Review: Call of Duty: Finest Hour (Playstation 2)

In this review, we head out into the battlefield in the Playstation 2 game Call of Duty: Finest Hour. We find out if this FPS game is worth the play.

This game was released in 2004. It is the first console title in the franchise. Note that this game is completely different from the main PC version of the franchise.

The plot of the game is that you take the roll of various soldiers. This game splits these missions into three separate parts: Russian missions, British missions, and American missions. The Russian missions take place on the eastern front. You do various tasks to push the Germans back from Russian territory. The British missions take place in North Africa. You do your part to help push the Germans back onto European soil. Finally, the American missions take place on the western front. You help push allied forces deep into German territory.

Weapons found in this game are quite varied. It not only depends on which missions you find yourself taking on, but also the specific location you find yourself in as well. Still, the weapons can basically be divided into three categories: rifles, machine guns, and a rocket launcher.

Rifles have the most accuracy. How accurate depends on what you happen to collect. Still, you will get differing amounts of zooming and accuracy capabilities. The most accurate and best zooming capabilities is the sniper rifle. Unfortunately, this is not very common, so you’ll find yourself grabbing other weapons in the mean time. Rifles are good for long and medium range combat. Reload times can be quite bad, so close up confrontations such as in houses may not be the greatest.

Machine guns, meanwhile, have a huge amount of variety in this game. Some machine guns are more powerful than others, though. As you would expect, there is an inverse relationship between the ammunition or how often you find them and the power of the gun you find. These weapons generally are very good in close range combat. Unfortunately, their usefulness diminishes in medium and long range combat. You can increase the accuracy by kneeling or lying down, but you sacrifice movement capabilities in the process.

Finally, there are the rocket launchers. These weapons are great for medium to long range distance. The blast zones they create can easily clear out a cluster of enemies. Still, their primary use is taking out armoured vehicles when you find yourself not in a tank yourself. For obvious reasons, close range combat with this weapon is a sure fire way to kill yourself in the process. Another negative to this weapon is that you can only fire one shot at a time and reload times are probably the worst in the game.

Now, there is one big caveat to having all these weapons at your disposal: you can only carry two at a time. Some guns you find lying around are also designated as ammunition pickups only. You can additionally find boxes of ammunition, but the primary source of ammunition tends to come from fallen soldiers. So, remembering where a few of them are when you run low on ammunition in one weapon can really help you along, but this is a huge limitation to your performance on the battlefield.

A secondary weapon you have are grenades. You can obtain the classic green round variations or the grenades with a stick. In a very specific mission as a British soldier, you can also use landmines. Unfortunately, this is the only mission where you are able to lay them down yourself. You do encounter landmines in the American missions, however, your objective is to dispose of them yourself. You don’t actually use any of them. There are also sticky grenades which is a variation of the stick grenade, but again, they are only used during the British missions.

The green grenades have you pull the pin and throw. The stick variation has you setting the charge before throwing. The green grenades have a slightly shorter animation sequence, but they don’t actually go away completely. This means that you have to time yourself correctly so you actually throw as you enter an area if you know there are soldiers you need to take out. Ideally, you’ll want to take enemies by surprise with this, but this doesn’t happen that often.

Another notable problem with grenades is that the bounce physics isn’t all that good. Sometimes, even if you are aiming down a hall, the grenade can clip an overhead beam and send the grenade flying back at your face. All you can do is duck for cover at that point and hope you don’t get too badly damaged. So, careful aiming is critical for a successful throw.

The land mines have a short animation to set. The only pitfall is that you can only lay it out on the ground in front of you. So, you have to know an armoured vehicles path and hope it sets itself off when the vehicle runs over it. A failed attempt is not the prettiest thing in the world.

Finally, the sticky grenades. These are also used on armoured vehicles. You throw the grenade like normal. This time, however, if it hits a vehicle, it will stick onto it. The grenade will explode after a moment, causing damage to the vehicle.

There are characteristics to explosions in this game. One interesting characteristic is that if you get hit with the blast, assuming you survive, time will slow down. This permits faster reflex time for a period of time.

Health is another big thing in this game as it is with many different FPS games. In this game, health is varied somewhat. You do get your standard health bar. However, there are two types of health pickups. The first is the white round health item. This is something you pick up and use right away. Using the default difficulty (normal), you’ll recover about 25% of your health for each pickup. The other item pickup is the green pouch. This is something you actually pick up and hold on to. Using one of these will restore about 50% health. Even better is the fact that you can carry multiple pouches, however, you can only cary a maximum of 4 at a time.

Carrying health around isn’t anything new in gaming. We’ve seen this in Duke Nukem 3D already. Probably the one unique property with these items is the ability to heal allies on the battlefield with them. To use, you need to be standing next to a fellow soldier and press up when you see the icon.

There are two additional features in this game: driving and gun emplacements. Most of the time, you’ll find yourself driving a tank. You’ll get an initial armour bar. Once you run out of that, it stays out. After that, you’ll have a green health bar. The green health bar will gradually recover over time. So, if you are running low on health, you might want to hang back for a bit and “heal up”. While this may make the game sound easy, do note that there are no health pickups for vehicles.

Gun emplacements are permanent in location and direction. You can’t move and you can only aim in a limited window. Still, they all have unlimited ammunition, so if you get attacked by heavy forces, this weapon is great for mowing down enemies quickly in a specific location.

A hybrid for one specific mission is to man a gun mounted on a vehicle. As you might expect, this ends up being a rail shooter part of the game.

As you work your way through the various maps in the game, you’ll be given a set of objectives to complete. Sometimes, you need to escort armoured vehicles through cities. Other times, you need to set charges on pieces of equipment. Note that with objectives with explosives involved, the game gives you red outlines as hints. Sometimes, you need to take out enemy machine gun emplacements. A few require escorting people with the requirement that a certain individual must survive. Ideally, you’ll want to complete the objectives before moving on.

This will no doubt come as a shock to a lot of people, but this is my first time playing anything in this franchise. So, this is my first impression of this series. I know the hype behind it, but at the same time, I know the hype surrounds the PC version of this game. So, I am aware of that aspect.

Having said that, my first impression is that this game isn’t really all that impressive. Save for healing your fellow soldiers, I don’t think there is really anything other FPS games don’t already offer at this point. In fact, I would call this particular game a lacklustre game as far as features are concerned. There’s ultimately nothing in here that really gives any “wow” factor.

Another problem is that this game is actually fairly featureless compared to other games. The arsenal you get is quite limited. You don’t get any real dedicated melee weapons. There are no shot guns or pistols of any kind. I can understand shot guns to some degree, but no pistols is a bit more of a head scratcher to me.

In addition, the two gun limitation seems like a game design choice that adds realism at the expense of gameplay. There are plenty of games out there that allow a nice sized arsenal. In this game, however, the two gun limitation can be pretty annoying after a while. This puts the emphasis on weapons caches found throughout the game. What’s worse is that the Heads Up Display (HUD) really doesn’t offer any kind of hint that the second weapon slot is there in the first place. Considering the countless games on Playstation 2, N64, PC, and even the original Playstation at least offering some sort of HUD display for this, the lack of anything is particularly strange. You even get an indicator for what grenades you have, but not for what gun you have.

Other HUD problems is that you’ll only get an indicator on when you get an actual hit. Otherwise, it can be tricky to tell if you are actually aiming at an enemy or off to the side.

On a more positive note, what I do like about the HUD is the use of font colour on fellow soldiers to indicate their health. Green means they are healthy. Red means they don’t have a lot of health left if they are not already dead. In addition, it’s great that the game basically stops you from friendly fire. If you are aiming at a fellow soldier, your trigger will be locked and a circle with a line through it will be displayed.

The positives seem to compensate for other problems in the game. For one, it can be tricky to tell if you are aiming at an enemy or a friendly person without the indicators. Another aspect is the fact that death animations can be quite long. As a result, it can be easy to fire at an enemy you’ve already killed. The punchline is that enemies behind them can take pot shots at you and use the body as a temporary shield which can be annoying.

Meanwhile, the AI can be pretty bad at times. Fellow soldiers can find themselves racing right in front of you, blocking your shot. It’s good that friendly fire is locked down, otherwise, I’m sure I would’ve hit several fellow soldiers as they move around in their odd and quirky ways. So, really, you get a delay in firing off another shot at an enemy while your fellow soldier thinks it’s a better idea just to run up and go on a melee offensive.

While the AI is a bit annoying on that front, it’s even worse for grenades. All computer controlled soldiers will react in that the soldiers will take cover when a grenade is detected. The problem is that, sometimes, they’ll duck for cover right next to the grenade. It’s good if this is the enemy, but bad if this is your fellow men. All will take damage equally. Ultimately, you can’t live with your fellow men, but you also can’t live without them.

A positive in this game is that the tutorial level does prepare you for the game itself. If teaches you a fair bit all the while actually playing a mission. You won’t be playing in a training room or shooting range. You head straight to battle and learn on the field. The fact that this is incorporated so well does work in this games favour, so you aren’t going into the battlefield completely cold. At the same time, you don’t feel like you are doing something completely arbitrary because the game basically forced training onto you in some way. So, this is something I can definitely respect in the game.

Meanwhile, the level design is decent enough. Some areas do feel like one long hallway, but other areas do open up nicely. So, I really don’t have a whole lot to complain about there.

The difficulty, unfortunately, does spike a little bit. Once you get past the first few Russian missions, the difficulty does ramp up quite a bit. I don’t know if it’s just my imagination, but the levels do seem to gradually get easier as you die in them. It’s like the game expects you to die a few times along the way, then nudges you along after punishing you enough with death.

The checkpoint system is a bit archaic to me. There’s only one in each level. So, dying means a lot of backtracking at times. Still, the good part is that if you die right after a checkpoint, you respawn with default weapons and full health, so that can boost you a little through the level. Still, expect to die a fair bit by the time you get to the British missions.

Generally speaking, this game isn’t exactly something to get overly excited over. To me, it’s one of those games where you want to play it because any FPS game will do; not because there is anything particularly special about it. The features are a bit lacklustre. The HUD has it’s positives and minuses. A lot of the positives seem to compensate for issues found in the gameplay such as long death animations and very touch and go AI. Level design is decent enough and length is alright. Difficulty, however, does spike a bit.

Graphically speaking, if this game was released in 2001, I would call it pretty respectable. Unfortunately, it is competing against a lot of games already released on the system. It’s competing against the flashy Timesplitters 2 game as well as Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force. In fact, even the last gen Turok 2 – Seeds of Evil gives this game a run for its money. The modelling is a bit underwhelming and the effects are pretty basic. Even the time stretching feature has already been done in Max Payne. So, on the graphical front, it’s hard to see this game doing anything cutting edge or impressive.

Meanwhile, the audio is OK. The sound effects and voice acting is where this game shines best in this area. Meanwhile, the music is OK. I wouldn’t call it particularly memorable, but it does get the job done in keeping the game interesting all the way through.

Overall, this is definitely an FPS game to play when you don’t care what FPS game you want to play. This gets the basics done and helps you pass the time for a while. If you are looking for a game that is impressive and has outstanding features, I would say to look elsewhere. The AI leaves a bit to be desired, the checkpoints are a bit archaic. Even with a reasonable arsenal, the game limits you to two weapons and grenades at a time. The graphics for a game of its time isn’t all that impressive. I am even aware of last gen games that put this game to shame even. The voice acting and sound effect are pretty good, though the music is only good enough to help you get through the game. An OK game, but nothing to get excited over.

Furthest point in game: Beat the game on the default medium difficulty.

General gameplay: 16/25
Replay value: 6/10
Graphics: 5/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 60%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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