There is always a trend going on, no matter what medium you’re thinking about. For a good five years (more?), videogames depicting the events of the second world war were all the rage, starting with the runaway success of the first Medal of Honor, published by Electronic Arts. As the fad moved on, more games joined the ranks, many of which moved quite a few units: Medal of Honor: Underground, which was followed by a PC version in Allied Assault; Battlefield 1942, a massive hit with the online crowd; Call of Duty, a single-player epic that captured the attention of PC fans everywhere. But after awhile, trends always have to die. And the World War II movement did not go out gracefully. Not one, but twoMedal of Honor console titles met with poor reviews and sales, which basically spelled D-O-O-M for the sub-genre. So what would these marketing geniuses come up with next?
The developers of Battlefield 1942 set off the trend with their highly anticipated Battlefield Vietnam. The game was nearly as solid as its predecessor, if not as much as, but, giving inspiration to an array of rags-to-riches hopefuls, the trend would only go downhill from here on out. Vietcong: Purple Haze, Conflict: Vietnam, etcetera, etcetera. None would be given anything but mediocre scores from reviewers across the board. Oddly enough, to receive another World War II game feels like a breath of fresh air – something most of us thought we would never say. But that is why Call of Duty: Finest Hour caught my attention. And to add to that, the PC version of the game was a fantastic cinematic experience, and I had hoped for something similar. Sadly, Finest Hour is not similar at all. It is a completely original title, built from the ground up as a console game, and it shows. These developers really do not give console gamers credit. This condensed adventure has nowhere near the levels of both cinematic and gameplay quality that made its PC big brother what it was. It is a shame, but the Call of Duty franchise is left to sit on the bench along with its Vietnam portraying pals this time around.
Finest Hour’s first downfall is in its cinematic and thematic presentation. The PC version of Call of Duty was extremely strong in both of the preceding regards, especially pacing-wise. Players guided a different soldier with a very different perspective on the war through his own full campaign. We grew close to our character. We felt for our character. Finest Hour, on the other hand, is completely lacking in any feeling. It is like the Cliff’s Notes rendition of the PC game. Instead of being built upon the concept of multiple playthroughs, Finest Hour has players going through the game in one, quick and dirty, less than ten hour stint. Yet, in a strange attempt to keep with the defining point of the series without actually doing any work, the developers retained the perspective switches. Each character switch is uncomfortable to deal with, since you never feel like you got to truly know any of the characters you dealt with. You simply ran as them, killed as them, died as them, and moved on after a few retries. Even the commercial for the first Call of Duty had more emotion to bring to the table than this game does.
The gameplay presented in Finest Hour is, expectedly, not up to par with the PC version, although it beats out any one of the current slew of Vietnam games, no questions asked. While there is nothing extremely special here, at least the basic action is above average. Players will carry no more than two weapons and a handful of grenades and mines – making this one of the few first-person shooters outside of the Tom Clancy games to emulate the amount of items a human being can actually carry, and actually make it work. This all sounds good, right? And it is. But this isn’t where the real problems with this game lie.
Pacing is the real issue with Finest Hour. It’s something that first-person shooters rarely achieve with true grace, including even the cream of the crop. (Even the renowned Halo series is notorious for its repetitive settings, for example.) Enemies are either in massive bunches or too few and far in between. The A.I. is nothing to write home about, so the challenge of taking an opponent head-on is not daunting in the slightest. When these things add up, we end up with an experience that is not conducive to the feeling of taking part in a real battle. Finest Hour is lifeless in terms of gameplay. I cannot help but wish that there was more to be had here. I wish I could feel more for these characters, I wish I could feel my heart drop with the thought of taking a human life, or watching a comrade go down, but I don’t. And it is all because Finest Hour feels more like a mediocre videogame than the grand epic that the name Call of Duty should bring to mind.
Despite the more “console game” feel of Finest Hour, the game is devoid of one hugely important aspect of first-person shooting on a television screen: Multiplayer. While the amazing single player mode of the PC version more than made up for the lack of any online support to speak of, Finest Hour simply screams for this sort of addition since the campaign is so quick and dirty. Anything would have been nice; a vanilla deathmatch mode, levels built for team play, capture the flag, or, most importantly, co-op support for the single player mode. Finest Hour is a game that is at its best when the player observes the actions of his or her teammates. While this game is more akin to Rambo than Saving Private Ryan, the incredible A.I. routines behind your computer-controlled teammates are fascinating to be a part of. They aren’t perfect, but you can tell that they are supposed to represent fairly well-trained soliders. They know when to toss a grenade, when to get down, when to run as fast as possible away from a threat. And their mistakes are dead-on, too. It rarely feels “cheap” when one of your teammates dies; you know it happened for a reason, and that reason can be rectified. But since the narrative doesn’t depend on any of this, since it is so completely paper-thin, I just don’t see why it wouldn’t have worked to have a friend be able to hop into the fray with you. It would have given this game much more mileage than the less-than-10 hour experience that it does supply.
Finest Hour plays mediocre, and looks mediocre. Though it is not the worst looking game on the market right now, there is absolutely nothing above average to see here. All of the character models are different, but not enough within each type to really tell them apart. The worst of it comes in the various technical effects that were put to (poor) use. Explosions, flying sparks, pretty much anything that tries to look good ends up making the game play badly.
Sound, on the other hand, is as good as it should be. Voices, music, sound effects -- especially sound effects – all of it is of the quality that one should expect from this series. The only real problem is that there aren’t enough of them. Many of the same sound effects are heard again and again, with not enough change depending on what is colliding with what to create the sound. Still, this is only a minor complaint, and it hardly affects the player, since it isn’t very noticeable.
Call of Duty: Finest Hour is a lacking release, hitting store shelves at a time when we need something, anything, to play well in the first-person shooter genre on consoles besides Halo 2. And for Gamecube owners, even more is needed, since Timesplitters 2 is still the best game in the genre to grace the console. With everything but the sound category being wholly mediocre and disappointing (especially for players of the first Call of Duty, Finest Hour is just another sub-par release.
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