I have decided to tell the story of one of the gaming series closest to my heart, Medal of Honor. The story will follow the journey the series has been on from its first game in 1999 to its ultimate collapse and failure under Warfighter in 2012. This is a series close to me and more then a few times I interject my reactions and feelings about the series, this is my story and my feelings about Medal of Honor and its rise and fall. Because of the size and scope of the undertaking I have decided to split the story into two parts, with part one, which covers the story of the series beginning to right before the jump to the PS3 generation, being released below. Part 2, which will pick up right after this piece will be released next week. This is the largest writing project I've ever undertaken and I want to give the story the respect and attention it deserves. I have put a lot of love into this and I hope you enjoy.
Seventeen years ago Steven Spielberg helped to create Medal of Honor, an innovative and critically acclaimed video game that transformed the first-person shooter world. Dark, full of mysteries and secrets, and crafting an immersive World War 2 setting, Medal of Honor would launch a series that would help give rise to the first person shooter genre as we know it today. Yet, there has been no new game in the series since 2012 and Medal of Honor has been pulled from EA's production schedule. What brought about such rapid success and a quick fall? This is the story that seeks to answer the question of what ever happened to Medal of Honor?
When the first Medal of Honor came out in 1999 it was like nothing else that had ever been done in games. With a cinematic flair that showed its Hollywood roots, the game boasted incredible graphics, a deep, compelling espionage story, and a wonderful cinematic soundtrack that seemed as if it could have been taken straight out of Spielberg's next big motion picture. All this meant that the game blew away nearly every notion of what a first-person shooter game could be, instantly becoming one of the most critically acclaimed games of the time and a commercial smash. More then 16 years later, the original Medal of Honor remains one of the most revered and critically lauded games of the era. Appearing on numerous lists of the greatest games of the original PlayStation console, the breakthrough success of Medal of Honor led to production on a sequel.
That sequel Medal of Honor: Underground would come out just one year later in October of 2000. Featuring nearly all of the same people behind the scenes, the game was another big success for the series both critically and commercially. It was at this time though that the first major changes to the series began to take place, with developer Dreamworks Interactive leaving the series. At this point a decision was made that would come to define the story of Medal of Honor both for better and for worse. The series would be split almost into two, with a developer working on a PC game for the series, while at the same time a different developer would be working on an unrelated console game.
It would be 15 months before the next game in the series would come out but finally in January of 2002, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault by developer 2012, Inc was released to the world. The game only available for PC, received universal acclaim garnering a 91% rating on sites GameRanking and Metacritic. Once again written and produced by Steven Spielberg with music by Michael Giacchino. Allied Assault would prove to be one of the most popular and respected games in the series, earning itself two expansions in Spearhead and Breakthrough that would come out over the next two years. Yet, as important as Allied Assault was, the real future of the series lay with the game that would come out just five months later.
EA LA's, Medal of Honor: Frontline represented a giant step forward for the Medal of Honor franchise. Released on the PlayStation 2 in May of 2002 and a few months later for Xbox and GameCube it marked the series arrival as one of gamings biggest properties. It was many gamers first taste of Medal of Honor and more then a few, including myself, were absolutely floored. I've talked before of the impact of Medal of Honor: Frontline on me. It was my first real game that I had played in any meaningful way. Showcasing a stunning ride through the story of Lt. Jimmy Patterson, it represented everything I had ever wanted in a game. Sad, dark, and with a stellar immersive story to boot, Frontline captured mine and millions of others imaginations with its portrayal of the events of the summer of 1944, during the midst of World War 2. Featuring by far the most ambitious and grand soundtrack the series had yet produced up to that point, Michael Giacchino's score remains the stuff of legends. An epic 70 minute score with a full orchestra, nearly 14 years later i'm still floored by just how good it is and how utterly successful it was at giving me chills.
I had never experienced anything even remotely close to the feel or cinematic nature of Frontline. I was hardly alone in my feelings, proving to be another critical success and the most successful game in the series at that point commercially, Frontline marked the start of the PS2 era of the series and years later remains a touchstone. It remains arguably the biggest game, with the longest lasting impact of the entire series, and it's not even my favorite game in the franchise
The blistering success and impact of Frontline, along with Allied Assault, changed the entire complexion of the series. The first two games had been critically acclaimed, but the Medal of Honor series would never be higher, both critically and commercially then it was in the summer of 2002. The series had jumped to a whole another level of production value, soundtrack design, and story-telling and gameplay mechanics. This was Medal of Honor at the forefront of the first-person shooter genre, blazing a path forward. Yet with success comes imitators.
After Frontline a new follow-up had to come out and capitalize on that success. The sequel, Medal of Honor: Rising Sun would be released over a year and a half later in November of 2003, one month after a brand new game would seek to transform the shooter world. Call of Duty's release in October of 2003 would represent a giant shot across the bow against Medal of Honor. Seeking to buck the lone wolf stories that games like Medal of Honor had made popular, Call of Duty introduced numerous innovations to the first person shooter formula. The result of all of this would be even more heightened pressure when Rising Sun was released a month later.
That release in November of 2003, would mark the first time one of the series games didn't meet with critical acclaim. Medal of Honor: Rising Sun's reviews stretched from a 4/10 by Eurogamer to an 8/10 by IGN and everything in between. The game itself was a bit of a departure for the series, shifting the action to the Pacific theater of the war, and introducing a new protagonist in Joe Griffen. Also boasting the first multiplayer version of a console Medal of Honor, both split-screen and online.
There are many reasons the reviews for Rising Sun weren't as good as it's predecessors, almost certainly there was probably a bit of Medal of Honor fatigue, with Rising Sun being the 7th game or expansion to come out in 4 years. Certainly the innovative arrival of Call of Duty a month before did the game no favors either. Yet, when looking at the actual game i must admit I am a little confused by some of its lower scores, indeed in some ways I think Rising Sun represents a superior game to Frontline. Boasting a far more deep, immersive story, with more interesting and real characters who are actually given depth and humanity to them, unlike many FPS games. Part of me wonders if Rising Sun had come out before Call of Duty, instead of vice-versa would its scores have been higher? It's an impossible question to answer, but for the first time the series began to strain under the weight of all its games.
Indeed that surge of games would only continue with Medal of Honor: Infiltrator a GBA game also released in 2003 and Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, a PC only game released in 2004 to favorable reviews. While both of those games were good, it only furthered flooded the World War 2 market that the original Medal of Honor had helped make popular. Finally though after a 2 year console break the next game in the series was released in late 2005, Medal of Honor: European Assault was here.
Medal of Honor: European Assault was released in June of 2005 and immediately captured my heart. Offering up numerous new features for the series, from squad based combat, to the opening up of the world and encouragement to explore. European Assault offered up genuine moments of tension, excitement, and awe at the time and instantly catapulted up the list to become one of my favorite games ever. It's North African and Russian levels remain the stuff of legends to me, opening up my eyes to two beautifully realized locations rarely visited in World War 2 shooters and the opening of the Battle of the Bulge section will forever be seared into my mind as one of the most frantic, frenzied, and thrilling moments in my time as a gamer. I adore European Assault, it was and remains my favorite Medal of Honor game and the highpoint of the series for me.
Yet, in spite of what I just said it wasn't a perfect game, despite what I might have thought at the time. The game ages well, but not fantastic. The character designs, with only a few exceptions all tend to blend together and the games opening stage wasn't great. These and other flaws the game had, were reflected in its review scores which placed the game firmly in the 7/10 area in the various reviews. Medal of Honor: European Assault represented the last triumphant moment of the series on the PlayStation 2 console and indeed over a decade later remains one of the final high's of the series. It also features one of the best soundtracks of the entire series, which is saying something for this fantastically scored franchise
In the follow-up to European Assault the Medal of Honor series delivered the dream game for any big fan of the series. Developer Team Fusion's game Medal of Honor: Heroes features the return of three of the protagonist's from past games, all of which added up to a dream come true for fans. Except that this game wasn't for consoles, it wasn't even for PC. Heroes was a PSP game and that sucked so much out of this otherwise promising game. Heroes and its sequel, which would come out a year later were both well-received games, indeed Heroes won IGN's award for best FPS game on the PSP. Yet they reflected the problems that by this point had truly begun to manifest themselves in the series.
There were simply too many game coming out and not enough was being changed. The series was being spread far too thin, with a console series, a PC one, and now a handheld one, all of which were totally different with nothing connecting the various games across all the platforms except for the title at the front. There was just no cohesion to all the various games, it almost felt like it was multiple different series, instead of one unified project. The ultimate example of all of this would be what happened in 2007, which would firmly mark the beginning of the end for the series.
END of Part 1