The glut of World War II titles on PCs were quickly overshadowed by last year’s award winning Call of Duty. Up to that point, most WWII titles focused upon traditional shooter mechanics: In particular, I’m talking about the “one man against the world” concept that is not only unrealistic, but relatively irresponsible to the brave men that fought the battles. Call of Duty addressed that by entrenching players within squads or smaller strike force units, forcing them to rely on certain AI characters or protecting teammates to actively survive missions. Now, one year later, the Call of Duty franchise is invading consoles with Call of Duty: Finest Hour.
Similar to its PC big brother and the subsequent expansion pack, Finest Hour’s single player mode focuses upon three separate campaigns of World War II. The Russian campaign surrounds the battle for Stalingrad and its subsequent outlying areas. The British campaign focuses upon the North African battles of the Desert Rats, and the Americans end the single player with the American capture of Aachen and subsequent push into Western Germany. Unlike its PC counterpart, Finest Hour doesn’t remain focused upon one specific soldier. Instead, with the exception of the British Campaign, you’ll discover that you switch between two or three separate soldiers with their own stories to tell. While the transitions from one character to another make sense thanks to the narrative and the included cutscenes, the overall effect actually detracts from each character. Over the ten hours or so of single player play, you don’t get a sense of who the people are or even necessarily if you should care about their personal history, which is an unfortunate side effect for such a dramatically driven title.
Perhaps one of the things that helps drive this disjointed sense of connection to the characters is the reliance upon vehicular combat, particularly tanks in Finest Hour. Leaping into the belly of a tank and taking out a number of mechanized divisions or scurrying Nazi footsoldiers winds up taking 25% of the missions found within Finest Hour. I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for tank combat in a World War II game, but what I am pointing out is that the isolating feel of being in a tank really entrenches the solitary “man against the world” feeling that the franchise fights against. Secondly, the tanks are significantly unbalanced because of their incredible ability to regenerate health. No matter how many hits you wind up taking in combat, it’s possible to retreat to a safer area and restore your health before taking on your opponents again. This is something that wasn’t included in the PC version for a reason, and actually provided a level of white-knuckled mouse control as you prayed that you managed to get your tank to a checkpoint or the end of a level without getting winged by some hidden tank or bazooka.
Speaking of checkpoints, Finest Hour hosts a surprising lack of checkpoints throughout each level. Unlike the PC titles, which scattered checkpoints at appropriate areas so battles never seemed impossible or drawn out longer than it should, Finest Hour hosts only one checkpoint per level (if at all). This is not only frustrating, but rather annoying, particularly when you consider that the analog controls of the console aren’t as responsive as that of the PC. Even though you’ll be able to carry two weapons at a time, as well as multiple types of grenades, it’s almost impossible to pull off some of the more specific targeting you’ll want or even need to take out some of the Nazi soldiers. With the exception of Tanya, the sniper with the scoped Mosin-Nagant, you’re not ever going to pull of headshots in Finest Hour, even if you’re aiming down the sight of a gun. In fact, the weaponry, which ranges from Thompson and PPSh machine guns to Springfield and Gewehr sniper rifles are so imprecise that the game has an included hit indicator to let you know that you’ve actually shot someone. Even worse, however, is the fact that it’s much harder to tell when you’ve killed an enemy soldier thanks to their lengthy death scenes that each one seems to go through. Not only will this result in you pumping round after round into an already dying opponent, but you’ll find yourself spending more time and attention on making sure these targets are dead, which allows more opportunities for the computer to take potshots at you.
There’s one other issue that comes up with the game, that of the game’s AI. Enemy AI is relatively idiotic, standing around until you wind up coming into a certain area and triggering some kind of response from them. Unfortunately, your teammates aren’t much better, resulting in many more situations where you’ll have to do more of the work than you’d expect. However, Finest Hour does include the option to heal some of your teammates with health kits, so squadmates that have to survive missions can be protected medically if they take too much damage.
Online play for Finest Hour supports multiplayer matches for up to 16 players. You’ll have the option to take on fellow players in one of four game types across eight maps. While the game is incredibly stable, featuring voice chat to teammates and a lack of lag across connections, it doesn’t break any significant ground with its game types. You’re only playing deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and search and destroy, so if you were looking for a unique experience online, you might be somewhat disappointed. There’s also a few odder quirks of online play, such as characters skating along the ground instead of running, but for the most part, the gameplay is relatively stable.
While the game is presented in a manner that is nicely detailed with certain features (for instance, weapons look very realistic in your hands, and some of the areas that you’ll travel through are eye-catching), the engine that powers Finest Hour isn’t particularly arresting or powerful. In fact, it does an adequate job, even simulating motion blurring and visual impairments if you get too close to explosions. However, many of these detonations, which can be the most visually attractive moments of the game, can cause the greatest amounts of slowdown in the game. Character models of both Nazis and allied forces are average, but nothing special overall.
Sound fares somewhat better than the graphics, although not by much. Voice acting is nicely done, although it gets somewhat complicated and at times drowned out by the sound effects. Although adequate, these effects do seem somewhat faded or lighter in intensity. Fortunately, the cinematic score of the game, a facet that has been the most dramatic and engaging feature from all of the titles in the franchise, remains the best facet of the game.
When it comes down to the bottom line, Call of Duty: Finest Hour comes across more like its weakest days. A lack of checkpoints, imperfect weapon design and control along with a lack of a story that players will care for makes this the low point for the impressive franchise. If you’re a WWII buff or a Call of Duty fan, you’ll probably pick this game up. Otherwise, you may want to rent this one to see if you’ll enlist it for your collection.