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Call of Duty: Finest Hour review

It's the best war game on PS2 then. Job done. War is over. Troop disbanded. You can all go home for Christmas in an ill-fitting free suit. It's easy to be glib. Easy to see Call of Duty: Finest Hour as 'just another war game' and easy to question why you should buy it when you've already got Medal of Honor: Frontline and Rising Sun. Thanks. Here's why: Call of Duty is, at its best moments, twice as good as either game. If you want realism in your FPSs (and lots of people do given the million-plus status of the MOH games) this cannot be beaten. And here's why.

Call of Duty is a worldwide smash already. A spin-off from the hit PC original, this Finest Hour console-only game is a whole new experience with new locations and tasks. Making a game is a tricky process. A balancing act between giving a player plenty to do (but not leave them feeling swamped), giving clear instructions (but not holding their hand through every shot) and veiling the fact that behind the facade of good guys and bad guys acting out World War II, lies a computer program. COD gets the balance right. The world created by the levels is insanely detailed and packed with things to see and do. The missions are varied and easily understood and the AI is some of the best we've seen, with buddies that will actually take the lead and go on a killing spree if you're too shy to take point yourself. And there's never a shortage of things to kill.

The game revels in its ability to fling a screen full of troops around. Right from level one - the siege at Stalingrad - you're able to see hundreds of figures fighting the war ahead. Some are just pinpricks, others are in-your-face real and others fly planes and bombers that swoop above. We still don't know how it does it but it shows up the three-at-a-time combat of so many FPS games royally. Even the most distant, pinprick on the horizon is blessed with the AI and motion-capture to make you believe that they're real. Try sniping a distant running figure in the ankle and watch how they trip and fall if you don't believe us. And up-close they just get better. They shout, cry out and, if you get real personal, will twat you on the head with the butt of their gun. With a grimace. While Killzone has you mopping up pockets of resistance in futuristic shopping centres, Call of Duty places you in the thick of a proper war. We've successfully counted thirty blokes, across both sides, all scrapping on-screen with us stuck in the middle of it all - counting.

Which is inevitably both a technical miracle and a pain in the arse. In practically every other FPS there is a finite amount of baddies. They have 'spawn' points (ie, where they start from) and get close enough and you'll trigger them to start attacking. Then, when they're dead, they're dead. But here, just like really being at war with Germany, they just keep on coming. Clear an area and before you know it you're getting shot in the ass by some freshly alerted guards spawning from impossible-to-find start points. The result is real tension. You can never relax, get your back against the wall and know that you're safe. But this also means that, unable to truly clear a section, your best course of action is - just as in real war - to charge headlong through to the next checkpoint or mission conclusion without getting your ass shot off. Something not ideally tied to the length of the levels...

ON THE LEVEL

Each is comprised of a few 'scenes' or 'objectives' and often, just when you're expecting the next chunk of the city, or waiting to find out what lies over the next ridge it's the level's end and you're off somewhere else. Get lucky and you can charge headlong through some of the early (easier) levels and reach the mission's end by ignoring much of the scenery, action and army 'specially laid on for you to 'enjoy'. The good news is that there are 19 of the things, and each is very carefully plotted to contain regular servings of unique and memorable moments. For example after spending a chunk of level defending a tank you then get to drive the thing out through the streets. Sniping soldiers through the gloom of the sewers is a welcome change of pace. And working room to room and house to house clearing the streets of snipers keeps you on your toes and your nerves permanently set to 'jangle'.

More Info

Available Platforms: PC, Xbox, GameCube, PS2

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