Call of Duty: Finest Hour
War games keep crawling out of the wood work but does this one make it out of boot camp? Our full review awaits.
Xbox, PS2, GCN
It seems as though the two World Wars and Vietnam have become this generation's favourable variation on standard first person shooters as the market appears to be flooded with them. Choosing the game for you can be a bit of a challenge and that's where we come in. We've put Call of Duty: Finest Hour through our gauntlet of tests but does it win the war or does it emerge waiving a white flag? Read on to find out.
The game starts with you placed into the shoes of a Private in the Russian army just as the slimy Nazis have broken their treaty with Stalin. For those a bit uneducated in the Second World War Russia and Germany formed a treaty but due to Hitler's impatience for Nazi expansion he chose to break the treaty with Joseph Stalin and invade Russia, that's where you come in. The game employs an interesting tactic of jumping around with regard to playable characters which produces an interesting gameplay experience. It's fairly rare that you'll be with the same character for more then a mission or so as Call of Duty: Finest Hour not only swaps characters but also puts you with a completely different army on more then one occasion.
You'll see action in the shoes of the aforementioned Russians, not to mention the British and then finishing up in the American army. This removes some of the attachment that most games strive for with their characters, you'll find yourself vaulted out of a character that you may have grown attached to without any hope of ever seeing them again. Personas are often blurred together thanks to this tactic so any hope of developing a relationship with your character is all but destroyed. On the upside this does present the player with some respectable diversity in regard to perspective, still it would have been nice if the developers had made an attempt at establishing some kind of a rapport between the player and the character on the screen.
As a first person shooter however the game does show some good signs in the gameplay department, a nice variety of weapons keeps the game feeling fresh and the ability to inhabit a tank through a good bit of the game should offer a welcome new perspective. Weapons have their own unique characteristics, making it easy to distinguish between different armaments without even knowing their names. Also, just like real life battle situations (I'm assuming) you'll typically have a squad of team mates at your side.
Squad commands are mysteriously absent but that goes along with the theme of the series, although it would have been nice if your men showed some more realistic sign of intelligence. There are far too many times when I would be perched behind a corner and I would witness my ally standing in an open hall getting pummelled by enemy machine gun fire. Surprisingly enough he took it like a champ as I watched his life deplete to nothingness. Needless to say this removed a bit of the reality from the game.
Mission variety gives the game a good bit of life, featuring straightforward plots that differ very nicely from one another. They range from typical stuff like taking down a Nazi flag residing on the top of a hill to protecting a tank factory to escorting precious cargo from point A to point B. While there really aren't any surprises or plot twists to be found, the variety keeps the pulse of the game alive and well for the seven or eight hours that a veteran player will need to work through the entire single player campaign.
The online aspect provides the game with some much needed legs considering the undesirable length of the single player missions. Sadly the run of the mill game modes don't provide anything extraordinary. You'll find the standard Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture-the-Flag, and Search and Destroy. All of these game modes take place across eight maps, all of which are based on the single player levels and actually do allow for multiple approaches and tactics to be used which really saves the experience. Online stability is handled nicely with basically no gameplay hit when the maximum allowable players (16) are present in one game. Online performance would have been in the same category as Return to Castle Wolfenstein had it not been for the lack of uniqueness in the game modes, as it stands there's a far better crop of online shooters out there for you to choose from.
Following suit the graphical presentation doesn't raise the bar nor does it disappoint in any way. It seems as though more attention was paid to the British campaign in North Africa then any other segment as it features some beautifully rendered environments. The Russian campaign looks bleak and bland with low resolution textures populating many of the outdoor environments, the same goes for the U.S. missions. Where the game really loses some points is in the death of the Nazis that you'll be fighting. Their body has obviously been partitioned into different kill zones. The determining factor of the death animation lies in which partition you shoot at, this means that killing Nazis has a truly artificial feeling. Another negative aspect of gunning down Nazis is their incredibly late reaction time on some of your shots. For one reason or another it takes your enemies a split second too long to react to being shot.
The audio package fares a bit better, featuring a nice symphonic score that very rarely seems out of place. Where the game really excels is in its use of sound effects. CoD:FH will put your 5.1 system through a real test as you'll hear gun shots whizzing by your ears in every direction. Dialogue delivery takes a bit of a hit in its diversity as you'll hear a bit of the same battlefield jargon over and over again in between the scripted sequences.
Overall the game provides an enjoyable experience just not an extraordinary one. The PC version performs a bit better in every area imaginable but that doesn't make this a bad offering. Sadly Call of Duty has fallen victim to a plague that has stricken many of the PC games attempting to make the transfer to the world of consoles. For a great war simulation on and offline stick to Return to Castle Wolfenstein.