Many were surprised when the Oculus Rift 6 presentation in September 2019 unexpectedly announced Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond for VR. At one time, it was Medal of Honor that launched the fashion for military shooters in the industry, but later could not compete with Call of Duty and Battlefield. The history of the line ended with the release of the last Warfighter title in 2012 and the closure of the franchise’s main development studio.
Medal of Honor (1999) — PS
In fact, the ancestor of the series is none other than director Steven Spielberg, who, during the filming of Saving Private Ryan, had a desire to tell the younger generation about the events of World War II. Watching his son play GoldenEye 007, he realized that video games could serve as a suitable platform for this purpose.
Later, Spielberg met with representatives of DreamWorks Interactive to discuss the creation of a first-person shooter with an emphasis on real history. It is worth noting that in the past the director has repeatedly participated in the development of video games. DreamWorks Interactive was a subsidiary of DreamWorks Pictures, founded by Spielberg and producers Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, and has worked on titles revolving around the director’s films.
At that time, the idea of releasing Medal of Honor really stood out from the rest, because the game was supposed to be one of the first exclusive shooters for consoles, namely for the PlayStation. In addition, the players mainly associated the genre with fantasy and monsters, and not with the reconstruction of military operations. The development team spent a week working on a prototype to get the green light for the project.
As a consultant, Spielberg again called on Vietnam War veteran Dale Dai, with whom he had worked on Saving Private Ryan. Among other things, Dai advised the developers to insert small historical cut-scenes before each mission of the game, which he voiced himself.
Medal of Honor takes place in 1944-1945, and the player is Lieutenant James Patterson, who must sabotage Nazi operations on the Western Front.
Initially, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society opposed the release of the title, but after demonstrating the game to its representatives, on the contrary, supported the project. True, the realism of the idea had its drawbacks, and due to concerns about the development of cruelty in children by video games of that time, DreamWorks had to significantly reduce the level of “colorfulness” of Medal of Honor.
Despite the straightforward and monotonous gameplay, the opponents in Medal of Honor made the process more interesting with their reactions to the player’s actions. When hit in the head or hand, helmets and weapons could fall from them, and the enemy could beat off a grenade lying on the ground in the direction of the protagonist. Also available in Medal of Honor was a cooperative split-screen mode based on the “Deathmatch” principle.
The technical limitations of the first PlayStation put a strain on the title’s development, resulting in low-poly models and a nighttime setting for most of the levels.
Unprecedented by the standards of video games, the soundtrack immediately became one of the hallmarks of the series. Its authorship belongs to Michael Giacchino, known for his work in such film series as Mission: Impossible and Jurassic Park.
Medal of Honor was released in 1999 to rave reviews from critics who enjoyed the occasional digression into the story, atmosphere, and overall pace of the game.
Medal of Honor: Underground (2000) — PS, GBA
Underground was again conceived as a PS-exclusive and in general largely repeated the debut part of the series. The main character this time was the girl Manon Baptiste from the French Resistance.
In the sequel, almost half of the missions had to be played side by side with assistants, and firefights with opponents were diluted with the destruction of enemy equipment.
Realism was no longer at the top of the project’s priority list, given that Baptiste would encounter armored Nazi knights more than once throughout the campaign.
Reviews for Undergorund were less than rosy, if positive, except for the 2002 Game Boy Advance port, which was slammed by critics. Still, the strong sales of Underground assured the publisher of the huge potential of the series.
Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (2002) — Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
In May 2000, Spielberg decided to approach a fledgling studio called 2015, famous for their Quake modifications, to develop a new Medal of Honor title exclusively for the PC. At the same time, as in the first title, Spielberg again decided to act as a screenwriter for the game.
By the way, after the successful release of Underground, EA for some time thought to direct the line in the other direction and release the flight simulator Medal of Honor: Fighter Command. The gameplay was supposed to be focused on aerial combat, but the title was eventually canceled, and some of its ideas found a place in Secret Weapons Over Normandy from LucasArts.
It is believed that it was Allied Assault that made the industry fall in love with military shooters. The game was developed on a modified id Tech 3 engine and surprised players with excellent graphics, non-linear and varied levels.
Part of the campaign involved a stealth passage, where the main character made his way to the enemy’s base, having previously stolen the necessary documents. Of course, one of the game’s highlights was Normandy Landing, which Spielberg had already recreated in Saving Private Ryan.
A little later, two expansions Spearhead and Breakthrough came out, offering new campaign missions and weapons.
In addition, Allied Assault has a full-fledged online multiplayer, which became the progenitor of the popular Call of Duty multiplayer.
Several employees in 2015, after the release of Allied Assault, decided to found their own studio Infinity Ward and had already begun developing the next Medal of Honor, when EA suddenly decided to lead the development in-house.
Infinity Ward was left without a job, but soon got busy creating the “Medal of Honor killer” under the wing of Activision, and specifically the first part in the future of the incredibly successful Call of Duty series.
Medal of Honor: Frontline (2002) — PS2, GameCube, Xbox
After seeing enough of the positive reviews regarding Allied Assault, EA commissioned the acquired DreamWorks Interactive (at that time already renamed EA Los Angeles) to develop the console version of the title. Frontline was the first game in the series on the sixth generation of consoles and was essentially a completely different title, apart from some animations and textures, as well as a scene on Omaha Beach.
Gameplay has returned to the moderate pace of the first two installments, with players once again taking control of James Patterson as he uncovers the Nazis’ secret weapon.
Frontline was impressive on all fronts, but the fact that the game was released just four months after Allied Assault prevented it from getting the kind of attention it deserved.
Medal of Honor: Rising Sun (2003) — PS2, GameCube, Xbox
Unsatisfied with Frontline’s success in the console market, EA sent EA Los Angeles to develop Rising Sun, the first game in the series centered around the Pacific theater of World War II. As you progress through the title, the player will take part in military operations in Burma and Thailand, the naval battle for Guadalcanal, and, of course, will be in Pearl Harbor just during the famous attack on the harbor.
The game has become much more cinematic and the first in the line to offer online multiplayer on consoles, not to mention the possibility of co-op through the split-screen campaign.
Unfortunately for the developers, they failed to live up to the publisher’s expectations. Rising Sun received rather poor reviews from critics, causing a previously planned sequel to be cancelled. The gameplay of the title quickly bored the players and seemed too linear. At the same time, many scolded EA for the fact that the publisher did not give the developers a proper disclosure of the game in an attempt to have time to release it before the holidays.
Medal of Honor: Infiltrator (2003) — GBA
Infiltrator was developed exclusively for the Game Boy Advance and brought Medal of Honor combat to 2D. The gameplay switched between rail shooter and top-down levels, and was well received by the public.
Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault (2004) — Windows
After not the most successful experiments on consoles, EA Los Angeles set about creating another title for the PC. The Pacific Assault campaign again borrows the intro from Rising Sun, but then goes in a completely different direction.
The developers were accused of starting to borrow elements from their rival Call of Duty. Pacific Assault emphasized team-based combat and introduced new mechanics, such as interacting with medics and issuing orders to a group of soldiers.
The title’s multiplayer was handled by TKO Software, the developer behind Breakthrough for Allied Assault. Players appreciated the online component of the title, especially the “Invader” mode, in which one side must destroy or capture the target, and the other – to protect it. However, the servers died out very quickly, and after only two months it was very difficult to find active players.
Although Pacific Assault proved to be quite solid and received acclaim from the gaming community, it was clear that they were tired of the endless stream of World War II-themed shooters.
Medal of Honor: European Assault (2005) — PS2, GameCube, Xbox
After the foray on PC, it’s time for consoles again. European Assault delighted players with huge non-linear levels with goals of varying importance that the player could complete in a free order.
For the sake of such an innovation, it was necessary to cut the cinematography of the game, removing the scripted scenes as much as possible. The plot was handled by John Milius, who wrote the screenplays for Apocalypse Now and Conan the Barbarian. As a result, the player will visit Africa, Stalingrad, and also take part in the “Battle for the ledge” in Belgium.
European Assault showed good sales, but lived in the minds of the players for a very short time.
Medal of Honor: Heroes (2006) — PSP
After a weak response to European Assault, EA finally decided to take a year off from the main titles of the line, and entrusted Team Fusion to develop Heroes for the PlayStation Portable.
The game stood out for its multiplayer up to 32 people, but just like its predecessors, it was met rather coldly. The gameplay seemed boring and monotonous to the players, and the controls were inconvenient.
Medal of Honor: Vanguard (2007) — PS2, Wii
The developers used the resulting break to understand how to refresh a stagnant series. One of the new additions to Vanguard is the ability to select a drop location within a level. There was a simple customization of weapons.
However, Vanguard’s scores again brought bad news to the publisher, hinting at the imminent end of the franchise. The title was criticized for its naughty controls, messy graphics, and lack of online multiplayer. In addition, it was not difficult to notice that in Vanguard, the developers partially used material from past parts, such as 3D models, animation, and even music.
Medal of Honor: Airborne (2007) — Windows, PS3, Xbox 360, Mobile
While Vanguard was more of a test case, the main bets were on Airborne for PC. By the time of release, the development of the game had already exceeded three years, which was completely atypical for Medal of Honor titles.
Airborne showed a major leap forward visually, introduced unpredictable artificial intelligence to opponents and allies of the protagonist, and reworked the systems for distributing damage, pumping weapons, and restoring health.
It would seem that EA wanted to do everything right. Again, military consultants were involved in the development, and special attention was paid to the opinion of the players on the forums. Alas, despite the fact that players, along with critics, saw Airborne as the best title in the series since Allied Assault, the title once again in the history of the line received many complaints about the boring storyline and the game as a whole.
Plus, whatever success EA has had with Aiborne pales in comparison to the revolution that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare brought about that same year.
Medal of Honor: Heroes 2 (2007) — PSP, Wii
Heroes 2 is the latest game in the series set in World War II. The developers added interesting game modes and mechanics that involved the Wii controller in the rail levels. The release did not stand out with unexpectedly positive reviews, although critics praised the multiplayer and the addition of leaderboards.
Medal of Honor (2010) — Windows, PS3, Xbox 360
EA knew that Medal of Honor would have to go with Call of Duty trends if it wanted to stay relevant to players and bring the action into the modern world. EA Los Angeles was split into two studios, Victory Games and Danger Close Games. If the former focused on the development of real-time strategies, then the latter, with the support of DICE (Battlefield, Star Wars Battlefront), took up the revival of Medal of Honor.
The campaign for the next installment in the series, Medal of Honor: Operation Anaconda, was centered around the war in Afghanistan, and the gameplay is built on the formula that made the first part successful – linear missions with scripted scenes with an emphasis on realism.
The single was handled by Danger Close on Unreal Engine 3, and the multiplayer was handled by DICE on Frostbite 1.5. As a result, the short four-hour campaign was for many predictable, but tense. In multiplayer, everyone saw a hybrid between Battlefield and Call of Duty.
2010’s Medal of Honor garnered a small but loyal fan base, with strong sales that convinced EA that a sequel was on the way.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter (2012) — Windows, PS3, Xbox 360
Medal of Honor: Warfighter, with its lowest ratings in franchise history, is the final nail in the series’ coffin for the next eight years. It would seem that EA went on about the public and tried to unscrew the handle of furious action scenes to the maximum. However, this is precisely what ruined the game, which seemed to everyone a senseless parody of more successful competitors and a collection of clichés.
EA decided to focus on Battlefield, and Danger Close closed, spreading its employees to its other studios.
“Warfighter turned out to be a solid game, but the focus on combat authenticity didn’t resonate with buyers. Everything could have been different if the project had been managed by other people, ”summed up later at EA.
Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond (2020) — Windows
Above and Beyond was released on December 11 for Oculus Rift and Steam VR, and became the most expensive game in the history of VR, according to the developers. The latest, by the way, was Respawn Entertainment, known in the industry for such titles as Titanfall, Apex Legends, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. In the past, it was the founders of Respawn Entertainment who launched the Call of Duty series under the roof of Infinity Ward, so the military theme of Above and Beyond was familiar to them.
One of the features of the last part of Medal of Honor was the various interviews of veterans of the Second World War, which the player opened as he progressed through the title. Filming was done by Honor Flight, and the short films themselves were shown at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.
Despite rather lukewarm reviews for Above and Beyond, the series has finally found territory where the success of Call of Duty can’t put a spoke in its wheel. Another thing, we have yet to find out whether EA is preparing a full-fledged return of Medal of Honor, or whether Above and Beyond was just a one-time experiment.
“The Medal of Honor series will definitely return if there are people willing to dedicate themselves to resurrecting it,” EA creative director Rich Hillman promised in 2013.