To Dream The Impossible Dream
When 2015 and EA's Los Angeles studio began work on Allied Assault, they "aimed so high that the goal seemed impossible to reach". Sure enough they have failed to reach this lofty target, but for the most part the result is still a highly entertaining first person shooter. The first thing to get out of the way is that this is not a realistic game. If you come to Allied Assault expecting Rainbow Six meets Private Ryan you will be disappointed. For all the talk of being "steeped in authenticity" and "moving players away from the Rambo style run and gun gameplay", it's still a fairly traditional action game. Your character can pick up and carry an entire arsenal of lethal weaponry, from pistols and grenades to sniper rifles and bazookas; you just need to keep an eye on the ammo gauge and plan ahead to make sure that you don't reach the end of a clip in the middle of a fight. This does make combat somewhat more tactical than in your average shooter, and in the early stages of the game at least you will find yourself ducking in and out of cover, falling back to reload, and cautiously sneaking around corners and along rubble strewn streets. But while your health bar dwindles fairly rapidly if you find yourself on the wrong end of the gun, first aid packs are liberally scattered throughout the levels to instantly cure you. Which seems a bit of a cop out.
Life's A Beach
This is also not a revolutionary game. There's nothing here that hasn't been done before - Allied Assault just does it that little bit bigger and better thanks to a combination of high production values and the grunt of the Quake 3 engine. Like Half-Life, it uses scripted sequences to great effect to add to the atmosphere and draw you into the game, from the opening missions in north Africa to the awe-inspiring Omaha Beach sequence. The D-Day missions are particularly effective at making you feel like you're in the middle of a battle, even if there are really only a couple of dozen allied soldiers on the beach with you. Your friends cower behind any cover they can find as the officers try to convince you to carry on up the beach, and the whole time you can hear men screaming out for medics and machinegun bullets whistling past you. The downside to this is that the scripting is inflexible and, at times, downright bloody minded. Storming the beaches of Normandy with mortars landing around you might look spectacular, but getting blown up by one of those shells without any warning is an incredibly frustrating experience. Making it to the dunes in one piece is more down to trial and error than skill as you shelter behind a post, quick save, run to the next post, quick save, get blown up, quick load, wait a few seconds for the shelling to stop and then set off again. I haven't used the F5 key this much since I finished Max Payne.
Turning The Tide
Unfortunately Normandy marks the high point of the game, and after a few more missions in France things start to tail off noticeably. There are less scripted sequences, the level design becomes sloppier, and there's more and more reliance on throwing hordes of German soldiers at you. The worst part of this is that the Germans aren't always in the map with you when you begin a mission. Instead the game spawns additional soldiers to keep you busy and (in some cases) to force you to keep moving. Usually the game gets away with this, because reinforcements emerge perfectly believably from ruined buildings or sleeping quarters. Sometimes though things go horribly wrong, and you find yourself being shot in the back by a gaggle of Germans who have just streamed out of a previously empty building that you cleared only a minute earlier. On a few occasions I even saw a German soldier materialise out of thin air right in front of me, which is unforgiveable. The game's rare attempts at stealth missions are also something of a missed opportunity, falling far short of dedicated sneaking games like Thief and Metal Gear Solid. The Wehrmacht obviously goes for the strong silent type, because often your first warning that there's an enemy soldier nearby is when they start peppering you with bullets or make a dash for the nearest alarm. Detection tends to be rather hit and miss as well - sometimes you can get away with firing a deafening shot with your sniper rifle to take out a sentry, only to get killed a few minutes later when a guard somehow spots you crouching silently in a dark corner from a couple of hundred feet away. There's no obvious logic to any of this and you've no way of knowing how visible you are. And as the game starts spawning more soldiers to track you down once the alarm has been raised, this obviously leads to a lot of quick loading.
We'll Fight Them On The Internet
Once you've exhausted the single player campaign, it's time to get cracking on the multiplayer. As you would expect from a Quake 3 engined game, Allied Assault features solid online play and a range of multiplayer modes, mostly using highly modified versions of single player maps. First up is deathmatch, which is something of a non-starter. As in all of the multiplayer modes you spawn with your choice of primary weapon, and a pistol and half a dozen grenades as backup. Fighting tends to be brief and brutal as everyone starts with a powerful weapon and many of the deathmatch servers are using maps which are far too small for the number of players. Team deathmatch is rather more entertaining as only half the other players on the server are trying to kill you, and there's a certain satisfaction to be had from grouping together with a couple of machinegun-toting tank drivers and an SS sniper to roam around the map picking off American soldiers. The star attraction though is a selection of objective-based teamplay maps which meld Counter-Strike gameplay with World War II weaponry. Highlights include fighting your way through a ruined French village to blow up German artillery, demolishing a bridge to delay an American offensive, and re-enacting D-Day on a vast revamped Omaha Beach map. Most of these maps are round-based, with dead players having to wait and watch until one side has won, but on Omaha soldiers on both sides respawn when they die, with the battle continuing until the Americans can blow up a pair of German cannons on top of the cliff overlooking the beach. The result is an epic battle which rages across the beach and up through the German bunkers, and can prove to be even more intense than the single player version of the Normandy landings.
Allied Assault isn't quite the seminal World War II action game we were hoping for and the final product is rather uneven. It has moments of pure genius, but these are accompanied by occasionally sloppy level design and scripting, particularly in the later stages of the game. If you can overlook these flaws Allied Assault should be at the top of your shopping list, and even if you can't forgive them it's probably still worth playing just for the excellent multiplayer support and the first few hours of the single player campaign, which ranks as arguably the most immersive first person shooter experience ever. If only the rest of the campaign had maintained those high standards we could have been looking at the game of the year.