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Call of Duty: Finest Hour

Review By:  Greg Lynch

Developer:  Spark Unlimited
Publisher:  Activision
# of Players:  1
Genre:  FPS
ESRB:  Teen
Online Play:  Yes
Accessories:  In-game Dolby Digital, System Link, HDTV 480p, Xbox Live
Date Posted: 

3-3-05

Sometimes I wonder if the first person shooter genre should be split into two separate entities: World War II games and ďeverything elseĒ. The market has become so saturated with titles filled with badly acted German voiceover work that Iíve practically lost track of which titles stand out above all others. Still, there are the occasional releases that try hard to clamber to the top of the heap by featuring one or two fresh new features in an attempt to separate itself from the crowd. Call of Duty: Finest Hour tries to be one of those, and despite a few slips it does manage to offer more fun than the average shooter and is easily one of the best WWII titles on any console.

Finest Hourís claim to originality falls almost exclusively on its level of immersion. From the opening screen, youíll find yourself drenched in rich, realistic sound while watching the world at war around you through the eyes of one of several different characters. Instead of being a one-man army, you are merely another soldier in the thick of battle. Planes fly overhead and drop bombs on distant targets, troops charge the front with you, people shout orders at others in the din of war, and your environment just feels alive. Itís truly a great feeling, and few games manage to pull you so quickly into the game.

Yet, after just a short time youíll start to see how heavily scripted the game had to be to maintain that level of immersion. Certain triggers can be missed and suddenly troops just stop in their tracks with no idea what to do next. Meanwhile, youíll find yourself reloading levels on occasion so you can learn what events to be prepared for because scripted traps will catch you unaware the first time through. Instead of being a living, working environment in which you are the player, you soon realize just how much this world needs you to keep going, and just how much it relies on you to be in the right place at the right time. It doesnít kill the enjoyment of the game, but it definitely detracts from the euphoria you started to feel at the beginning.

Another way that the game tries to separate itself is in how it presents each level. Instead of focusing on one character throughout the entire war, it focuses on several different characters spanning three short and distinct campaigns. Youíll have the chance to jump from a new recruit thrown into battle for the first time, to a female sniper, then to a tank commander, all in the first campaign. Each character offers different background stories, points of view, and playing style, but you never get to spend enough time with any single one of them to really get a feel for what drives them in battle. Bringing the number down to maybe three or four characters for the length of the game would have done a great deal to help you connect to the story. However, I think itís important to bear in mind that it actually is one of the few first person shooters with some form of a story, so itís hard to condemn the game for trying. Regardless of character development, the events that occur during the game can definitely be riveting at times, and there are moments when youíll think to yourself that more games should try so hard to keep you glued to the action.

In terms of gameplay, Finest Hour is a very competent shooter. Each weapon feels suitably different, with varying levels of control that will require a bit of getting used to. The only drawback is that each level only features a handful of them, and you rarely get to spend much time getting used to them before itís on to the next group of weapons. The levels are designed very well for the most part, with blistering deserts, cramped towns, and interesting villages to wage war in. The AI puts up a fairly decent fight (assuming you donít break the linear scripted events), and does its part to make people dive for cover and act realistically. Thatís not to say that itís perfect, since there are still moments when characters will get stuck and bounce back and forth behind corners, or when the enemy will happily run in straight lines across the open ground while you snipe them one by one. But when compared to the competition, it holds up well enough and doesnít detract from the fun.

Just to mix up the action, vehicles take a large role in gameplay as well. From driving a tank to manning guns while someone else drives a jeep, it goes a long way to keeping missions feeling fresh.  Varied level design keeps them from feeling like youíre just a steamroller crushing troops and blasting tanks that get in your way. Youíll be told to drive through walls, blast nesting machine gunners from buildings, and doing the ubiquitous escort duty. And while the vehicles (controllable in first and third person points of view) are relatively fun to use, they do have some slight control issues, especially during close quarter battles where youíll find yourself getting hung up on debris that lay outside your field of vision.

The game does an admirable job in terms of graphics, with lots of interesting textures, well-designed characters, and only a hint of slowdown thatís never really detrimental to gameplay. In fact, the only real complaint I would lodge against the presentation is that weapons have a tendency to be found floating in place above where the enemy was gunned down. Itís a minor thing, but it can still be jarring in a game that focuses on realistic environments.

Where the game really gets to shine is in the audio department. With a Pro Logic II system, the immersion gets taken to a whole new level. Planes can be heard from behind as they fly overhead, explosions rumble all around you, the enemy can be found by their gunfire direction, and echoes bounce around in confined spaces. Itís a simply breathtaking experience, and enough to warrant a rental if for no other reason than to hear how effective the audio can be at deepening a gameís level of realism. Voiceover work is equally commendable, and the sheer amount of commands and conversational fodder helps further the feeling that thereís much more going around you than just what you can see in front of you.

Clocking in at approximately twelve hours the game is a relatively short trip, as are most shooters, and the developers tried to make up for the length by including multiplayer capabilities. Unfortunately, lag hampers play all too often, and thereís not much more to it than what most shooters come standard with: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and assault. Still, itís playable enough and should provide some extra bang for your buck, even if very little.

Highs:

  • Very immersive audio and visuals

  • Varied, interesting mission design

  • Has a large number of very memorable moments

Lows:

  • AI can be spotty at times
  • Poor multiplayer experience
  • Focus on individual characters is too short to be compelling.
  • Breaking the linear scripted events causes the game to grind to a halt

Final Verdict: 

When the smoke clears, what remains is a solid shooter that has a good number of very memorable moments in it. It tries very hard to convince you that youíre in the heat of a real war (albeit with most of its inspiration taken from Hollywood), but all the scripting and dramatic sound effects wonít be able to hide the fact that this is still just a regular shooter with the occasional shining moment. Even if itís arguably the best WWII shooter on a console, itís still suffers against the steep competition the PC offers. But then again, if youíre like me itís hard to remember which ones out of the seemingly thousands released are the best, and you can do far worse than this one.

Overall Score: 7.6

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