IN THE ZONE
Killzone is certainly larger (despite having only 11 levels) but is more repetitive with the action stretched through an (admittedly wide) but still limiting corridor. By comparison Call of Duty is often as wide as it is deep. Yes, there is a clear path through the level and your next course of action is denoted with a fat star on your compass, but if you want to explore, perhaps scouting for decent sniping points or scrounging for medipacks before the next obvious onslaught, you can. And the sheer numbers of enemies pegging it out of buildings and down streets means that there's no shortage of things to kill if you decide to stay a while.
Weapons-wise the game is as all-encompassing as you'd expect. Every gun is an authentic recreation of real weaponry of the time and, while the novelty of old bolt-action, slow-reloading Russian rifles is charming for a short time, things soon pick up with the arrival of the Where Eagle's Dare staple, the German MP40. And the best thing about using a German gun on Germans of course is that you're never short of ammo as you steam through a pack of them, bullets flying, grabbing their dropped ammo clips as you go.
As is fast becoming the norm, you can only carry minimal weaponry at one time. Two guns, in fact. One of which must be sacrificed in order to make room for a new arrival (just stand over it and hold X). In addition there's grenades (on L2) and the occasional mounted gun turret to take control of too. But by far the main hardware 'moments' are the vehicles. The first time you take control of a tank you can scarcely believe it. It's a whole new game. You can even play from an in-cab slotty cockpit view or from a less blinkered third-person view. And there are levels on jeeps where your buddies do the driving and you're in charge of clearing the countless Hun ahead.
One drawback is that the intensity of the action is so extreme and the adherence to the uniforms and vehicles of the day so realistic that you simply haven't the time to tell good guys from bad. We can't help thinking that if the Germans had worn orange or if their guns had fired purple lasers they'd have been rather easier to spot in the throng and the game would have been more 'fun'. But that would be stupid. Just be thankful for a red glow on your targeting reticule that lets you know when your fire is hitting home, even if your view is obscured with yet another plume of smoke or burst of shrapnel.
Last month we played Killzone - a game that's all 'future' and 'space boots' but is similarly bogged down in clunky weaponry and the grit of war. But where Killzone had its quiet moments, plenty of scenery at just the right height to pop up from behind and a mix of weapons that felt and behaved differently, so COD features, relentless respawning enemies, scenery that's never the right height with painfully slow stance switching, and guns that - apart from the machine guns and sniper rifles - are much of a muchness. Killzone is all polish and Euro-cool while COD is all gritty nerve-shredding. It is hard to play and that's not just 'hard' in terms of 'difficulty' hard but actually 'hard' to perform the aiming, ducking, grenade flinging and running required thanks to the inadequate weapons and insistence on not giving you a moments peace. It's not often we play an FPS and fling the joypad down in fury but we guarantee that after getting your health shot away by a pillbox of soldiers that you could have sworn you'd cleared you'll do likewise.
WAR IS OVER
And yet COD remains head and helmet above all previous cracks at this genre, including the two previous much loved and ultra-popular Medal of Honor PS2 games. The set-pieces in Call of Duty come so thick and fast that they feel like the norm - a very impressive, unrelenting, sensory-assaulting norm. And while MOH re-used scenery, gave you near identical tasks to perform again and again and felt like a fat brown shooting gallery, so Call of Duty heaps on the excitement and variety and surrounds you with enemies and a task list as long as the Director's Cut of War and Peace.
Like creating it, playing Finest Hour is a labour of love. You can smell the attention to detail and it's hard, if not impossible, to imagine how it could be bettered, on PS2 at least. It's hard, it's real, it's the best war game you can buy.
Call of Duty: Finest Hour is released for PS2, Xbox and Gamecube on 3 December