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Medal of Honor: Spearhead Review
Pentium II 450MHz, 128MB RAM, 800MB free HDD space, 16MB Ope
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Nov 11, 02 (released)
|» All About Medal of Honor: Spearhead on ActionTrip|
Medal of Honor: Allied Assault was an exceptional game. There's no denying that fact. It was the first game that came even close to conveying the fierce scenes of combat portrayed in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan on our PC's. The Omaha beach landing was so intense that for the first time I begun to imagine what it would be like to land on one such beach during the invasion of Normandy. Of course, even an extraordinary game as MOHAA had a few letdowns, most notable of them being the relatively short single-player campaign and the insanely accurate enemy snipers. Still, the game was a blast to play. It was an impressively well-executed game, climbing on top of sales charts faster than Christina Aguilera on her male admirers - an unfortunate reference I know.
So naturally, there's no better way to cash in on a successful title than to release an expansion pack for it. EA Games is doing very well - they have money to burn and plenty of PR know-how to market any product so that its sales figures are somewhat predictable even before the game hits the shelves, or any reviews start popping up - and when the reviews do hit the books, they are typically favorable - since most big publications are either financed through advertising by EA, or they want to keep a really good relationship with the best publisher in the world. In a way, I can't really blame them, but that's another matter.
The Medal of Honor Allied Assault Spearhead expansion pack has owners of Medal of Honor Allied Assault assuming the role of Sergeant Jack Barnes while continuing their fight from behind enemy lines in Normandy on D-Day to the Battle of the Bulge to the Fall of Berlin and finally to the defeat of the Nazi regime in Germany. The game is divided into three main missions each consisting out of several sub-missions, so to speak. The last mission has you fighting in Berlin alongside Stalin's Red Army, so this will give you a chance to witness the very end of the Third Reich. As is the case with any expansion pack out there Spearhead adds some new weapons and multiplayer maps. Twelve new multiplayer levels including the Arnhem Bridge and the streets of Berlin; the game's arsenal now includes: British Enfield Mark 1 rifle, the Sten submachine gun, smoke grenades, and the Soviet PPSh-41 submachine gun. Besides that, you get to man plenty of artillery weapons: AA guns, heavy artillery, etc. All in all, this is a pretty unimpressive list of additions, as they won't bring anything particularly novel to the gameplay in any way. To a degree, playing Spearhead feels like playing Allied Assault.
However, the quality of these two games is not really comparable. The original is not without its faults but still excellently done, while Spearhead resembles a Space Invaders MOHAA mod with occasionally well-directed semi-interactive action scenes. Yes you've read right - a Space Invaders MOHAA mod! The designers were obviously confused about what they wanted to do in this game - should the players feel like we're part of a virtual interactive environment, or a non-interactive Hollywood movie, which can only be made to look ridiculous if you mess with the set or touch anything you're not supposed to. Why is this? The maps in Spearhead are so claustrophobic and linear, the action is so ridiculously scripted that you feel like you've been stuck in some kind of amusement park where robots play out their roles as you're simply left to watch the groovy effects and enjoy the ride. This game has the same effect on the player as being on a boat at the Universal Studios "Ride The Movies" attraction when that huge (robot) shark from Jaws pops up every now and then to give you a scare while playing a much more visually elaborate Space Invaders.
For one, the shark doesn't have anything resembling an AI, and neither do the aliens in Space Invaders. It's the same with soldiers in Spearhead that were put there to run aimlessly at you while you're supposed to perform some kind of task. You'd shoot hordes of oncoming soldiers while still finding enough time to blow up a bridge. And yet, like in Space Invaders, the soldiers just keep on coming in wave after wave after endless wave. As soon as you complete your task (i.e. set the explosives), the soldiers stop pouring out from every available orifice. Usually, this works well in the movies as the director would cut to the next scene, but in a video game, it looks hokey and just plain bad! Why is this? Because video games are supposed to be interactive! Yes, I said interactive! The days of blatantly scripting a string of events are done! What if I want to wait a little before blowing up a bridge? Or go back a 100m to pick up a health pack? The most important goal of any game designer is to tackle these issues. The designers seem to think this is completely unnecessary however. Here's an example: Think Deus Ex - a mastery of level and game design, where every action the player takes has tangible consequences in a supremely interactive and moldable environment. Now think of a completely opposite approach to game design, and you'll come up with Spearhead. Let me give you just a better example of the blatant, moronic and downright offensive scripted gameplay in Spearhead. The task was to blow up an AA gun (I think it was an AA gun), but in order to do so; I had to go through one specific door that could only be open by a particular member of my squad. At first I didn't know this; I just knew I had to blow up that AA gun, since...well, it was the only logical thing to do given the fact there were no Nazis left in the area apart from that small artillery battery that I could see through the window of the house I was in. The only way to get to that AA gun was through this one door, and to my dismay I realized that the door was locked. So then I figure - OK, there must be another way to get to the AA gun, but seeing how the maps are so claustrophobic I soon came to a definite conclusion that going through THE door was the only way to get to the AA gun! But the door would not budge! Then after about 5 minutes of wandering like a complete idiot I spotted my squad mate who was stuck on the front door of the house, trying to run to the door he was supposed to open, yet due to the lousy AI scripting, he was stuck. I gave him a little push and the next thing you know he's running up the stairs of the house to open said door for me. The mission can finally go on, I blew up the AA gun, and did my part to save democracy. Yay. What was supposed to be a tense, warlike situation ended up being an exercise in futility and a test of my patience. There are other numerous such examples of stupidity in this game, as well as dumb AI glitches - like Germans getting stuck on walls, or failing to spot you when you're shooting at them from 5 feet away. In the game's defense, there are also some AI routines that are pretty convincing, like enemy troops reaching for cover and trying to run away when feeling panicky, but those moments of brilliance are easily overshadowed by the huge cloud of stupidity that is MoH: Spearhead's restrictive gameplay. Nazi soldiers aren't as deadly accurate as they were in the original, but it will often happen that they'll shoot three or four times and miss from three feet away. It happened to me while I was clearing out a church. I didn't see a Nazi soldier and I turned my back to him. He fired off three shots at me from three feet away and missed. I casually turned around and popped him in the head.
Granted, some of the intense action scenes in Spearhead are spectacular to watch, and rather fun to play, but just as you start to get into the groove you realize how simplistic your task and the actual gameplay routine really are. Usually, these spectacular action scenes come down to running and then ducking for cover, and then running again until you reach your designated spot on the map. And please don't try to improvise or you'll run into a myriad of invisible walls.
Spearhead boasts some awesome sound effects and great visuals (apart from the background textures). The developers are desperately trying to recreate the intense experience of the Omaha Beach landing from the original game, but I think that those of you who live near Universal Studios would be better off taking that Jaws tour than wasting your money on this game. Still, if even traces of the original's superior gameplay are good enough for you to shell out a few bucks then by all means go for it. It's your money! After finishing this game in less than 4 hours (Yes, it's even shorter than MOHAA), I felt stupefied and cheated. You just can't replace intelligent game design with cheap Hollywood stunts! It just doesn't work that way, or I hope it doesn't...
And if the developers were counting on the multiplayer additions to save their hides, think again. The game does offer a new mode of play called Tug Of War, where the Axis and Allied teams are tasked with completing an objective (or halting it), by controlling certain points on the map. New? Not hardly. This was done (and done better) in Battlefield 1942 and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Tug Of War is a fun to play and all, but is it worth shelling out the cash for this expansion? Not really. Your money is better served elsewhere.
In closing, one of the rare brilliant aspects of MoH: Spearhead has to be the musical soundtrack. The music is easily the best facet of the game. Congratulations to the EALA sound team on a job well done! As for the rest of the design team, this is 2002. There is no excuse for such shoddy, poorly done game design. You had a wonderful platform to build upon, and you blew it.
Some of the nicely directed action scenes may make you feel like you're playing MOHAA again. Brilliant musical score; cool visual effects.
I'm sorry but I don't consider myself a pimpled-faced teen any more. I hardly ever wet my pants just by reading press releases or being treated to a ride at an amusement park. Topnotch shooters are supposed to be more intelligently designed than this. The gameplay is just weak.
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