I recently had the chance to chat with some of the development team and play the latest build of Call of Duty: Finest Hour, which is shaping up to be a holiday winner. Around thirty of the WWII FPS veteran development team at Spark Unlimited have been working together since Medal of Honor’s inception on the PlayStation. To make things as historically accurate as possible, they have also enlisted the help of John Hillen, Army Captain (ret), who now does on-air consultation for ABC News, as well as Colonel Hank Keirsey (ret), a tough-as-nails combat veteran, both of whom have won the Bronze Star for their heroism in Operation Desert Storm, and are experts in both WWII history and tactics. Like its PC sister, Call of Duty: Finest Hour has one clear goal in mind: “No one fights alone.” This isn’t about a one man wrecking crew going in and mowing down everyone in its path; it’s more about teamwork, tactics, and a wealth of different scenarios, from protecting convoys to sniping from afar. The game is split up into three campaigns, starting in Stalingrad, jaunting off to Africa, and concluding in Aachen, Germany. There will be a total of six different playable characters, ranging from a conventional American GI, to an unsung hero from the 761st African-American “Black Panther Battalion”.
The first level we were treated to was called “Flag Must Fall”. You start off indoors, making your way upstairs as you dispatch of Nazis who have holed up behind tables, using them for cover effectively. As you ascend towards the top of the building, there is a mounted machine gun pointed outside. A quick room clearing by you and your squad and you commandeer the gun and witness the hordes of enemies congregating across the street beneath you. Fortified machine gun emplacements from the hill across the way are pelting the building with gunfire. As you try to take out the enemy from afar, you realize it isn’t going to cut it. The game slips into a cutscene and you are introduced to a female Russian sniper. She instructs you to go into the fray, take out the heavy machine guns, and down the enemy’s flag. Scurrying downstairs to the street, you and your squad comply. It is now up to you to clear out the tunnels leading to the top of the hill, where the flag and victory await. This was by far my favorite mission I saw in the game, and not to mention a nice challenge. Finally after my second attempt, the flag was mine.
The second level we got to try out was called “Airfield Ambush”. This mission takes place outside the airfield in a nearby hangar, with the player starting off in a Soviet T-34 Tank. You have the option to switch from third- and first-person perspective camera angles while driving the metal behemoth. As you navigate the tank trudging forward, you must also man the artillery and take out ground troops and bazooka wielding threats, as well as destroy a few planes. What is nice about this mission is that the developer allows you to go into “unbuttoned mode” and pop out of the tank and fire off a few pot shots at running foe when necessary. You need to be sparing with this tactic however, as you have no cover. Throughout this and the other driving missions of the game, you are at times forced out of your vehicle all together and need to be very mindful of your surroundings. This is a nice break from previous games’ vehicle missions all being set on rails the whole time.
The third and final playable level we saw was called “A Desert Ride”. This mission takes place in the North African campaign, along the Tunesian landscape, with your main character starting out as a British PPA (Popski’s Private Army) Commando. I was especially impressed with the look of this level, and it was a nice change from all the dreary, dark levels we’re accustom to seeing in a war game. The first order of business is to protect the jeep that will transport you to end of the level. Once your driver has fueled up, it is time to take a seat-of-your pants ride to the combat zone. While this level is completely on rails, it is broken up by bits and pieces of getting out of the Jeep and clearing the roadway or taking out enemy sentries. As you are riding along manning the guns, you will see numerous planes flying overhead which you can take out in a blaze of glory.
The controls feel spot on, and you can adjust the sensitivity of the analog sticks to your liking. While all three console versions are virtually identical, the Xbox version had a slightly crisper look and a perfect framerate. While we were not able to play any of the multiplayer missions, we were assured they would be present in the final version, with sixteen-player online being exclusive to PS2 and Xbox. The music was conducted by composer Michael Giacchino, featuring an eighty-piece orchestra and a fifty-person choir. Another highlight are the two announced voice actors, AC/DC’s front man Brian Johnson, as well as Dennis Haysbert, from FOX hit series ‘24’.
The sizable team at Spark Unlimited has gone to great lengths to make sure you are playing the most accurate depiction of WWII possible. Team members traveled to actual locations to get texture and architecture reference, examined and fired all of the weapons used in the game, visited museums and armories, and hit the books hard to ensure the game was as realistic as possible. Every asset and mission in the game has been created from scratch, the game is 100% new content specifically engineered for the console. Every weapon sound was meticulously recorded live on a firing range. This team means business, and is absolutely committed to squeezing in every last detail. We cannot wait to play more Call of Duty: Finest Hour - be sure to check back soon for the full review!
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