths are all scripted. Every time you replay that D-Day scene, the same soldiers will get shot down in the exact same way. How unrealistic is that? Even on the missions where you actually escort fellow soldiers, they can be shot an infinite amount of times (by you or the enemy) and they will just fall down and get right back up, no worse for the wear. EA should have definitely taken notes from the way Bungie handled the marines in Halo.
Since the game is so scripted, the replay value drops quite a bit. It’s like watching the same movie over and over again. You eventually just get tired of it. Admittedly, there are a few things to keep you coming back for more. Gold stars as well as medals can be earned by killing a high percentage of enemies, and finishing the mission with over 75% life. The multiplayer can be mildly entertaining with four people, but the slow pace and bland graphics do hinder its enjoyment. The multiplayer levels are just sectioned-off portions of the main mission levels, therefore are not built with multiplayer in mind. It would have been nice if EA would have dedicated some time to creating multiplayer-specific areas, but I suppose it was just not to be.
The saving grace of Frontline’s gameplay is the fact that the ‘interactive movie’ you are playing is a fabulous one. You’ll find yourself in many different locations trying to complete a wide range of mission objectives. Some levels will see you infiltrating German-controlled areas (you even find yourself in a bar full of drunken, singing Nazis), while others will have you escorting an explosive specialist while he takes care of Axis tanks. The game is definitely worth playing through at least one time, as the wide variation of mission types drives you to see what the next level will offer. It’s only upon repeated playing of the game’s missions that the game’s linearity becomes a problem.
The control for Frontline is typical for any first-person shooter. Both the analog sticks are used in conjunction to control moving, looking and strafing. The button set-up is customizable, so fans of the Goldeneye arrangement can change the layout accordingly. The GameCube pad’s small ‘C’ Stick can be a bit bothersome when trying to perform precise aiming, especially when combating the perpetual framerate choppiness, but with practice it becomes easier.
The last, and least important, of Frontline’s problems is the lack of blood and gore. Now before you go off and call me a violence-obsessed Neanderthal, hear me out. In order for a WWII game (especially one that features the D-Day invasion) to be realistic, there has to be a certain amount of bloodshed represented. You don’t need to have over-the-top fountains of crimson erupting from every shot soldier as he falls limp to the ground, but you do need some sort of representation of how horribly bloody warfare is. Saving Private Ryan wouldn’t have had near the potency if it had eliminated all the grotesque realism. I understand EA’s concern that if Frontline would have been rated Mature, as opposed to Teen, they would have lost sales considerably. But, as a game reviewer I’m not concerned with what a developer or publisher does regarding sales. I’m concerned with the final product, and how well it represents the subject matter it is trying to portray. Frontline’s PG-13 taken on WWII just doesn’t cut it, and leaves the game feeling slightly empty.
Now, for the area of Frontline that truly excels, the audio. Gunfire, bullets whizzing by and other battle sound effects seem to have been lifted straight out of the film Saving Private Ryan. When playing the D-Day level you can’t help but duck your head instinctively at some of the explosions and bullet ricochets, especially if playing with surround sound. Even the squeaky sound of an approaching Nazi tank is reproduced so perfectly that it sends chills down you spine the first time you hear it. The voice acting for both the Allied and Nazi soldiers is superb and helps combat the choppy visuals and lack of realism. It wouldn’t be a stretch to place the audio presentation in Frontline as the best on the GameCube system.
Despite the overall negative tone of this review, Medal of Honor: Frontline really is a very solid first person shooter that will provide a good deal of entertainment for the first few weeks you have it. The game’s strong points are the presentation and audio, which do a marvelous job of immersing you into the WWII atmosphere. Unfortunately, the graphics are fairly lackluster for a GameCube game and detract a bit from the game experience. Another issue is a general lack of freedom, as missions are played out in an extremely linear fashion that takes away from the game’s realism. The multiplayer does add some to the longevity, but it feels slightly rushed and lacks options. In the end, Frontline is fairly good game that tries hard to be a realistic WWII shooter, but comes up a bit short.