Call of Duty: Finest Hour

Review

posted 12/12/2004 by Charlie Sinhaseni
other articles by Charlie Sinhaseni
One Page Platforms: PS2
I’ve never been trapped behind enemy lines before, but I’ve played enough first person shooters to develop an image of what it might be like. Bullets ricocheting near my head, explosions rattling my teeth, utter and complete chaos unfolding around me as thousands of young men are screaming and fighting for their lives. It’s an experience that’s been recreated beautifully many times on the PC, but not so much in the console realm. Activision has decided to try its hand at bringing this experience to all of you console dwellers by transporting its vaunted Call of Duty franchise to the living room. The end result isn’t superb, but it’s an above-average entry that does its part to advance the genre.

As the tagline implies, Call of Duty allows you to witness the Second World War through the eyes of ordinary soldiers, tasked with protecting the free world from a heinous dictator. Activision realized that the war wasn’t fought or won by one single nation, so it puts you into the boots of the three key fighting forces; the British, the Russians and the Americans. In the PC game you played as one soldier from each side but in Finest Hour you’ll play as a wide assortment of characters; all of whom have specific specialties. This was a good decision as it never made sense for some random private to be an excellent marksman, a demolitions expert, a covert spy and a master tank driver. I like being able to view the war from a number of varying perspectives as it unfolded (especially from the eyes of the female sniper) but the game gives us little to chew on. In the grand scheme of things, the developers were right to focus on the war as opposed to a couple of comparably insignificant lives, but I feel there’s a way to help the gamer understand the war by asking them to understand it through the eyes of others.

Infinity Ward accomplished something that no other shooter had done before with the original Call of Duty, it showed the entire world that one man was important cog in the machine, but one man alone could not win the war. He performed a number of heroic deeds but his compatriots were always right there to help combat the enemy. That feeling is recreated fairly well in Finest Hour but it’s done with less heart and emotion. When you see soldiers falling all around you as you rush towards Stalingrad a part of your stomach churns as you remember that this is a picture that was painted for many soldiers in the war. But then you sit for awhile and notice that it’s just a scripted cutscene that replays itself and doesn’t really lend any credence to the action. At that point the soldiers become just cannon fodder, placed there solely to be ripped to shreds by the enemy. There’s a point to be made that many of the young men in the war were cannon fodder, but at least they fought for their lives. Most of the soldiers you encounter in the game just run blindly towards the enemy and consistently place themselves in the line of fire.

This leaves the main character (You) to perform most of the deeds in order to foil the Nazis. On its own merits, it’s not actually all that bad thanks to some really intense missions. Whether you’re charging up the hill as a pillbox is bearing down on you, or you’re assaulting an enemy compound to free up some friendlies, you’re always in for one hell of a ride. When Finest Hour is operating full force it’s good, real good. The kind of good where you instinctively creep towards the edge of your seat as your hands are a sweaty mess. That’s when the game is good; there are plenty of instances that hold the game back. The very aspect that looks to propel the game above the other console shooters is the very same aspect that brings it right back to the Mendoza line, namely the mission structure.
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