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.My main problem with the game is that it gets too tedious and there are plenty of areas where the designers could have improved upon the structure. There’s an early mission in the Russian campaign where you have to defend an engineer as he defends the tank. After he finishes the repairs you need to hop into the tank where you’re then required to maneuver through a German-filled town finally happening upon a friendly outpost which you have to defend. I didn’t mind the mission too much but it’s incredibly hard on the first couple of run-throughs and considering that there aren’t any checkpoints, it becomes frustratingly difficult. Later missions have checkpoints but I feel that they’re spaced out improperly. They should come in the various stages of a massive firefight, not afterwards when the battle is already over. There’s also a problem with the actual structure of the game as well. Players spend far too much time in the confines of a tank and not enough time on the ground. It should also be noted that the tank missions are the weakest of the bunch and generally slow down the game just as it begins to build up momentum.
You’ll have access to a wide assortment of real-world time-specific weapons including the MP40, the Springfield rifle, the M3A1 and the M1 Garand. Each weapon operates in a realistic manner and exhibits a satisfying amount of recoil upon firing. As is the case in the PC game, you can fire from the hip or from the sights. Bringing the weapon up to eye level will cause you to move slower as a tradeoff for better accuracy. I found that system works exceptionally well as it provided you with a better aiming mechanism at the expense of mobility. In addition, you’ll also have to deal with a large muzzle flash that will obscure your view from time-to-time. It might be bothersome but it actually makes sense considering that you are
bringing the sights up to your eyes. You’ll also be able to utilize the three stance system introduced in the original CoD. When upright, you’ll be most mobile but your aim will suffer the most. There’s a crouch which allows you to remain semi-mobile while retaining a good amount of accuracy. Last is the prone position where you lie down on the ground. It’s the least mobile but you’ll have the most amount of accuracy while turning yourself into a harder target. Finding when and where to use each stance plays a crucial role in your success and overall survival rate.
If you’re trying to put a number on the amount of time you’ll spend with the game, I’d say it’s around the neighborhood of 10 to 12 hours for the single-player campaign. Since the game is cordoned off into three shorter campaigns as opposed to one long one, the game essentially tricks your mind into believing that the game is much shorter than it really is. It took me about three hours to pass the first Russian campaign and I was ready to call the game short before I realized that I was less than a third of the way through the game. Keep in mind that the game has a pretty well-developed online portion and you’re looking in the neighborhood of at least 14 or 15 hours. That’s pretty long for a first person shooter, especially when most are clocking in at about seven or eight hours.
I’ve always said that the only way to play a first person shooter is with a keyboard and mouse setup. It’s quick, responsive and allows you to be as precise as your wrists will allow. Developers have had a difficult time recreating this feel for the consoles, often leading to controls that are slippery and hard to manage. Finest Hour tries to remedy this problem by instilling a slower operating system that makes it easier to aim, but is very sluggish overall. Walking and strafing just never feels natural and there’s a slight lag time between the moment that you turn the right analog stick and the actual moment that you turn. On the upside this makes it much easier to aim because the system moves much slower. It takes a bit of getting used to but I’m actually convinced that this is one of the best control schemes available for a console shooter. Other people may reference HALO 2 in this scenario but they’ll have to remember that HALO 2 has a heavy aiming assist system that essentially tracks targets that come near the crosshairs. Finest Hour doesn’t feature such a system and requires gamers to hit the actual target, not just the nearby vicinity.War is a serious matter, so it’s befitting that the developers were able to secure some Hollywood talent capable of conveying that very message. As the vintage video footage rolls you’ll be treated to the voice of actor Dennis Haysbert who plays the President on the TV show 24
. Sure, he played Pedro Cerrano in the old Major League
movies, but this guy has this matter-of-factly voice that really draws in the listener. He has this matter-of-fact approach to speaking that really adds significant to everything he says. Although the rest of the cast is composed of unknowns they do an excellent job of placing you into a warzone-type setting. A number of the sound effects seemed to have been lifted straight out of CoD. The atmospheric effects (such as the sound of distant gunfire and planes flying overhead) go a long way towards developing a believable environment. All of the familiar gunshots and explosions that you fell in love with last year are back again in sweet Dolby Pro Logic II encoding.
As far as the graphics go the game looks pretty decent, but nothing will really stand out at you. All of the models look good but their age is really beginning to show, especially in a time when everyone is going nuts over all these realistic physics systems. The visuals look decent in the screenshots but lack the definition and refinement that other games are now offering. Explosions still look great but the smoke that follows after them looks pixilated and washed out on larger television screens. As far as atmosphere the game still does a great job of depicting war-torn Europe and Africa in the mid 1940s. Thanks to some great architecture work the bombed-out villages and African Villas look especially convincing. Your eyes won’t be in for a treat, but they won’t have all that much to complain about either.
One of the biggest attractions in the original CoD was its online mode. Players who had finished up the single-player aspect and were hungry for more found that the online portion of the game suited their appetites just well. Finest Hour tries to recreate this aspect and the end result is pretty good all around the board. It can accommodate up to sixteen players through the GameSpy matchmaking service and features voice communication via USB headset. Finding a game is simple thanks to the built-in server browser that allows you to handpick which game to join. All you do is pick a name, pick a game and jump right into the action. There are four different game modes that essentially boil down to team deathmatch, free-for-all, capture the flag and Counter Strike
-style seek and destroy. Of these, the deathmatch is the most addictive because it’s so simple and accessible. For the most part the action is stable and smooth thanks in large part to the fact that the developers made the online portion broadband only.
At a time when most WWII shooters are thriving on the run and shoot style of gameplay, it’s nice to see that the realistic-style of gaming is making its way to the console realm. There are some problems with the mission structure, but the intense action and addictive online aspect more than make up for the inane tank missions. If you’re a fan of Call of Duty or just a fan of WWII shooters in general, you’ll love what Finest Hour
has to offer.