Medal of Honor: Frontline for PS2

Overall (not an average):

Developer: EALA
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: Playstation 2, Xbox, GameCube (Reviewed on PS2)
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

With Frontline, the Medal of Honor series returns to its console roots, once again placing you in the role of Lt. Jimmy Patterson of the U.S. Army, assigned to the invasion of Omaha Beach during Operation Overlord (D-Day, to the uninitiated). After the mad dash across the bullet-riddled and blood-soaked sands of Normandy, you're called back into service by the OSS, and sent on a series of missions deep behind enemy lines as part of the Allied press to crush the German war machine in the latter stages of WWII. From stowing away on a U-Boat to stealing an experimental Nazi jet fighter, the difficulty is high, but success means the end of tyranny in Europe.

This game has seen its share of accolades, but I figured one more log on the fire never hurts. Hands-down, this is the best FPS available on the PS2. Period. It also happens to be one of the best FPS games on any platform that I've had the pleasure of playing. Coupled with that is a level of historical accuracy and attention to detail that goes above and beyond what any other game focused on the second World War has ever presented. The nineteen missions cover actual events of the war, from the disaster that was Market Garden to the bottleneck of the Nijmegen Bridge and the siege of Arnhem. The 20+ weapons are historically accurate, with the appropriate sounds to accompany firing, reloading, and the noise of rounds whining off of nearby rocks and buildings. (There is a bit of a stretch with the ability of machine guns to incapacitate German tanks, but it's a minor quibble and a situation that comes up all of three or four times throughout the game.)

Gameplay is standard shooter fare, with a dual analog stick set-up to allow for independent movement and aiming. Options for "cooking" grenades and more exacting aiming exist for those that really want to tweak their performance and their experience. The enemy AI is clever (some would say TOO clever, after suffering a few Mauser slugs to the chest one too many times), and adapts itself to your tactics. Bad guys seek cover when the lead flies, and will kick unexploded grenades away from their squadmates (and even occasionally dive on top to "take one for the team"). Killing a machine gunner doesn't save you from high-caliber danger, as available units will scramble to re-man the heavy weapons. The experience creates a game that manages to convey the tension and danger of warfare better than any I've played. The sheer unbridled chaos of the opening level (landing on the beach on D-Day) provides players with the video game equivalent of the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan, only without the assured knowledge that the "good guys" would make it across safely (on Average difficulty, I got smoked three times before I made it over the seawall, and twice more before clearing the level...on the highest difficulty, I've yet to cross safely).

Visually, the game is stunning. Nicely rendered units from a handful of European military units, with good variety in both your enemies and your allies, do battle amidst the bombed-out ruins of Dutch cities, the beaches at Normandy, and the heart of Germany's experimental research facilities. The levels are cleverly designed, without being ridiculously unrealistic. Audio quality stands equally high, if not higher, with over an hour of original music (one of the most beautiful game scores I've ever heard), and a wide variety of dialogue, weapon sounds, and environmental effects. Textures are good and don't repeat overmuch. Basically, there's very little that can be pointed to and called a fault in the game's audiovisual presentation. There are a couple of issues with rendering distance that crop up when trying to play sniper, and a few instances where clipping doesn't seem to jive properly, but other than that, the whole thing shines.

The game also incorporates DVD extras unlocked by clearing levels, allowing you to see some of the behind-the-scenes detail and work that went into designing the level you just cleared. There are snippets of designers standing in for some 3-D modeling, bits from the recording sessions of the soundtrack, and some nice production art galleries and level wire-frames. Worth looking at, and the extras combine to give you a real sense of what a labor of love this game was from beginning to end. The award of medals for outstanding success provides a good reason to go back through some of the missions after you're done, and a few of the game "cheats" allow for physics model changes that make replaying some missions quite a bit of fun (or quite a bit more difficult, depending on what you like).

If you dig on FPS games, you owe this one to yourself. If you're a history buff with a jones for WWII, then this is probably one of your better bets, too. Unless you're completely put off by the very thought of a shooter, I can't imagine you not deriving some enjoyment from Medal of Honor: Frontline, so pick it up, and see if you don't agree with me. And for those that could give a rat's arse about shooters (or games in general for that matter), do yourself a favor and pick up the soundtrack on CD.

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Buy it from Amazon.