Skip to main content

Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

Retrospective: Medal of Honor: Allied Assault

How the Modern Warfare was won.

Sit old people down and ask them to tell the same story and you're generally in for a confusing time. Over the years what he said, what she said, times and places have become confused or expanded for entertainment value. The only rock solid facts that remain are the tale's foundations - whether that's to do with the number of bananas imported during the war years, or which of their neighbours put it around with the American Airmen.

Ask gamers of advancing years about what happened in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, development ancestor of this month's big release Modern Warfare 2, and you'll get similar responses. Everyone remembers the dash from cover to cover on Omaha beach and a few other notable scenes, but everything else is mired in things that may or may not have been in Call of Duty or Brothers in Arms, and the order in which it all takes place in-game will be entirely unstuck.

The deluge of WW2 shooters that followed Allied Assault (predominantly through the wares of Infinity Ward, the splinter group that had been a huge chunk of MOH creators 2015, or EA's attempts to spin out its franchise) has not only meant that gameplay locations in Northern France have been utterly rinsed, but nigh-on FIFA-esque yearly WW2 updates also mean that there was rarely any particular reason to go back to the game that first introduced the glorious ping of an M1 Garand reload.

So it was then that, to my mild surprise, I booted up Allied Assault to discover that it begins (after a bout of being shown how to duck under barbed wire, and how to throw grenades through Playschool-style windows) in the back of a truck in North Africa, and not in a floating metal tray somewhere on the English Channel accompanied by Tom Hanks. Allied Assault's lynchpin beach scene doesn't kick in until the third chapter, and there's a large amount of prisoner rescue, airfield destruction and undercover submarine base infiltration to get through first.

See you on the beach! Forever!

It's fascinating to play AA in the light of the Call of Duty wares that would follow it. Around two years earlier all the ingredients were in place - the swirling music, the hapless allies charging into walls of bullets, the vehicular joyrides, the Nazis playing cards in heavily fortified bunkers and a huge range of half-destroyed French farmhouses. When played through again today, however, the Hollywood bombast and the feelings of panic and chaos that COD would go on to specialise in rarely raise their helmets above the pillbox window.

It remains a great game, but an AA replay doesn't quite feel as rounded as a return visit to the first Call of Duty: not quite as much kicks off on-screen, deaths aren't quite so dramatic, environments become samey, vehicle chases feel remarkably slow and gunfire feels that little bit too precise to provide the same degree of COD-style gunspray-terror. Allied Assault's role as a stepping stone to Call of Duty, meanwhile, also means that what would later become war-gaming staples hadn't been invented just yet - with features like staring down raised gunsights and melee weapon shoves still nothing but a beautiful dream.

Let's stop criticising a game released in 2002 for being seven years old though. Allied Assault was released in the days in which gun emplacement sections and a Labour government second term were very exciting things indeed, and what's more it was a game that truly felt and played like an authentic period piece. For the first time, military weapons in a pure action game didn't feel like a numkey-guided tour from pistol to rocket launcher, with stops at shotgun and light machinegun in between.