MOH: Frontline HD tech analysis

PS3 remix fails to impress.

Digital Foundry's Face-Off coverage of the new Medal of Honor should be complete for tomorrow, but in the meantime the chance to check out the HD remastering of the 2002 classic Medal of Honor: Frontline - bundled in free with the PS3 limited edition - proved irresistible.

The lack of hardware backwards-compatibility in anything other than the launch PlayStation 3 has seen Sony pick and choose the best of its back catalogue to be "remixed" in high definition and the results thus far have been impressive. The God of War Collection shows that original PS2 artwork can scale up nicely to 720p resolution, while the forthcoming Sly Cooper pack even includes support for stereoscopic 3D. Our emulated HD renderings of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus also hint at great things to come.

However, the Medal of Honor: Frontline port is noteworthy for several reasons - not least of which is the age of the original game itself. The games targeted for remastering thus far have hailed from later on in the PS2's lifecycle; it's fair to say that Frontline dates from an era where developers were still uncertain as to the capabilities of the powerful but somewhat unique Sony hardware. Secondly, the fact that it's a bundled in as a bonus extra rather than a standalone product suggests it may not have had the budget to compete with the quality of the Sony remixes.

There's no way to say this gently: Frontline simply doesn't translate well to the PlayStation 3. In fact, it's rather disappointing. Calling it a "remaster" is somewhat disingenuous because while the PS3 may be outputting a 720p resolution, there doesn't appear to be much in the way of a visual upgrade aside from the benefits of rendering in progressive scan (something the Xbox and GameCube versions of the original did anyway).

The graphics and sound appear to be essentially untouched from the original PS2 game. Audio holds up rather well, and the soundtrack courtesy of Lost's Michael Giacchino still has an unmistakable class, but the visuals - low-poly and lo-fi textures - can only be described as fugly judged by today's standards.

It's unclear where the HD remastering - if any - was performed in this regard. To illustrate, by default the game doesn't even respect a proper widescreen aspect ratio. By default everything is rather fat and the player needs to manually adjust the aspect ratio to get things back into proportion - even though this means black borders left and right.

Where a bit of effort has been made is in the controls. As soon as the game kicks off you're presented with the option of using a modern FPS joypad layout. The original control modes all remain available though, and it's interesting just how "wrong" they feel in the modern age.

Where we would expect some level of improvement is in the performance. The PS3 is not exactly being taxed in any way, shape or form here and if Sony can port over the original God of War and get close to a sustained 720p60, the much older, less technically sophisticated Medal of Honor: Frontline should be a doddle, right? Wrong.

MOH: Frontline remix performance analysis.

There's no doubt that performance is higher in terms of raw frame-rate. While we never hit anything like a sustained 60FPS, with a fair wind we can get reach the mid-50s. However, there's an absolutely mammoth level of screen-tear here which further mars the look of the game and the frame-rate varies dramatically.

In all then, as platform-exclusive content goes we've seen better, and while it sounds like a really cool bonus extra to have in a limited edition, the reality is somewhat sobering - the game hasn't aged well and the developers haven't made a great deal of effort to make its transition onto a high-definition console in any way graceful. In many ways it sullies some of the warm and fuzzy nostalgic feelings long-term players will have about the original game, because by today's standards it's not really a great deal of fun to play.

Still, as a reminder of just how far the genre has progressed in the last eight years, it's an interesting addition to the package and the PS3 Medal of Honor limited edition costs no more than the 360 version, so it's not as if gamers are being asked to pay over the odds. If Xbox 360 owners would like to get involved in the nostalgia, a trip to eBay should get you the original Xbox version for a few quid and it is one of the titles supported via backwards-compatibility. But in truth, your money's probably better spent on Criterion's Black for a quality slice of retro FPS that still holds up in the here and now.

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