Reviewed: March 16, 2007
Released: March 14, 2007
The Call of Duty franchise has become synonymous with WWII first-person shooters. It excels beyond every other game out there in fun, intensity, and historical accuracy. I was even mentioning the other day that I have probably learned more about WWII history from the Call of Duty series than I ever did in high school.
Call of Duty got its start on the PC back in 2003 and made the leap to consoles the following year. It was only in 2006 that the third installment released as a console-only title leaving PC gamers more than slightly miffed. Now, as we enter 2007 and technology has provided gamers with handheld systems as powerful as last-gen consoles Activision brings the franchise to the PSP in Call of Duty: Roads to Victory. Itís time to take the fight on the road.
Call of Duty on the PSP manages to capture the same level of professional game design, mission structure, and cinematic flavor of any of the big console and PC games to come before it. This might be a handheld title but it screams AAA production values.
Roads to Victory is an all-new game Ė not just a rehash of levels from previous titles. Youíll get to play 14 exciting missions from three main factions of WWII. Your first group of missions put you in the boots of an 82nd Airborne Division infantry soldier, then you move on to a Canadian First Army rifleman, then see what it was like to be a British Parachute Regiment commando.
All of the classic Call of Duty staples are in place including numerous authentic weapons, grenades, mounted machine guns, and the ability to call in artillery fire. And for those naysayers out there who believe you canít play an FPS on the PSP, Amaze Entertainment is about to show you the error of your ways.
Roads to Victory offers four diverse and totally intuitive control schemes virtually guaranteeing that youíll find one youíll love, or at least come to love. I didnít have to go any further than the default controls which offered smooth movement with the analog pad, a look/aim with the face buttons, and shoulder buttons that offered a ďlook down the barrelĒ and fire options.
Reloading, switching weapons, crouching, and grenades are all cleverly integrated into the D-pad in a way that makes perfect sense. Example: down crouches or you hold to go prone. Push up to throw a grenade or hold it a moment to ďcookĒ it before tossing. There was about a 10-minute learning curve to settle into the control scheme and I was killing the enemy just as well as I could on my Xbox 360.
Obviously, the face buttons arenít nearly as nice (or accurate) to aim with as a second analog stick, so youíll likely end up using the default aim-assist option. With this feature you only have to get the cursor in the general direction before the reticule turns red, but if you just fire away youíll likely waste ammo. Instead, once locked you can now look down the barrel and fine-tune your shot before firing, greatly improving your hit ratio, head shots, and overall score and rating at the end of each mission.
Admittedly, this does take a bit of the skill out of the game. Itís way too easy to rack up one and two-hit kills on most of the enemy, and if you try to turn off the aiming assist the game becomes virtually impossible to play. Your gun will be waving wildly all over the screen as you try to target an enemy that greatly outnumbers and outmaneuvers you. So while the game might look and feel like itís console cousin, it ultimately plays too easy or too hard with no real middle ground.
There are also numerous instances where you will be required to snipe enemies at great distances. Here, looking down the barrel changes into a scoped view with plenty of drift on the aim that will require you to hold your breath and steady your aim before taking the shot.
You work as part of a fairly intelligent squad and the game makes good, albeit limited use of the battle chatter system from the console games. Your guys and the enemy are always shouting something and itís usually pretty relevant. Battles take place in large open areas as well as indoors and in confined spaces like alleys and bombed out city streets.
As always, you get to carry two weapons and you simply walk over like weapons to grab more ammo or press right on the D-pad to switch if it's a new weapon that you want. There are mounted turrets you can use to defend locations and you also have your trusty frag grenades to clear out rooms or catch guys behind cover. Sorry, no smoke grenades in this game, but this really encourages you to find useful cover and crawl around on your belly a lot more than you might be used to, especially when going up against the numerous half-tracks and their devastating turrets.
"Lucky Thirteen" is by far my favorite level of the game, as it places you in multiple hot seats of a B-24 Liberator set to raid Nijmegen on September 17, 1944. Youíll bounce around from nose to tail gunner positions then take a spin in the bubble turret beneath the plane all before you get to drop the bombs on your target. The mission structure and even the layout of the plane are nearly identical to a similar mission in the United Offensive expansion pack released for the PC back in 2004. Not that I am complaining. That was one of my all-time favorite missions then, and I was more than happy to take another tour in the gunnerís chair.
Roads to Victory introduces a scoring element to the game that adds considerable replay value. You are graded on Time, Accuracy, Shots Fired, Kills, and Head Shots. Itís pretty easy to get a Bronze star merely by finishing the level, but earning a Silver or a Gold star will certainly require numerous replays and honing of your military and sharp shooting skills.
Visually, Call of Duty doesnít pop off the screen like a lot of PSP games, but that is more the nature of the content. Many of the missions are at night or in overcast conditions, and the landscape and cities are pretty smashed up. Expect a lot of earth tone grays, browns, and military green. You know the landscape is boring when the orange-yellow tint of your wooden rifle stock is a breath of fresh visual air.
Again, "Lucky Thirteen" stands out visually from the four missions I played, probably because it was the only level that was truly different from the other three. Once you get into the skies you are treated to some breathtaking scenery below and wispy clouds that hide the incoming enemy fighters. Once you start unleashing hot lead the planes break apart into multiple smoking pieces and trail away to the ground below or just blow apart in an orange fireball.
The audio portion of the presentation is so good I doubt there is a pair of headphones out there to do it justice. I jacked my PSP into my 1000w home theater and this game sounds every bit as good as Call of Duty 3, but even gaming on the go with a good pair of ear buds youíll still enjoy the realistic weapon effects, powerful explosions, rumbling engines from tanks and halftracks, or the buzz of planes overhead, plus plenty of engaging (and useful) conversations.
The 14 campaign missions will likely take most gamers 6-10 hours to finish, but you likely wonít earn the best scores and gold medals on a single pass. Perfectionists will likely spend weeks and even months with this game trying to best their previous scores and obtain the gold. By design, the relatively short missions (about 15-30 minutes each) lend themselves to the spontaneous nature of handheld gameplay.
I was disappointed that there was no Internet support for multiplayer. Roads to Victory will support up to 6 players in ad hoc matches including Deathmatch, CTF, and King of the Hill, but youíll have to find five other people, all with PSPís and a copy of the game if you want to exploit this element of the game.
There is also a host of unlockables, mostly data sheets on the various weapons and vehicles from the war. Itís a nice touch for those who donít mind learning while they play a game.
Call of Duty: Roads to Victory is a valiant attempt in bringing over an established franchise to a new system without merely porting the original material. This is a totally original title with all of the polish and exciting gameplay weíve come to expect from the Call of Duty name. Itís just a shame that the control scheme wasnít a bit more refined.
Ultimately, you end up with a game that is either too easy or impossible to play, but that shouldnít keep true Call of Duty veterans from checking this game out. Regardless of the control and gameplay issues, this is still a great WWI experience that is second only to Medal of Honor: Heroes.