The chief gimmick in Midway’s Hour of Victory is that you’ve got a crack three-man squad - sneaky covert operative Taggert, burly commando Ross and sharp-shooting ranger Bull. It’s a concept that was used to reasonable effect in Commandos: Strike Force, where a suspiciously similar trio swanned about in war-torn cities facing missions that required their individual talents.
Sadly, both the inter-squad and environmental interaction during Hour of Victory seems painfully, almost insultingly, linear in comparison. The game desperately tries to convey the impression that you’re part of a crack squad, but the actual orchestration is utterly sterile and by-the-book. At the start you’ll pick your hero and - at key points - you’ll be faced with a locked door, pushable cart or climbable wall. Then it’s simply a matter of pressing X and watching a crusty third-person cutscene before being thrown back into the action. In fact, aside from token crap stealth sections, the only real, discernable difference between the three is that Ross can take more punishment than his pals - making him the obvious choice.
There’s also way too much focus on lame corridor blasting, and every time the game tempts you with a cool-looking exterior - bang - the mission ends and you find yourself back in some linear hallway. In terms of open environments, even pap like Medal of Honor: European Assault at least attempted to immerse gamers in a living, breathing battlefield. It hardly helps that the AI of your German foes is horribly inconsistent. From range, these sneaky Nazis are adept at finding cover and pelting you with grenades, so you’ll need to do a lot of hiding yourself before leaning out with a tap on the d-pad to return fire. Close-up though, it’s a different story and enemies will frequently charge right past you, or fail to even spot you as you pop a cap right into the side of their dozy heads.
You’ll also find it’s entirely possible to break the game by simply charging the German hordes like some Kamikaze fighter. Mass virtual panic sets in while you set about cracking skulls en masse with your ridiculously overpowered melée attacks. Without any health pickups, the game adopts the now requisite Halo/Call of Duty health model, yet Hour of Victory somehow contrives to muck this up too, requiring that you actually stand still to heal. It’s a particularly pedantic and laborious system, and succeeds only in breaking up the flow of the action some more.
Then, when you don’t think things can possibly get any worse, along comes the nail-biting (if only because of the truly sadistic checkpoint set-up) token vehicle section where you escape from a Nazi castle in the tank equivalent of a three-wheel van. If being absolutely peppered by near-invisible Panzerschrek-toting foes and trying to perform a three-point-turn while lodged in a snowdrift is really what our brave granddads had to endure in the forties, then war really must have been hell.
To give Hour of Victory its belated dues, you’ll feel suitably heroic as you mow down wave after wave of the blighted Bosch using some beautifully rendered WWII weapons, with their slick reloading animations and suitably beefy sound effects. Likewise, the resounding crack of bone and cartilage when you smash a Jerry full in his grimacing mug with the butt of your gun, is not to be underestimated either. Yet these are brief, all-too-fleeting bright points in an otherwise gloomy outlook.
Visually, Hour of Victory blows. Despite the odd nice exterior and some fancy depth-of-field trickery this looks like a reasonably high-res Xbox game, while some cool background effects - including bombers and fighters dueling it out in the skies above - only rams home the feeling that down on the ground, everything feels so pedestrian.