The odds were stacked against Call of Duty: Finest Hour from the get-go. Let’s face it; not many first-person shooters that are released a week after Halo 2 would be able to crawl out from such a gargantuan shadow. Even CoD:FH’s critically acclaimed PC counterpart (which is a different game entirely) has made Activision’s latest FPS entry kind of a redheaded FPS stepchild for the moment. It’s a good thing Activision didn’t tout this as a Halo-killer, otherwise the game would have been dead in the water for sure (I’m looking at you, Killzone). What CoD:FH does provide is a competent FPS experience that has an intense atmosphere with enough variation to keep gamers plugging away at the missions. Unfortunately, bland storytelling, sluggish controls, an annoying lack of checkpoints, and hit-and-miss A.I. mar the overall experience. Still, console FPS fans who’re sick of plasma guns, aliens, and outer space in general should give CoD:FH some serious thought.
The setting is World War II, and you fight as a few different allied soldiers who each have their own story. The game is split up into the Eastern Front, North Africa, and the Western Front. As an American, Russian or British soldier, you’ll snipe, bomb, and blast your way through enemy lines using a variety of weapons, including tanks, mines, and mounted machine guns. WWII was an important period of history during which there were surely some amazing stories to tell, but CoD:FH doesn’t take advantage of this rich background, and instead briefly introduces a few characters without fleshing out a gripping story. Basically, cut scenes say, “I’m X soldier from X country, and I did X during WWII. It was incredible,” at which point you’re put into a soldier’s point of view. This method of storytelling doesn’t really get you excited for further developments (not that there are any). Excuse me? Oh, you don’t care about stories and just want to blow stuff up? Fine then.
You blow a lot of things up in CoD:FH, as well as pump a lot of lead into Nazi scumbags. Weaponry is authentic and varied. Frag grenades and other explosive devices complement the wide array of rifles, which vary in terms of recoil and reloading method. If you happen upon a German anti-armor unit, you may also pick up a panzerschreck, which is a shoulder mounted charge launcher. Positioning your soldier in a standing, crouching, or prone (on your stomach) stance affects your accuracy noticeably, so while running-and-gunning are very much a part of this game, smartly positioning yourself behind cover and steadying your weapon is rewarded. The crosshairs may annoy some people, because the hairs never cross, causing confusion among both gamers and lexicographers.
Heavy firepower is available in the form of tanks and mounted machine guns. Tanks are difficult to drive, as you have to keep your bearings while you move the turret around to take out targets. They’re big and clunky, just like real tanks. Even though they’re heavily armored, they are especially vulnerable to enemy tanks and panzerschreck fire. Taking out anti-armor troops is done most effectively by ripping them apart with fire from the tank’s supplementary machine gun (all of the tank’s ammunition is unlimited). Highly devastating stationary machine guns are located in strategic positions in certain missions. In the hands of the enemy, these things can be a source of frustration. However, the momentum of a mission can turn in your favor if you find yourself behind one. They have infinite ammo, and can be used to mow down Nazis swiftly. You’ll even find yourself on a mounted machine gun on the back of a jeep.
Missions are varied enough to keep gameplay interesting. Your goals will include delivering a radio to a stranded unit, blowing up a target, sniping anti-armor units, securing areas, defending tanks against anti-armor fire, and protecting important people. The goals are usually intertwined fairly seamlessly throughout a mission, with one leading to another.
While CoD:FH has a lot of good things going for it, the main problem is the sluggish control, an issue that affects virtually every aspect of the game. There seems to be a noticeable delay between your inputs and the actions on screen. You can choose to have slow, normal, or quick look speed, but that delay is still there. After a while, you automatically begin to compensate for this, and the problem works itself out. However, more responsive controls certainly would’ve been appreciated.
The battles of CoD:FH are scripted, causing the game to adopt a trial-and-error feel. After getting killed a few times, you learn the attack patterns of enemies, which doesn’t allow for a completely chaotic, spontaneous experience. This isn’t to say that battles aren’t intense. CoD:FH keeps the pressure on most of the time. Bullets are constantly whizzing by, troops swarm around your position, and planes drop devastating bombs, often all at the same time. Things are intense, for sure, but not as random and chaotic as they could be.
At your side, you have fellow soldiers that are there to help you complete the mission at hand. You have limited control over them, with the ability to order them to run (where to is up to them, it seems). You have the option of giving them health packs if you’re feeling generous (their health is indicated by the color of their name), although if you’re smart you’ll keep the health and let them croak, as the death of a common soldier has very little effect on the outcome of the mission. Sometimes the allied A.I. troops help you, and sometimes they don’t. On occasion, they enjoy running straight into mounted machine gun fire and timed explosives, which is all for the best. One intense shootout between ally and Nazi A.I. had the two opponents shooting at each other face-to-face from two feet away, with a shot being fired every three seconds. More serious A.I. quirks occur when you have to protect someone like a high-level soldier, and he ends up running in the opposite direction straight into machine gun fire, causing you to fail the mission. Good thing you just reached that checkpoint…right?
Actually, checkpoints are few and far between. It’s as if they were randomly dispersed throughout some missions, and in others not utilized at all. This can be frustrating on the more difficult missions. Instead of starting off right after one of the sub-goals you just completed, you’re placed at the beginning of the conflict. This appears to be a cheap way to increase the difficulty of the game, and many will find it frustrating.
Multiplayer is limited to online, so you’ll find no split screen here. Up to 16 players can compete against one another in standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag modes. Search and destroy is a fourth mode in which teams try to destroy two of their opponents’ targets using time bombs. The team to destroy the targets wins. Online play is smooth, with no real lag issues.
The sounds of CoD:FH are very well done, with a lot of things going on at once. There is a fullness to the sound palette, partly because there is wall-to-wall noise. Tank treads turning, machine guns going “rat-a-tat-tat,” soldiers yelling, and explosions going off add a lot to the experience. When an explosive goes off too close to you, the sound deafens as you move in slow motion, and after a few seconds the sound comes back like a record spinning back up to speed. AC/DC frontman/rock n’ roll god Brian Johnson exhibits his voice acting skills during the North African segment, and does a pretty good job. David Haysbert, who is famous for playing the president on the series 24, narrates the events of WWII in between campaigns. The musical score is made up of beautiful, soaring orchestral pieces composed by Michael Giacchino. This game simply wouldn’t be as good with the volume down.
CoD:FH looks decent, and does a good job of portraying gritty, war-torn environments. Character models aren’t very detailed, but they get the job done. Textures are on par with average PS2 titles, as well as explosion, smoke, fire, and blur effects. The frame rate stays steady enough as not to affect gameplay negatively, although things do get choppy at times. There really isn’t anything to complain about visually, but not anything to rave about either.
CoD:FH has some issues that hinder its position in the hierarchy of console FPSs. None of the issues are wholly detrimental to the game, because playing through it is a worthwhile experience. However, sluggish controls, sketchy A.I., watered-down stories, and a frustrating lack of checkpoints block this game from stepping into the FPS V.I.P. room. On the good side, it does have atmosphere, varied gameplay, and interesting, authentic weaponry. If the next version addresses the problems, Activision and Spark could have a formidable FPS on their hands.
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