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Medal of Honor Retrospective: Medal of Honor (1999)
Medal of Honor debuted on the original PlayStation in November 1999, published by Electronic Arts and developed by Dreamworks Interactive.
Medal of Honor was the beginning of a long running franchise that continues to this day. At the time of its release, it was heralded for its realism and gameplay, and it deserves all the accolades. I recently played through the game for this series of articles and was amazed at how great the game was, even today.
The basic story of the game is your character, Jimmy Patterson, gets recruited to the OSS after a series of events post-D-Day. You go on espionage missions to cripple the Third Reich from behind enemy lines. Within this framework is a rather fantastic game. The gameplay, as compared to current shooters, is rather basic, but it still remains fun and totally playable. It was actually rather shocking to see how well it holds up now. Shooters (first- and third-person alike) have evolved more than any other genre, and for an 11-year-old game to still be fun and relevant today is a minor miracle.
The game is pretty basic in actual structure. You receive a mission in a briefing room, you then go on the mission, usually done in 3 or 4 parts (or levels; either one is acceptable). Inside this basic structure, though, there are still bits of innovation. There are several levels where you never shoot a gun, but they’re hardly the stealth levels of today. You use found official papers to get through heavily guarded areas, using smarts instead of brute force. It’s something that shooters have forgotten to do, and it’s something that lends a lot of character to the game. Anyone who’s played the game will recall the phrase “your papers are in order!”
It’s hard to find too much fault with the presentation, since the game is 11 years past its release. The graphics are not pleasing to the eye anymore, the draw distance is laughable at best, and voice audio is used sparingly throughout the game. But those are the worst parts. The sound, especially the utterly fantastic score by Oscar- and Emmy-award-winning composer Michael Giacchino, truly stands out, and it’s been a hallmark of the franchise ever since. The guns still sound powerful, and while explosions may not look great, they sound deep and thunderous. In the sound department, Medal of Honor still holds up to games today.
The game play also holds up. The gun play is quite basic now, as iron sights had not been introduced into gaming at the point when this game was developed. Due to the limits of the PlayStation, only a handful of enemies could be on screen at once, so you never face more than 3 enemies at a time, which makes some areas fairly easy to clear. The game is also quite short and extremely linear, which aren’t faults at this point, just observations.
Despite any possible setbacks there might be due to the age of the game, it’s well worth playing, if for no other reason than to see how this venerable franchise got started.
Medal of Honor Underground came out less than a year later (October 2000) by the same publishing and development team as the original. The game was a marked improvement on almost every aspect of the first one. With more detailed graphics (for its time, of course), a new protagonist in Manon Batiste (herself a character in the first game) and more missions, everything that made the first game good is here and arguably better. It is the typical video game sequel that improves on the original.
In the end, the original Medal of Honor (and its sequel/prequel Underground) are still engaging to play, even 11 years after their release. I was stunned at how playable the games were, despite the state of the shooter genre today. So many games in the genre nowadays have taken so much from these games that it’s worth playing solely to see where they came from and how much they’ve evolved. Even without that aspect, they are great fun and highly recommended.
A landmark game, not to be missed.
Next week: the Medal of Honor franchise comes to the PC in the landmark title Medal of Honor Allied Assault.