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Call of Duty: Finest Hour

Developer: Spark Unlimited
Publisher: Activision
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Players: 1-16
Similar To: Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Rating: Teen
Published: 12 :17 : 04
Reviewed By: Ryan Newman

Overall: 5.5 = Average

 

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The original Call of Duty was an award-winning PC title that combined heavily-scripted events with enough freedom to gave the player the feeling they were part of a larger effort, and that their actions were making a difference. It was a cinematic, adrenaline-pumping experience that took the genre by storm. I'm not really sure why it was not brought to consoles as-is; instead, an entirely new title was developed by Spark Unlimited. Call of Duty: Finest Hour, a not-so-thrilling experience, follows the same core formula of the original and even manages to add some improvements, but ultimately fails to make the same kind of impact.

Starting off in the Soviet Union, players will fight the Germans in Stalingrad, then proceed to North Africa for the British portion, and wrap it up with the final push as the Americans. What is immediately noticeable as the game starts off, with Stukas strafing the boats transporting Soviet troops to Stalingrad, is that the game is dark. The game is really, really dark. Upon receiving five rounds of ammo, and the stirring encouragement of your commanders (re: fight or be shot), I encountered a problem I was to encounter later on: poor AI. Ignoring the fact that enemies and allies alike are a notch above moronic, what with their tendency to rush in for a melee attack instead of just shooting, watching two combatants hit each other repeatedly with the butts of their guns over and over while their friends stare on is both comedic and disheartening. A gentleman I was supposed to follow ended up not only failing to help in an assault, instead choosing to run into a wall for a good five minutes while I cleared out a room and shot at retreating Germans by myself.

Ignoring the fact that I didn't have this kind of problem in the original, I continued on with the hope that I had just hit a few snags and that was that. What is nice about Finest Hour is that, generally, the pacing is just right. The levels are designed in a way that offers more freedom than United Offensive with some of the objectives requiring a little bravado and luck.

 

Unfortunately, luck played a much larger role than I would have preferred, mainly because I could barely see anything. Even with the brightness on my television up as high as it could go (screenshots aren't adequate representations as capture cards auto-correct brightness), I was still being shot by unseen soldiers. I would have to hide and squint to see a muzzle flash light up a soldier's body before I would know where to shoot. To help alleviate problems - which I'm assuming were more for the move to compensate for the lack of precision when aiming with a controller- there is a targeting system that you can toggle that shows red arrows around a unit when an enemy is hit. The problem then becomes that the shot animations, aside from a leg shot, either resemble death or are nonexistent. Since the game doesn't use blood, it is really hard to get an indication of whether or not an enemy has been hit and, if they have, if they are close to death. The result of this is not just a waste of ammo, but also being taken out of the experience. The mediocre graphics don't help either, with drab textures making it difficult to distinguish a unit from the surroundings.

All in all, the Soviet portion was fraught with problems of darkness, aiming, and AI. The missions themselves were quite fun, though. From storming pillboxes to taking down the German flag to fending off a tank factory with a sniper rifle, then making a mad dash in a tank to aid the chaotic offensive, the scale of city combat and the peril of the resistance were conveyed well. The tank portion was a bit more difficult than I had expected, mainly from the tank controlling like a go-cart, and even though the massive tank battles didn't feel as epic as they did in the original, they still weren't bad. One mission I initially enjoyed involved shooting airplanes before they took off. Interestingly enough, a few rounds from the tank's cannon wouldn't destroy the grounded planes, but a few rounds from the machine gun would. What's more, matters soon became aggravating as I was getting hit by planes trying to take off because I could not see them. Interestingly enough, a few rounds from the tank's cannon wouldn't destroy the grounded planes, but a few rounds from the machine gun would. Take a second to think about that. I could not see a plane approaching me until it was too late. There is dark, and there is too dark. I present to you: too dark. That was with about three notches left to go until full brightness, which I adjusted accordingly to try to avoid similar instances.

The British campaign fared better in the sight department, although anything remotely resembling dusk and past made it just as difficult. Surprisingly, unlike the original and its expansion, there was only one vehicle portion in the British campaign, and it was the player taking the gunner position on a jeep. The outdoor areas were actually pleasant, and, aside from the ridiculous looking animations that occur when a NPC is hurt in an explosion, it was fun riding up mountain sides and watching both sides charge each other. Then, I hit a pretty significant snag. I was supposed to save two gentlemen stuck in a tower within a small temple ruin. The first time I made it up the tower, they refused to come down. After being shot by enemy reinforcements, I tried again and again and again. One time one of the guys came down, but was killed; another time, both came down, but one ran in circles in a corner, until a scripted bombing sequence occurred, at which time we had just ran into the killing zone and I was killed; another time, one guy stayed put and defended, while another just ran off and got shot. To even get to these men I had to kill a few dozen soldiers, and with the guns feeling like they shoot out air instead of bullets, the entire area, which could've been a pretty exciting shoot-out, turned out to be an extremely frustrating experience.

Then it was the Americans' turn. It suffered the same problems, and it wasn't all that different an experience from the others. However, I did like hiding behind tanks and taking potshots at nearby enemy troops and flushing out the surroundings of anti-tank personnel. All campaigns combined took a little less than 10 hours, which isn't terribly long. There is multiplayer, but not many folks seemed too jazzed about playing it. Maybe that was because it felt tacked on; the stilted running animation goes a long way in forming that opinion. Consisting of Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Search & Destroy on eight maps, a few of which are pretty good, multiplayer reaches the level of serviceable.

Call of Duty: Finest Hour did accomplish some things that I really enjoyed. Large health packs can now be stored for later use and also given to squad members; despite the fact that they aren't the brightest bunch, I still liked keeping them around. Players can also issue a basic command that prepares surrounding allies to position themselves to rush a room when an order is given to open the door. The locations, level designs and structures, as previously mentioned, are quite good, and I actually preferred much of it over the original. But there are also several smaller problems that need addressing. One is that members of the squad have no problems blocking doorways, making you go slow to push them out of the way, which is never the preferred method of escape once a tank sets its sights on the window you were just looking out of. Then there are the oddities, like landmines disappearing after being dropped, and one level where I would respawn dropping to the ground, immediately taking damage before I could even take control. Also, this might have just been my controller, but for some reason, when I used my type-s controller, my soldier would fire without my pressing the fire button; it didn't happen with my older controllers, but I played several other games with the type-s to make sure, and the problem didn't occur in any other game.

One aspect that did survive relatively unscathed is the audio. The music is still good, as are the voice-overs. However, there was a weird tendency for a sound to pop in shortly before speech, like someone was pressing play on a cassette deck. Dennis Haysbert from '24' does a decent job of narrating the events, though it is a bit surprising to hear him at first.

Overall: 5.5/10
Assuming you are reading this on a PC, I would suggest trying the original Call of Duty first. If, however, that isn't an option, Call of Duty: Finest Hour would make a decent rental, but nothing more and only if you are absolutely craving a WWII first-person shooter. With a relatively short campaign and a limited multiplayer experience, I cannot see much enjoyment coming from it after a few days. It would've been a decent title if it had not had so many problems, but in its current state, the reputation of the franchise is tarnished a little. It isn't as epic or cinematic as the original, nor is it the best first-person shooter on the Xbox; it is, however, an acceptable substitute when the others have been played and boredom is winning the day.

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