Review: Who knew this much fun could be so damn frustrating?
Let's face it: Medal of Honor: Allied Assault is one of the best shooters ever. Sure, it was more linear than a ruler, the AI was flaky, and enemies could take gobs of punishment, but damn if every second wasn't the most fun you could have sitting in front of a computer. MOH:AA set the modern standard for WWII shooters, and influenced such classic games as Battlefield 1942, Call of Duty, and even the upcoming Brothers In Arms. In fact, the original Call of Duty was created by Infinity Ward ? a company created by ex-employees of 2015, the developer responsible for MOH:AA ? who somehow managed to set the bar even higher.
So it was with great anticipation that a brand new game in the CoD franchise, the console exclusive Call of Duty: Finest Hour, was announced. Even more exciting was the fact that the developer was Spark Unlimited, a company formed almost entirely of ex-Electronic Arts employees who were also on the MOH:AA team. Needless to say, with that kind of heritage, expectations were high.
So does Finest Hour give us the finest in WWII shooters? Sadly, it could have been ? if they didn't make it so bloody frustrating to play.
Meanwhile, back at the Front
It is tempting to compare Finest Hour with the original CoD, but that's really not fair. Although they are part of the same franchise, Finest Hour is not a port of the original; rather, it is a brand new game made specifically for consoles. As such, it is very much an arcade shooter and hence has that distinct console ?feel? to it which is absent from the PC version.
To further differentiate the two, Finest Hour has you playing six different characters across three campaigns, the Russian Front, North Africa, and the Western Front. The theme of the game is ?no one fights alone? and that individual soldiers all made a contribution to the greater war effort. It's an interesting idea that gives you a nice variety of purpose, weapons and objectives throughout the game, as opposed to the standard practice of playing the same character from beginning to end. Among the characters you play are a female Russian sniper, a British demolition expert, and an African-American tanker from the famed 761st Black Panther Battalion.
As you progress through the 19 levels, you meet each of the characters you will eventually play. Although this is supposed to tie each of the individual stories together, the whole concept of playing different characters fighting in different fronts makes it virtually impossible to develop a cohesive story. As a result, each level is pretty much a standalone event with no real sense of accomplishment or progression towards a greater goal as you complete each one (but to be fair, many games suffer from this, including MOH:AA).
Finest Hour also adds a lot more vehicle combat compared to the original; in fact, about 20% of the game is fought in a vehicle, mainly tanks. You can control tanks in a first-person porthole view or pull back to a third-person perspective. Tank combat is a lot of fun, but can make you grit your teeth since they move and shoot with agonizing slowness. To help mitigate this, your tank's ?health? slowly recharges over time if you stay out of the line of fire.
Finest Hour pays respect to the brave soldiers who fought in WWII by adding lots of historical film footage and photographs between campaigns, narrated by Dennis Haysbert from 24
. They also did their research to ensure things looked and felt right, thanks to the two dozen historical and military advisors listed in the credits. Even the instruction manual contains interesting historical trivia; for example, did you know that the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) weighed a hefty 20-pounds unloaded and that most soldiers discarded its two-pound bipod to reduce the weight they had to carry?
Explodes out of the gate?
The game starts with a bang ? literally. You start off as a young, inexperienced Russian private thrown into his first engagement: the brutal battle for Stalingrad. In an opening worthy of an epic Hollywood movie, you pull into the Stalingrad docks at night on a rickety row boat as shells and mortar rounds explode around you. As you land, you only receive ammo ? guns are in short supply so you are completely unarmed while you make your way up the beach and into the city as the Nazis rain down deadly MG42 machinegun fire and mortars. The gunfire and explosions are extremely loud, as are the frantic shouts and screams of your fellow soldiers. Combine all that with the sweeping cinematic musical score of Michael Giacchino (who also scored MOH:AA), and you are immediately sucked into one of the best and most incredibly intense introductory levels I've seen in years. In fact, it's so intense that you probably won't notice the dozens upon dozens of Russian AI soldiers rushing towards the city, a very impressive sight with no slowdowns or dropped frames. The developers wanted to make you feel as if you really are in the thick of battle and wow, it works.
You eventually get your gun by taking it from a dead comrade, but can soon pick up and use any weapon, including the Germans'. In fact, you may prefer to use the enemy's weapons since you'll never have to worry about finding ammo. You can only carry two weapons plus grenades, but will be able to carry any combination of authentic arms such as the famed M1 Garand rifle, Thompson SMG and BAR, the English Sten and Bren, the Russian PPSh and Mosin-Nagant, and of course, the German MG42 and infamous MP40.
Gameplay is furious; not only do you have to deal with swarms of Nazi foot soldiers, but also nasty machinegun nests, Panzershrecks, tanks, and even Stuka dive bombers. Enemies are fairly intelligent; they will lie prone to make themselves harder to hit, and will hide behind cover, lean out to shoot and then duck back again. You will also quickly learn to never turn your back on a machinegun nest you just cleared because another enemy will soon take it over and make you pay.
Fortunately, your teammates' AI is pretty smart too. They will also duck behind cover and man machineguns. They are also smart enough to stop shooting if you happen to run into their line of fire ? which you would think should be a standard feature of all shooters, but shockingly, this is one of the very few games with this level of friendly fire intelligence. Like all shooters, your teammates can get in the way sometimes, which normally would be annoying in doorways and tight corridors, but you can command them to move ? a very nice touch. However, in their eagerness to fight back, they can sometimes block you when you are trying to duck back behind cover; even worse, they can actually push you out of cover and into the line of fire. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, you will not be a happy camper.
Luckily, enemies can be killed in only a few shots, which adds a touch of realism to the game. On the flip side, you can take a good amount of punishment; it may not be realistic but you'll be glad it isn't, especially during the later levels when you'll be swarmed with enemies. If your health drops too low, you can grab Health Kits which automatically add to your health, or pick up First Aid Kits which you can use whenever you want, either on yourself or to heal a teammate. Both kits become increasingly scarce as you progress up the levels, so you'll need to play smart to avoid getting hit.
Playing smart means leaning out from behind cover, and crouching or lying prone to minimize your profile, improve accuracy, and reduce the effect of weapon recoil. By pulling the left trigger, you can aim down your gun sights just like in real life, which gives you a slight zooming effect and greatly increases your accuracy. In the later levels, enemies will chuck grenades at you with frightening frequency and accuracy, so staying in one spot for too long is not a good idea.
Spark Unlimited also added a lot of nice touches, like how when a grenade or mortar shell explodes near you, things temporarily move in slow motion and all sound is muffled. Even small things like German soldiers who actually speak German add to the overall ambiance of the game. The voice acting is top notch, and the sound effects are very LOUD ? which is great for you, but bad for anyone in your home who's trying to get some sleep.