The explosion of World War II into pop culture coincides with Saving Private Ryan's arrival in theaters a few years ago. The horrific amphibious landing on Omaha Beach and the impassioned defense of a nameless bridge in a French hamlet have proven to be an invaluable source of inspiration to video game makers and producers. In the past year, an increasing number of games have been set against the backdrop of the greatest conflict known to man--with no end to the stream in sight. The popular Medal of Honor series, which originated on the PlayStation, is the perfect example of this trend. The game merges history lessons (albeit, ones of a military, rather than sociopolitical significance) with stealth-based gameplay and devious enemy AI. Developer 2015--the studio that produced the Sin add-on Wages of Sin for the PC--is familiar with the trappings of a first-person shooter, and it is eager to bring the series to the Xbox with a quasi-sequel, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.
We say quasi-sequel because Allied Assault branches off from the established Medal of Honor storyline. Instead of fighter pilot Jimmy Patterson (the star of the original Medal of Honor), you are seasoned infantryman Mike Powell. Like Jimmy, you're enlisted into the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) and assigned missions behind enemy lines. Through the course of the game, you'll guide Mike through a literal tour of the Allies' theaters of operation. You'll begin your service in December of 1942, infiltrating North Africa to help pave the way for Operation Torch. After that, you're off to Italy for the Husky and Anzio operations, then onto France for Operation Overlord (D-Day), and eventually, you'll wind up in Germany itself for the war's final days. Each of Allied Assault's 20 missions is broken down into a series of primary and tactical objectives that must be accomplished before you can move on to your next assignment. The missions also follow a pattern of stealthy insertions followed by difficult extractions that never seem to go as planned.
Historical accuracy has been an important factor in the success of the Medal of Honor games, and Allied Assault is no different. Powell's missions--though fictional--occur in the context of historical battles that actually took place, and they're based on what the Allied objectives were at the time. For example, the first mission in the game is set on the coasts of North Africa, and it has you using explosives to destroy the coastal batteries that protect Casablanca (the Allies' objective during the initial landings of Operation Torch). The game's vehicles are equally authentic--you'll encounter German Panzers and Tiger tanks, as well as V2 rockets, Messerschmitt 262 jets, and secret Nazi superweapons. You'll face a variety of foes that all feature appropriate uniforms and equipment, like Wehrmacht troops, Nazi Polezis and Gestapo, Volksturrm, SS Stormtroopers, and even members of Rommel's Afrika Korps. To top it all off, you'll have lots of authentic weaponry to defend yourself: You can choose from Allied weapons like the Browning automatic rifle (BAR), the Thompson submachine gun (tommy gun), and the M1 Garand and German weaponry like the Mauser rifle, the MP40 submachine gun, and the Panzerfaust. 2015 promises more than 20 usable weapons in all.
Don't think this extensive arsenal is an excuse to go Rambo on the Nazis, however. 2015 promises that Allied Assault won't stray from the established Medal of Honor formula--just like in the original Medal of Honor, the Germans display an often startling amount of intelligence. Walking out in the open without paying attention to who can see you will often result in a quick death. Your enemies are crafty--they'll toss grenades to get you out of an alleyway, and they'll even throw your own grenades back at you. They'll also work in squads to root you out of a foxhole, using suppressing fire to keep you pressed down in the dirt as they move to surround you.
The whole package in Allied Assault is presented with the same kind of cheesy patriotism that marked the American propaganda campaign during the war. The music is styled after classic film scores, and it features a booming orchestra that actually adapts to the situation. When you're under fire and running for cover, the music is nervous and fast-paced, and when you're sneaking up on some bad guys, it's suspenseful and subdued. The cinema scenes are styled after old newsreels, with an overenthusiastic narrator who revels in depicting the war as a struggle between good and evil. For replayability and historical atmosphere, your performance in missions gives you the opportunity to earn everything from the Purple Heart all the way up to the Congressional Medal of Honor, which in turn allows you to access special options and secret missions.
One question that Electronic Arts (Medal of Honor's publisher) has yet to address is whether or not the game will be compatible with the Xbox's broadband modem peripheral. At this point, we know that the game will have full multiplayer abilities on the PC, and that 2015 is designing the game with online features like deathmatch and team play, but there's no guarantee that you'll be able to play the game with fellow Xbox or PC owners any time soon, since Microsoft's online strategy is still up in the air.
Perhaps unsurprisingly (when you consider Saving Private Ryan's pervasive influence on anything World War II), Allied Assault will feature re-creations of the movie's famous sniper duel, bridge battle, and Omaha Beach assault. Running on Id's Quake III engine, the game displays curvilinear architecture and colored lighting effects that allow for realistic buildings and impressive depictions of foliage (individually rendered branches and leaves). There are lots of Half-Life-style events planned, too. In the aforementioned Normandy mission, you'll see squads of infantry mowed down by machine gunners. The characters that have been shown so far (a couple different types of German infantry and officers) are realistically textured and well modeled, though they aren't overstuffed with polygons. The tech demonstration did highlight that the game is already running at a high frame rate and should be well within the Xbox's capabilities.
Say what you will about old war stories full of clichés--including those ridiculously inaccurate stereotypes of absolute good and depraved evil--because it's all new to the younger generations. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and its ilk are a sign that the popular trend isn't necessarily negative--movies and games have served to restore an awareness of World War II among the general populace. And, in regards to video games, it's also served as great fodder for first-person shooters. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault looks to follow in the impressive footsteps of Medal of Honor, and it should arrive on the Xbox console shortly after its launch this fall.