Steven Spielberg and Electronic Arts' phenomenal WWII PC shooter turns 15 today
15 years ago today saw the release of the lauded Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, which looking back was far more culturally significant than any of us could have possibly appreciated at the time. It was the third game in Electronic Arts' groundbreaking historical military combat shooter series and the last to be designed by legendary creators Vince Zampella and Jason West. After the game shipped in 2002 the duo left with 20 other members of their studio 2015, Inc to form Infinity Ward which would go on to create the Call of Duty franchise for Activision. That same core team would later form Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment in 2010.
The game was best known for its deeply stressful portrayal of D-Day, in which players were tasked with surviving the assault on Omaha beach. The scene was directly inspired by the harrowing opening scene of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, which in turn was a significant factor in the Medal of Honor series being greenlit in the first place. Spielberg himself had instigated the production of the first game, prompted by his son Max being a big fan of Rare's GoldenEye shooter on Nintendo 64. Despite being far less involved, he retained a writing credit on both its sequel Medal of Honor Underground and Allied Assault.
Though the game followed OSS agent Lt. Mike Powell of the US Army Rangers, who was not referenced in Spielberg's movie, a number of its levels drew on Saving Private Ryan for inspiration, particularly in terms of layout and scenery. After successful missions in both Algeria, where he rescued a British SAS agent, and Norway where he neutralized a German U-boat threat to clear the way for the Allied invasion of Europe, Powell eventually ended up in occupied France. These French missions, in which Powell was tasked with acquiring intelligence on German troop movements, essentially ran in parallel with the events of Saving Private Ryan.
Originally a PlayStation-exclusive series, Medal of Honor Allied Assault was the first made just for PC, something that helped push things forward in terms of scope, depth and graphical fidelity. As such, it was the first built on Id Software's then-groundbreaking iD Tech 3 game engine – something it shared with early 2000's graphical showcases Quake 3: Arena, Star Wars Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. It was also the only game in the series' 13-year run that was supplemented with expansion packs. The first of these, Allied Assault Spearhead, featured Gary Oldman – fresh from his post-Hannibal appearances on Greg the Bunny and a couple of episodes of Friends – as its lead character, Sgt. Jack Barnes.