Finally I have found a PlayStation 2 shooter that dethrones the mighty Red Faction (at least until Red Faction 2 comes out). In fact, I have had interest in playing Frontline ever since I found out that the D-Day invasion made prevalent in Saving Private Ryan and in the previous MOH title Allied Assault for the PC, would be included. Otherwise I thought it would be another title similar to the PS1 MOH games which I admittedly was not impressed with.
This time I am.
Not only is the D-Day invasion in the game, it is the first mission. Like Saving Private Ryan, it is a hell of a way to get off to a good start. Almost everything from the movie recreates the invasion perfectly (well almost, there’s no blood or dismemberment). It is the one mission that I found myself playing non-stop.
But that doesn’t mean the rest of the game is terrible, not by a long shot. The rest of the game flows smoothly around the real life efforts of General Montgomery’s Operation: Market Garden. Primary missions involve raiding a Nazi weapons facility, destroying U-Boat production, protecting the Nijmegen Bridge, sneaking aboard an armored train, jumping into a mine car (a la Indiana Smith) and eventually stealing the German’s secret HO-IX jet fighter.
Unlike most FPS, MOH doesn’t embrace the concept of running into a crowded room, guns blazing. Stealth comes in play most of the time in order to avoid any potential ambushes. Most of the time I found myself sneaking around with a Springfield ’03 sniper rifle and picking off troops from a distance. However, as I did this, I noticed one flaw that Frontline has: with the exception of sniping guards, most Nazi soldiers got up after getting hit one time, even when shot in the head, which in today’s FPS world is an instant kill!
But even in instances where I do have to defend myself with guns at full blast, I was surprised to see some Nazis actually getting up after being peppered with BAR rounds, even at point blank range. [Just to go on the record here, the .223 caliber bullet has a 96 percent one shot kill ratio in real life battle, so getting hit by a ton of BAR rounds at under 10 feet would make you dead, dead, dead.] It tends to get a little frustrating at times, but not enough to ruin the game. It just takes away from the realism a bit.
I know this is only a game, but location-specific damage should be taken into account. After all, look at Halo and how a pistol or sniper rifle shot to the head is an instant kill.
Also, while Frontline claims to have intelligent AI, I sometimes disagree. While Nazis will hide behind walls, boxes, and corners and pop out only to shoot, they don’t respond well to grenades. I would have loved to see Nazis fleeing for cover when I toss a grenade (as in Halo) or even have the guts to toss the grenades back at you, but it doesn’t happen here.
One thing is for sure though, one can’t take away from the overall presentation that Frontline has. The settings are gorgeous, despite the usual jagginess displayed on the PS2. As I said before, the Normandy battle scene is replicated perfectly, from the soldiers cowering behind metal porcupines right to the exploding sand from mortar shells. At times there are events of serious slowdown but when moving smoothly it is quite a sight to see.
The MOH series has always been heralded for its gorgeous sound, and Frontline might be the best sounding of the series so far. The audio effects immortalized in Private Ryan (right down to the ethereal whizzing of bullets while underwater) are completely intact. Dialogue is also perfect (but not as much as in Allied Assault), and best of all, the Nazis actually speak German. I know this might not sound like much for most people, but as a fan of WWII films (Patton, Private Ryan, etc.) keeping the German voice work in their native language (with the possible exception of a guard demanding that you surrender your weapons in English) is a critical factor to me. I only wish I would hear a Kraut yell out on a loudspeaker that "the Statue of Liberty is kaput!" (how disconcerting). But I digress.
Finally, the musical score deserves special praise. Composed by Michael Giacchino, and performed by the Northwest Sinfonia and Northwest Boys Choir, the soundtrack is both enchanting and emotional. In fact, watch the credits sequence and you will see a video of the score composition (similar to when the Duel of the Fates music video was on MTV). The soundtrack is available on CD on the MOH web site, and would be well worth listening too and adding to your musical collection.
Even with the AI shortcomings, MOH Frontline runs up there with Red Faction as the best first person shooter on the PlayStation 2. The overall WWII environment is alluring, the gameplay fast and intense, and the score beautiful and enchanting. Only the quibbles in the game’s AI result in a 4 1/2 Gem rating. I know that Frontline will be coming out soon to the Xbox, and hopefully the AI will be tweaked a bit when it is released. As it stands right now, you can’t find a better shooter, or hardly a better game, for the PS2.