The award-winning film Saving Private Ryan influenced several levels in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, and the new Allied Assault expansion pack, Spearhead, also draws inspiration from that movie, as well as from the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. However, in what might be a first in the history of computer gaming, Spearhead is almost shorter than the film that inspired it. The single-player campaign is dense, exciting, and only three-and-a-half hours long. So if you were thinking about picking up the game, you may have to decide whether or not a few hours of great single-player gaming and some new but not earth-shattering multiplayer features are worth 30 bucks.
Spearhead begins with a scene that could have been taken straight out of Band of Brothers: It's D-Day, and you're on a transport plane that will soon drop you into Normandy. As explosions rock the aircraft, you stand up, perform an equipment check, and then take your turn jumping out of the plane. Once outside, you descend 3,000 feet through a chaotic sky full of other paratroopers, AA tracers, planes, and bursting shells, finally crashing through the roof of a barn crawling with Nazis. The entire episode is presented seamlessly, and it's one of the most impressive opening scenes ever created for a first-person shooter.
What follows are nine levels spread across three missions in France, Belgium, and Germany. Like Allied Assault, Spearhead doesn't offer much in terms of plot, opting for straightforward missions that aren't interrupted by a great deal of pointless exposition. Most of Allied Assault's gameplay highlights are revisited with new environments and a few tweaks. For instance, in one level, you drive a Russian T-34 tank through the destroyed streets of Berlin. However, the tank controls have been changed a little since Allied Assault--you can now operate the machine gun mounted on the turret, as well as the main cannon. In another example, instead of having you run from cover to cover at Omaha beach, Spearhead features a level in which you scramble between foxholes as a forest in Ardennes explodes around you.
Spearhead offers the same successful mix of fast-paced squad-level combat and eventful, heavily scripted levels that characterized Allied Assault, though a few of Allied Assault's less successful elements have been removed or fixed. For instance, there are only a few sections of Spearhead in which you're without some sort of computer-controlled squadmates. The deadly accuracy of enemy snipers has also been toned down to the point that they're no longer extremely frustrating, as they were in the original game. You can also lean to the side in the single-player campaign, which makes dealing with snipers even less of a frustrating problem.
Spearhead doesn't noticeably improve on Allied Assault's visuals, but the graphics that looked great 10 months ago are still just as impressive. The expansion does add a few brand-new and intriguing environmental effects, such as trees that snap in half as you pound them with mounted guns. The sound effects and the original's excellent music have likewise been left unimproved and were likewise not in need of much improvement.
Allied Assault's multiplayer component is already very popular. But if you're not a fan of it yet, there isn't anything in the expansion that will change your mind. Spearhead features 12 new maps (13, if you include the Malta map that's currently available only in the playable demo but may be imported into the full game with a future patch), one new game type, some relatively inconsequential new weapons, and a bunch of small adjustments to both its interface and gameplay.
These gameplay tweaks include relatively minor things such as no longer being able to move while leaning. However, the most noticeable change that Spearhead makes to Allied Assault's multiplayer component is an increase in overall character movement speed. This may be to compensate for the larger maps (most of them are bigger than the biggest Allied Assault map, and Malta is the biggest and most mazelike). As it happens, Allied Assault's relatively reasonable foot speed helped it seem much more enjoyably realistic, so the speed boost is jarring and unwelcome. You can explicitly set servers to use the old, slower pace, but it'd be better if this were the default setting rather than an option.
All of Spearhead's maps are at least pretty good. Almost every one is set in an urban area and features either the "main thoroughfare through a gauntlet of buildings" or "courtyards surrounded by sniper spots" design theme. Thankfully, no attempt has been made to include any flat outdoor levels like Allied Assault's least popular map, Snowy Park, though a new map called Holland, which features almost no buildings you can enter, may take Snowy Park's place in Medal of Honor infamy.
No new objective-based maps are included in Spearhead. Instead, there are four new maps that support a new game type called "tug of war." This is essentially an objective game with multiple objectives that can be captured by either team until one team finally holds them all simultaneously. In addition, each team's spawn point can be permanently destroyed, at which point that team must complete the objectives without the benefit of respawning reinforcements. Tug of war is a nice evolutionary advancement on the objective mode, and as such, you probably won't mind the lack of new strictly objective-based maps.
Spearhead includes more than 20 new weapons. But for the most part, the new guns don't change the game too much. The weapons are still organized in the same six categories, but the available weapons now change according to which character you pick. For instance, while US soldiers have access to the Colt .45, British soldiers get the functionally similar Webley revolver. Every gun that doesn't already have a secondary firing function can now be used to perform a melee pistol-whip attack. There are also new stationary weapons mounted around the levels, such as an operating Flak 88 cannon in the Berlin map. Perhaps the most dramatic new weapon--the Gewehrgranate, which is a Mauser with a grenade launcher attached--is currently available only in the Spearhead demo, though there are plans to patch it into the full game at some point.
Spearhead's multiplayer interface features a couple of noticeable improvements. Votes for kicking players, changing maps, and altering virtually every major server setting can now be called up using a straightforward menu system rather than the cryptic console commands required in Allied Assault. In addition, a comprehensive filter system has been added to the built-in server browser, though the browser still doesn't support any kind of bookmarking for your favorite servers.
Essentially, Spearhead's single-player campaign is a lot like the one in Allied Assault, but refined and distilled down to its best parts. Unfortunately, this distillation has resulted in an intense game that's short even by the abbreviated standards set by other expansion packs. On one hand, Spearhead's quality makes it easy to recommend. But on the other hand, you might find it tough to justify paying $30 for it, because if you're not interested in its new multiplayer features, Spearhead will essentially amount to a short afternoon of entertainment.