Reviewed: December 9, 2004
Released: November 16, 2004
The Medal of Honor series has changed the face of the first person shooter (FPS) forever. Arguably the first to truly blend cinematic-quality presentation and an engaging World War II (WWII) storyline with all of the trappings of FPS, stealth and the action-adventure genres, the Medal of Honor series first stormed the shores of the gaming community in 1999 and has had a firm hold on the console FPS genre since. Nary a Medal of Honor title goes by which doesn’t have the gaming populace reaching into their pocketbooks for another chance to hammer the Axis countries with a staggering variety of authentic weaponry.
However, if one were to disregard the sheep-like mass hysteria following the Medal of Honor titles and look more towards the critical reviews, they would notice that the Medal of Honor games have slowly been losing ground with the critics with each successive iteration, finally reaching a low point with last year’s release of Medal of Honor: Rising Sun. While the critics may cite the usual culprits for lowering scores – disappointing graphics, questionable AI, etc. – it’s quite apparent that the overlying issue is with the subject matter itself.
The realistic WWII shooter genre is getting played out. Maybe it’s because we now presume that we have real enemies overseas. Maybe it’s plain old market saturation. Regardless of the reason, reviews continue to skewer the WWII shooter time and time again. And the developers are listening and are leaving the 40’s for more current times. Games like Rainbow Six 3 and Ghost Recon have suddenly made being in the 21st century cool again, while most developers still trying to ride the nostalgia kick are setting their targets on the Vietnam era.
The crazy thing is, no matter what the reviews say, and no matter what the developers think, after all these years the gamers with the coin are still willing to shovel out the cash to get yet another chance at felling the Third Reich. Thankfully for them (myself included), a rogue developer named Sparks Unlimited suddenly appeared at the front lines, delivering a hell of a WWII console shooter in the name of Call of Duty: Finest Hour.
Comprised of 27 defectors from EA and Dreamworks’ Medal of Honor staff, Sparks Unlimited has taken the basic Medal of Honor formula, and improved upon nearly every facet making a thoroughly engrossing and intense WWII experience.
Any veteran of WWII console shooters will immediately feel at home with Call Of Duty. The atmosphere, the environments, and the controls – they are all very familiar and easily assumed. This should not surprise considering the pedigree of the developers involved. What is different with Call of Duty: Finest Hour is that you don’t follow one single character throughout the entire game. Even more surprising (and likely a welcome change for our friends abroad) is that for nearly two-thirds of the game, the characters you control are not even US Troops.
You see, Call of Duty: Finest Hour allows gamers to experience the war from three distinct angles – the Russian, British and American fronts. And within each of these fronts, the gamer takes on the roles of a leap-frogging series of characters leading to a final destination. For instance, you may begin as an infantryman sent on a series of missions to meet up with a sniper – a sniper who, upon reaching, you will then take control of through another series of missions on the way to meet up with an officer, and so on. And although some may feel that this constant body-hopping may detract from the overall experience, it is a refreshing change to be able to see the war from a more realistic perspective other than the usual super-soldier fare that comes with these games.
Regardless of how you feel on the matters of character perspective and national allegiance within the game, once you get in the heat of battle that thought will be the last thing in you mind – because if there is any one word that accurately sums up Call of Duty: Finest Hour, it would have to be INTENSE. Sporting more enemies onscreen than any other console WWII shooter to date; there is not so much as a moment’s rest in Call of Duty: Finest Hour.
You thought storming the Normandy beach in Medal of Honor: Frontline was amazing? Well, that’s pretty much the status quo throughout the entirety of Call of Duty: Finest Hour. I haven’t felt this exhausted from a shooter since Serious Sam first rattled my brain with it’s hundreds of swarming vermin. But don’t think from that reference that Call of Duty: Finest Hour is filled with hundreds of spawning Nazi’s brainlessly rushing from all angles – no sir, these enemies are very smart.
While there may be a couple dozen characters onscreen at any given time, if you can take your attention away from saving your butt for a moment (and you’ll only get a moment, trust me), you’ll notice that each enemy character appears to have his or her own individual thought process, seldom following the same path as others, or even themselves from previous attempts. This is quite different than that which we saw in the Medal of Honor series, where soldiers followed the same routines each and every time – which may have been great for those of us who like to try for “Excellent” ratings, but lacked a bit (a lot) of realism.
That’s not to say that Call of Duty: Finest Hour is perfect – there are plenty of times where enemies get hung up on corners, clip through walls, or suddenly freeze, and you will notice the occasional companion blocking your way, but all of this is commonplace to the Medal of Honor series and are issues we have come to expect.
Call of Duty: Finest Hour offers a competent set of online modes – Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag – each for up to 16 players with full USB headset support. As my first foray into PS2 online, I was very impressed with the fluidity and control with as many as 8 people online – especially considering the huge environments featuring up to three stories worth of laddered rooftops, which coupled with the ability to reach full prone position make for excellent hiding spots.
Visually, Call of Duty: Finest Hour is a stunner. As mentioned above, there are more enemies onscreen than ever before in a WWII shooter and most, if not all, are well animated and realistic. The environments are very large and littered with smoldering debris, and they dynamically change due to the constant mortar blasts (which give a great “dazed” effect to your character when nearby) and tank artillery. For the most part, featuring bombed-out cityscapes and trenched battlefields all cast in front of the burning sky backdrops, Call of Duty: Finest Hour is about as close as you’re going to get to WWII.
Again, there are times where enemies get hung up on corners, or instances in the online mode where character animations will freeze, yet the characters themselves will move across the screen as if they were those green plastic army men.
Again not a surprise, the sound quality is all aces in Call of Duty: Finest Hour. Featuring a top-notch music soundtrack and hundreds of accurate (and organic) sounding effects to represent the array of authentic weapons and vehicles, it is on par with what we’d expect from the Medal of Series (usually a guaranteed “Best Sound Quality” award winner with each release) – except maybe even better.
If you own a PS2, and you like first person shooters – especially of the WWII variety – you absolutely must pick up this game. Although it may feature only 10 or so hours of gameplay for the single player mission, the fact that the enemies don’t always follow the same path every time (switching things up) means that you can play through this game over and over and always have a different experience. Add to that a solid online component and you have a sure winner.
I hate this game. Since the day I picked it up, it has sucked up so much of my free time, causing me to neglect my Xbox Live buddies, forego weeknight sleep, go in late to work, neglect my wife – yeah it’s that bad. I absolutely hate this game.
Seriously though, if I were reviewing Call of Duty: Finest Hour on the Xbox – what with its plethora of top-shelf shooters – I probably wouldn’t be so enthusiastic about this game. But given that the PS2 is severely lacking in quality FPS’s, especially those with online components – this game has me sold. Having read countless other reviews about Call of Duty: Finest Hour, I was expecting it to be a letdown…boy was I wrong. This game rocks.