Call of Duty: Finest Hour
has the difficult task of living under the shadow of a successful PC franchise. It's impossible not to compare Finest Hour
to its PC counterpart and see what's been lost in the translation. Not a port of the PC COD
, but a brand new game made just for the consoles, Finest Hour
is a serviceable first-person World War II shooter, but it lacks the character and intensity of its big brother. In a console world overrun with first-person shooters, this latest call to duty falls on deaf ears.
Shoot to Kill
The concept behind the Call of Duty franchise remains. Playing through Finest Hour, you see the war through the eyes of multiple soldiers. You begin in Russia, move to North Africa for the British campaign in '43, and end in '44 with a U.S. perspective. Rather than having player's stick with one character and follow their progression through an entire campaign, as in the PC version, Finest Hour hangs with most characters for just a couple of missions before hopping off to look at another perspective. While this does provide for some more variety, it also diminishes the effectiveness of the characters. I never was involved in their stories and their stories were scarcely touched upon in cut-scenes. I would have preferred one character per campaign, because the quick jumps make for a series of faceless characters that aren't memorable in any way.
I will say that Finest Hour is a competent first-person shooter. You can play it, beat it (in under ten hours easily), and enjoy it. But it's not an exceptional shooter. As the various characters in Call of Duty, you have numerous authentic weapons at your disposal as you face down scores of Nazis in Red Square and other notable locales. Each weapon has its own unique personality, more so than the characters that wield them. You'll never be at a loss for armament as the dead leave plenty of spare ammo and weapons that can be picked up on the fly. You can slot two weapons, plus grenades and mines, which is more than enough to take on the Nazis. The more interesting aspect is aiming down the scope. By holding the Left Trigger, you slowly pull the scope to your eye and must keep holding the Trigger to maintain the close-up view. It's an effective alteration to the standard scope view.
Missions, in general, are fairly short and straightforward. Finest Hour is a fine excuse for wasting Nazis hiding in rooms, sniping from balconies, or storming the streets. The firing mechanics are simple and the game control is instantly intuitive for anyone who's played a console FPS before. But is it fun? At times, it's pretty enjoyable, but all of it feels very "by the numbers," heavily orchestrated, and not particularly challenging. Finest Hour lacks the true intensity of war, which isn't such a hot thing for a World War II shooter.
One thing that keeps things interesting is your teammates. In war, you never really fight alone and so it is with Call of Duty, as you fight alongside numerous allies in each mission. Sometimes it's a bit more intimate, with you and just one or two squadmates, but at other times you can have a much larger convoy of soldiers. Though you can't direct your men, they have reasonable AI and will take out Nazis on their own, opening doors to flush Nazis out of houses and chucking grenades when appropriate.
Sometimes you're tasked to escort someone from point A to B, but it's usually pretty easy to get them where they need to go safely, so long as you have decent aim. The only mission where this is untrue is the first U.S. mission, where you must protect an M12 tank from a ridiculous amount of panzerfaust-toting Germans who pop rockets across the street like it's the Fourth of July. There are seriously a few too many levels featuring a couple dozen Nazis with rocket launchers, so much so that Finest Hour feels like Sylvester Stallone's version of WWII. As for this frustrating first US mission, it goes on for a long while, features one checkpoint (most missions have no checkpoints), and will probably take you as long to beat as the entire North African campaign.
Though I found the majority of Finest Hour to be pretty standard, there are some moments that stand out. I really like the North African campaign, primarily because it's an aspect of the war that is rarely touched on in games. Visually it's the best-looking area, particularly the jeep-ride through the desert. Perhaps it would serve Activision better to focus on one campaign for an entire game, because I would definitely be interested in seeing more on the trials and travails of wartime efforts in Africa. Other goodies include having to hold off an invading horde of Nazis and rumbling through Red Square in a tank. Tanks
As for tanks, you will have the opportunity to drive tanks in several missions, what amounts to maybe 20% of the entire game. Tanks are, as in real life, a little unwieldy. They turn slow and move slow and take a bit of getting used to. However, once you have the hang of it, the tank missions offer some arcade fun. The default first-person view is best, but you can also view your tank in the third-person. This proves problematic, as it's a little clunky to alter moving the turret and moving your tank, a control issue that isn't present in the first-person view.
In a tank, you can zoom in and let out a mortar shot that can rip through planes, tanks, and foot soldiers. You can also use the machineguns on the tank to shoot down swarming soldiers. If you're truly daring, you can also use the Button Mode, which has you pop out of the tank, gun in hand. This mode is novel, but a bit pointless since the tank's mounted machineguns do more damage, don't use up your ammo, and don't leave you exposed to a lucky shot from a Nazi.
Finest Hour features some rather standard online options for those interested in multiplayer. Allowing up to 16-player battles on PS2 Online, you can play any of four modes across eight different maps. The maps, based on levels in Finest Hour, are actually pretty cool, but the modes are nothing new. You can play Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, or Search & Destroy (a Counter-Strike-type bombing run with two targets instead of one).
Though Finest Hour doesn't blow up with more than ten folks in one game, there are some strange occurrences, like missing animations (characters start to slide along the ground instead of moving their feet). The oddest choice is allowing people to change their team at any time. Don't want to be on the losing team? Go ahead and switch. With so many better online shooters to choose from, I would stick with something like SOCOM II.
Graphics & Sound
As with the gameplay, Call of Duty: Finest Hour's graphics are certainly not ugly, but they aren't exemplary either. The character models are decent, there are a number of scripted death animations for Nazi and Allied soldiers alike, and the environments look very good. Many of the effects, however, are rather weak. Some explosions, like a tank blasting a hole in a wall, look fantastic, but also cause some slowdown. Other explosions, though, look pretty mediocre.
The sound compliments the graphics and gameplay by once again being good, but not great. The orchestrated score is sometimes out of place and not particularly effective. However, Finest Hour does a nice overall job with sound effects and using the full sound field. I just wish there was more random dialogue from both your buddies and the Nazis you battle, as it would have provided a bit more personality to Finest Hour.
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