|Dev: Dreamworks Interactive|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: November 11, 1999|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Animated Violence|
by Josh Wirtanen
There was a time when World War II didn't have an entire video game genre based off of it. Then one PlayStation game changed that: Medal of Honor.
Medal of Honor was the brainchild of Stephen Spielberg, of all people. His World War II hit film Saving Private Ryan had just been released and Spielberg was interested in bringing the same sort of grisly war tale to the video game world. Of course, that's not to say Medal of Honor was ever intended as a licensed Saving Private Ryan video game or anything, it was merely a project swimming around inside the head of the same person responsible for the film at roughly the same time the film was in production.
It's probably no exaggeration to say that Medal of Honor probably would never have happened if it weren't for a megahit of the console FPS world, GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64. MoH was greatly inspired by the sort of mission-based gameplay that GoldenEye had already delivered to millions of gamers.
But Medal of Honor did some things that were pretty groundbreaking. Of course, GoldenEye had already played around with the idea of mixing some stealth-type gameplay into the FPS formula, but Medal of Honor upped it a notch. There was a sequence in which players were asked to sneak into a railstation while dressed as a Nazi soldier. Instead of carrying a weapon, you held a forged passport in your hand. If anyone got suspicious, you would just show them your papers and continue on. But if you wanted to avoid the pacifist route, you could open fire and blast your way through. This kind of gameplay is becoming commonplace these days, but almost 12 years ago, it felt revolutionary. Gamers in the 90s were absolutely blown away by the fact that they had the option to choose between violence and a peaceful alternative. (Admittedly, the violence option almost always led to death, but it was still there for those who wanted to test their mettle.)
Medal of Honor also showed us a level of A.I. we hadn't seen before. If you threw a grenade at an enemy, it was quite possible that the enemy would either duck for cover or pick it up and toss it back. In 1999, it was exhilarating to see Nazis scatter at the sight of an expertly tossed grenade.
Looking back, this may not seem like anything to get excited about, but in Medal of Honor, headshots meant instant death unless you shot someone wearing a helmet. In that case, the first headshot would knock the helmet off, and a second headshot would deliver the killing blow. This made players consider more carefully where to shoot, and also made the weapons feel powerful and realistic.
And speaking of realistic weapons, instead of making a fantasy version of World War II like Wolfenstien 3D (Jetpack Nazis!), or incorporating silly touches like GoldenEye's golden gun, Medal of Honor went for a more realistic approach to its weapons. Every weapon in the game was a real weapon used in World War II. The Americans used American weapons (like the Thompson) and the Nazis used German weapons (like the MP40.) However, even as an American character, you were allowed to pick up German weapons from downed soldiers and try them out.
Multiplayer in Medal of Honor mostly followed in the footsteps of GoldenEye, with split-screen deathmatches. This was where the game stepped outside the boundaries of realism, offering several cheat codes to let you play as some pretty hilarious characters. Believe it or not, one code even let you play as a velociraptor. Of course, Medal of Honor wouldn't really compete with GoldenEye's phenomenal multiplayer mode, and it wouldn't be until Allied Assault released in 2002 that Medal of Honor would truly shine as a multiplayer franchise. Still, the fact that multiplayer was even included was a plus.
As groundbreaking as Medal of Honor was, it actually came dangerously close to not being released. Spielberg considered cutting the whole project when it started drawing heat from veterans. The game was intended as a tribute to the people who had served their country in World War II, but many saw it as insulting. One high-profile opponent was Paul Bucha, president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. A quick-thinking writer/producer offered Bucha a chance to actually try the game, ultimately making a believer out of even him and scoring an endorsement from the Society.
Medal of Honor has had an undeniable impact on the world of gaming. Thanks to this game, World War II became an entire genre, one that cranked out massive megahit franchises like Battlefield and Call of Duty. It definitely deserves to be firmly planted in the number two slot on our list of best World War video games ever made.
CCC Contributing Writer