Staring through the sniper scope of my Gewehr 43 rifle, I could see the silouhette of a German soldier perched atop the roof of a building in the near distance. He had already taken out one of the Britsh troops directly to my right. Now I saw him reloading his weapon. He would take aim at me next. He probably assumed I couldnt see him from my position. I lined up my shot calmly, knowing from firsthand experience that it took at least four seconds to fully reload the Gewehr. Three of the seconds were up. By the fourth second, I saw the soldier bring up his rifle. I knew he was aiming for me, but it was too late. I had already pulled the trigger. The sound of a single bullet exploding from the long barrel of the gun echoed through the streets of the burned, broken city.
The German soldier pulled his rifle back. I watched place his hand against the spot where the bullet had hit. Confused, he observed his blood-soaked hand for a brief moment, before weakness overtook his body. He then tumbled from the rooftop, disappearing behind mounds of rubble in the street below.
This area was clear. The remaining British soldiers began moving ahead, and I followed, checking the surroundings for any more snipers, as we moved toward the next quadrant of the city, where I knew more soldiers were pinned down by tanks.
Depending on ones view of World War II, the above passage represents either an adventure or a horrifying and tragic experience. The astonishing thing about Medal Of Honor: Frontline is that it successfully portrays it as a little bit of bothastonishing because none of the earlier installments in the Medal Of Honor series quite captured the true essence of World War II.
Barely half a century has past since the war ended, but the conflict has garnered a mythic quality. As more of the veterans of WWII are dying, and as more books and movies on the subject are being produced, it is easy to lose the human element and focus only on the great struggles. We can see the great machines of war, both large and small, in history books and museums, but can we imagine the trembling hands of a young soldier as a grips a Thompson machine gun, desperately pressing his face against the dirt to avoid enemy fire? The myth of World War II neglects these aspects; rather, it only tells of the epic struggle between the Allies and the dreadful German war machine, sweeping over Europe and threatening the entire world.
Strange that a videogame can bring so many of the little details of World War II together in such a convincing fashion. The original PlayStation installments of the Medal Of Honor series held its own as a unique first-person-shooter, but Frontline creates the atmosphere of the time period in a way that no historically based videogame has been able to accomplish.
The setup of the game is the same as in the previous titles. Gamers take on the role of a single operative, this time returning to the role of Jimmy Patterson (who took center stage in the original Medal Of Honor) and play their way through a series of missions. Unlike previous installments in the series, Frontline focuses itself on a single storyline. Whereas Medal Of Honor: Underground, the second in the series, took a players globe trotting to such places as Greek islands and North Africa, Frontlines setting remains in Europe. Patterson is uncovering the German development of a "flying wing," the
HO-IXan experimental plane that was produced by the Germans during World War II but never actually used. It is Pattersons mission to stop plans for the HO-IX and prevent the war from turning in Germanys favor.
Frontline has a James Bond-style plot (except set during World War II), and this is where Frontline could have lost its authentic connection with the time period. It would have been easy for the game to spin into some tour of intrigue and deception, with World War II going in the background. It could have focused more on the sinister behavior of Nazi generals and weapons of mass destruction. It would have been easy for Frontline to fall toward the mythical side of the war. But gamers will see right from the start that Frontline is not only different from the previous two titles in the series, it is also different from anything they have ever played.
While Frontline does retain a good deal of the clandestine missions of the previous installments, gamers get to experience World War II for what it really was. Many of the game elements help increase this experience. Moving along war-torn streets with a host of friendly soldiers, then watching as everyone scatters to a safe position for a firefight gives a gamers the sense of being in the middle of something bigger than themselves. The sounds of the gunfire and weapons being reloaded are so authentic they put the gamer right into the time period.
Aside from looking and sounding authentic, Frontline creates something else that makes a war realistic: a sense of loss and tragedy. This is done through the musical score. Micheal Giacchino, the same man who has already built credit in the previous two installments of the series, produced the soundtrack. With Frontline, however, Giacchinos score for the series has matured, reflecting not so much on adventurous escapades but on solemn heroism. Its one of those soundtracks thats good enough to run chills down a persons spine every once in a while. In the opening passage I described a scene from a stage in the game called "Arnhem Knights." In this stage, Patterson must help groups of British soldiers pinned down in a ruined Holland city by hordes of German troops. The scene is very intense, involving heavy gunfire and lots of destruction. It would have been easy to add an upbeat score, full of heavy percussion and sweeping melodies. Instead, Giachinno composed a slow, solemn choral piece that truly affects the way a gamer views the scene. The music choice makes a world of difference in outlining the tragedy of the violence. Of course, the score still has several passages of Indiana Jones-style adventure melodies to pick up the pace of the score.
If anything holds Frontline back from perfection, its the heavily scripted stages. Enemies and actions all happen in the same manner, no matter how many times a stage is played through. After a couple times through the same stage, its easy to predict what enemy will be where and what is going to explode next. The game also feels a little jerky at times, depending upon what is happening. Most of the time the game flows smoothly, but every once in a while movement will feel a little less than seamless.
But a few graphical hiccups cant hold back high quality of Frontline. When a game can capture both adventure and tragedy in an authentic wartime setting, it is something special. The Medal Of Honor teams first installment for the PlayStation 2 proves that videogames can create something meaningful. Frontline is not only a fun game to play, but it serves as a tribute to the sacrifice that many young people made not so long ago. Frontline represents World War II as many remember it.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.