Reviewed: December 12, 2004
Reviewed by: Mark Smith


Spark Unlimited

Released: November 16, 2004
Genre: Action-FPS
Players: 1/ 16
ESRB: Teen


Supported Features

  • Dolby Digital
  • System Link (2-16)
  • HDTV 480p
  • Communicator Headset
  • Xbox Live Features
  • Online Multiplayer
  • Friends
  • Voice

    Screenshots (Click Image for Gallery)

  • Call of Duty was one of the best FPS war games of 2003, a game to ultimately set the bar even higher than the Medal of Honor franchise that had virtually defined the genre. This year the PC got a second taste of war with the United Offensive expansion while console owners get to experience a completely redesigned look at the original game in Call of Duty: Finest Hour.

    While Finest Hour is a valiant attempt to recreate the visceral action of the PC original on the console, even the powerful Xbox is unable to capture the sheer brilliance of the PC version. Suffice to say, if you have seen or played the PC game then you might have some difficulty accepting this new installment in the series, even if it does offer a few new missions and campaign locations.

    Call of Duty: Finest Hour begins in Russia with a Stalingrad mission that, at first, appears to be identical to the first mission of the second campaign on the PC game. Thankfully, the designers have changed things around substantially to give this campaign enough new flavor that even PC veterans will be kept on their toes.

    After your tour of duty as a Russian soldier is over you slip into some British boots for a 1943 campaign in Africa. Truly the highlight of the game, both visually and in gameplay, especially the jeep ride, it was a shame when these missions were over and I had to head to the U.S. for more missions set in 1944.

    Unlike the campaigns on the PC where you played the same soldier the entire time, Finest Hour has you assuming the role of several soldiers. Itís an interesting concept that gives you multiple perspectives on the war, but at the same time it makes it hard to get interested in your character or any of the men in your unit. The PC game offered a sense of camaraderie while this game devolves into a first-person shooter with a WWII backdrop.

    The multiple campaigns and frequent character switching means you get to travel to unique locations with interesting mission objectives. Gameplay is always fresh and even though your primary objectives are short and simple, the underlying theme is to kill as many of the enemy as you possibly can.

    A vast assortment of authentic weaponry makes this more enjoyable that I would have thought. You can carry two weapons along with grenades and mines depending on your character. Combat is excellent and you can fire from the hip or aim down the barrel, much like the PC version. It slows down your movement, as it should, but gives you improved accuracy.

    Speaking of accuracy, donít expect any with grenades. You have no control over the force of your throw and any bounce your grenade might take off a wall or other object is as predictable as an end-over kick in the NFL. Combined with quirky physics and no apparent weight, grenades are frankly a waste of time.

    Finest Hour maintains the element of teamwork right from the start. Those who saw the movie, Enemy at the Gate will remember that one soldier got a gun and the other carried the bullets. Now thatís a buddy system. Youíll often work in organized teams, but being a mere grunt yourself, you lack the ability to control or command your men. Everything is carefully orchestrated using some impressive AI and scripted events. Men will die but they are quickly replaced.

    Missions are of moderate length, but even when they get longer and harder, much harder, there is never more than one checkpoint. This definitely adds to the challenge and difficulty. Itís also annoying when you find yourself playing and replaying lengthy sections of the game over and over again until you get it right.

    Iíve been recently complaining about the proportionally high number of tank missions in Halo 2 and now I get to voice the same concern for Finest Hour. Youíll get to drive tanks in several missions in multiple campaigns and the time spent inside armor is long, a bit too long for my taste. About 25% of the game is spent in a tank or jeep. Rolling through town in a massive tank blasting away is fun the first and even the second time, but it eventually gets old and the tanks are rather cumbersome to control. I have to admit that unlimited machineguns and powerful shell shots can be addictive in the right situations.

    The single-player game lasts 10-12 hours. Thankfully, there is full support for Xbox Live allowing up to 16 soldiers to battle in four modes of play ranging from Deathmatch to team games of CTF and Search and Destroy. I had a great deal of fun in games that went as high as eight players (four-on-four), but when I ventured into games with more players things got a bit weird. The framerate stayed solid but details and animations started dropping to keep the framerate up.

    Make sure you are playing with a good group of players. Finest Hour doesnít lock you to any one team so if you suddenly find yourself on the losing side you can easily switch. Talk about ďtreasonĒ. Thereís nothing more annoying than running back to your base with the flag to find your teammates are now your enemy.

    Graphics are hit and miss. The soldiers look good despite some bland textures, and the animations are good, at least for general movement. The death animations are terribly overacted to the point of being comical. The environments are suitably dark and gritty but also suffer from disappointing textures. Africa is stunning and shines above the rest; perhaps because itís new to the series, heck, itís relatively new territory for war games in general.

    The visual effects range from outstanding to rather bland. Some explosions will rock your world while others look like mistakes. A lot can be happening on the screen at any given time and the framerate can (and will) take a hit from time to time. Itís nothing that will ruin the game but you will see the game start to chug during the more intense action sequences.

    Call of Duty on the PC won our award for Best Sound of 2003, and while Finest Hour delivers a powerful Dolby Digital experience it never achieves the same level of excellence as its predecessor. Weapons all have unique and realistic sounds but are oddly flat, while explosions rocked my sub-woofer. Tanks rumbled and jeeps purred.

    The dialogue was pretty good, what little there was. I would have enjoyed a lot more verbalization on the battlefield, men shouting, commands given, etc. It just seemed a very lonely experience even though I was surrounded by comrades and enemies. Dennis Haysbert (24, Splinter Cell) takes a break from his State Farm Insurance commercials to narrate the historical elements of the game.

    The music is powerful and effective but not always appropriate to the onscreen action. At least it knows when to fade into the background so you can enjoy the sounds of war.

    With a dozen hours of solo gaming and infinite potential on Xbox Live, Call of Duty: Finest Hour delivers a solid gameplay package. I was shocked there was no local multiplayer support in the form of two or four-player split screen. Not everyone has Live and this is one game where multiplayer saves the day. Even so, the Xbox version will never come close to achieving the same dedicated level of community support as the PC.

    At $49 the game is a tough sell to all but the most diehard of action gamers or WWII buffs. I have a sneaking suspicion that anyone who gets this game already has Return to Castle Wolfenstein and youíll probably be playing that one longer than this.

    Perhaps Iíve been unduly harsh on the Xbox edition of Call of Duty: Finest Hour. It looked great at E3 and given the limitations of the console I have to admit the game is impressive and a faithful attempt to recreate the action of the PC version. Frankly, if youíve never seen the PC game then you have no basis for comparison and Finest Hour might be just the game you are looking for.

    For everyone else, the lack of any cohesive story spread thin by too many distracting viewpoints kept me from ever getting involved with the characters. It was almost like I was trapped in an episode of Quantum Leap. I also have issues with the choice to not include more checkpoints, thus making the tougher missions repetitive and annoying. The game succeeds on several levels but fails on nearly as many, and at the end of the day, Finest Hour simply gets tossed on the pile of other FPS games, many of which are better.