First-person shooters are somewhat of a rarity on console systems these days, and ones that aren't ports of PC games, even more so. Rare's GoldenEye 007, Acclaim's Turok series, Lobotomy's PowerSlave, and Insomniac's Disruptor had been about the sole efforts, but now DreamWorks' Medal of Honor has been added to the list. This rare breed has a lot to live up to, since PC games like Half-Life, Unreal Tournament, and Quake III Arena have set high watermarks for the genre. Luckily for publisher EA, Medal of Honor isn't trying to compete against them, at least not directly.
Medal of Honor is set in the heat of World War II. As a member of the Office of Strategic Services department, you must infiltrate enemy-occupied territory, sabotage equipment, steal documents, and generally act as a monkey wrench in the Nazi's plans. Being an OSS agent doesn't only require you to be a commando, there will be times when you must don the cap of spy as well, using forged papers and Nazi uniforms to gain access to areas where a straight-on assault would fail. This sort of gameplay feels much like a 3D take on an old Apple II-era WWII adventure-game series: Castle Wolfenstein. It's true that id Software later brought the Wolfenstein line into the third dimension, but MoH is more of a 3D version of Wolfenstein than Wolfenstein 3D was. And as good as Wolfenstein 3D was, it was only a straightforward shooter. Medal of Honor's gameplay elements - masquerading as an officer, stopping troops from flipping alarms, and using passes - makes it feel more like an adventure game, such as Metal Gear Solid, than like a fast-paced blow 'em up like Quake.
Any developer trying to create a first-person shooter on the PlayStation is going to have a tough time (remember how GT skipped bringing Quake to the system?), and DreamWorks has certainly had some difficulty. The frame rate in MoH is rather slow, and the control is sometimes sticky, The visuals have an overall grainy look, bullet shots sometimes hang in midair, and pop-up occasionally causes enemies to just suddenly appear in the background. The game's sniper mode also isn't fully realized because the scope doesn't let you look any farther than you normally would, and because of that, enemies can see you if they're facing in your direction. At the same time, the enemy animations are really great. You'll see Nazi soldiers fumble for their pistols, or lob a potato masher at you from around a corner, or run screaming when you pull out a Panzershrek (or bazooka). There's a great number of excellent movements and reactions, marred only by the jarring mistake the developers made of having certain enemy troops fly backward instead of forward when shot in the back. But, back to the good side, the game's interface and presentation are quite noteworthy, with mission briefings in the style of old WWII newsreels and performance reports that look as though they had been typed on OSS letterhead.The audio of Medal of Honor is much more impressive than the graphics, in fact, it's fantastic. Ambient effects, like officers yelling commands and dogs barking off in the night, add to the feeling that you're deep behind enemy lines, while the creaking deck in the ship level and the onrushing clop of soldiers' footsteps add to the intensity of the experience. The music is also wonderful, with a cinematic score that builds and weaves with the action, much like the orchestral movements heard in an old war movie.
But nothing really adds to the game's realism like the enemy AI, which is more advanced than any we've seen in console first-person shooters before. The guards aren't always smart, but they're clearly smarter than the ones found in Metal Gear Solid, for example. They might not come running when a pistol goes off a few hundred feet away, but they do hear explosions, and they definitely don't forget you once you've attacked them. They'll also work in tandem to provide cover to troops that are moving into position to throw grenades at you, and if they see a grenade heading their way, they'll either run, kick it away, or a single soldier will throw himself onto it to save his buddies. There are also times when you'll think an officer you've shot is dead, only to have him get back up and fire off more rounds. And sometimes when you plug him yet again, he'll go down blasting off even a few more shots.
The mission structure is a lot like that found in GoldenEye 007, where you must accomplish a few tasks before you can exit the level, and sometimes additional chores pop up along the way. The missions in MoH begin short and then get longer and more complex as you work your way through, though they never get as elaborate as those in GoldenEye 007. And thankfully, they are never so long or so complicated that you'll feel like midlevel save points are necessary. The game has plenty of levels, which can be replayed to better your performance and gain medals, as in Activision's Tenchu: Stealth Assassins or GoldenEye 007. This adds a lot to the game's replay value (you'll go back to play earlier levels almost as much as you did in those two aforementioned titles), though the two-player multiplayer mode doesn't contribute much. Remember: Two people shooting each other with guns isn't a deathmatch; it's tag. If computer-controlled enemy units were present, DreamWorks might just have something with this mode.
Medal of Honor has its share of flaws, but it has a ton going for it, too. Its numerous little touches (did I mention that you can play as Winston Churchill, Rosie the Riveter, or Werner Von Braun in multiplayer?) add up to compensate for its problems. It's an excellent game and the closest thing you're going to get to GoldenEye 007 on the PlayStation.