Reviewed: August 2, 2007
Released: June 25, 2007
When I first caught wind of an upcoming Midway-branded WWII-based shooter for the Xbox 360, fond memories of last-generation’s Area 51 immediately came to mind. As Midway’s flagship FPS, Area 51 was a sleeper hit that had me thoroughly hooked from beginning to end – soundly proving to me that Midway had the stones to branch out into new and uncharted areas. And while burned-out WWII era European cities have little in common with modern day high-tech governmental research facilities, the core gameplay mechanics would surely carry over just as well.
So about a month ago, when the news dropped that Midway had released two demos over the Xbox Live Marketplace – one for the Area 51 sequel called Blacksite, the other for the WWII shooter Hour of Victory – I immediately began downloading.
Playing the two demos side-by-side, it became immediately obvious that the two games were drastically different in nearly every facet; whereas Blacksite retained that uniquely fluid and engaging feel of the original Area 51, Hour of Victory seemed sketchy, buggy, and stiff – and frankly, a bit disappointing. I sincerely hoped that the lackluster showing was simply due to the pre-release nature of the demo, and that the developers – nFusion – would tie up the loose ends before releasing the game onto the public.
Sadly, that is not the case – because while Hour of Victory is certainly a playable game, it is about three waves behind the other current WWII titles in almost every respect. Meaning it is more on par with the early last-gen Medal of Honor titles than it is with the more recent Call of Duty and Brothers in Arms titles.
Nearly a decade after the first Medal of Honor wowed critics and fans alike, there are few surprises to be had with any WWII shooter being released nowadays. We have already stormed the beaches of Normandy, taken over the bridge at Nijmegen, and sank U-boats in their moorings. We have played as foreign allies, driven all sorts of vehicles, and shot nearly every gun the world had to offer in the 1940’s.
So, in order for a WWII-based game to really stand out in the sea of similarly themed releases, it has to do something different; a hook. And Hour of Victory’s hook is in allowing gamers to pick one of three different character types in which to complete mission; the commando, the sniper, and the covert ops agent. Each character carries his own unique attributes; including strength, agility, and specialty skills to help open new pathways and play techniques.
Sgt. William Ross
Sgt. Calvin Blackbull
Lt. Ambrose Taggert
Sadly, while these unique abilities are definitely something new for the WWII genre, they really do not mean a whole lot in the heat of the battle, because Hour of Victory is about as generic a run-and-gun a shooter you will find. There really is no need to find high sniping perches and clear out the spawning enemies, or cut through wire fences simply to save a few minutes of playtime when the game can simply be manipulated to build a hybrid super soldier of sorts and negate any special abilities.
How would you do this? Simple – select Ross (for his increased health and stamina) and outfit him with his default SMG and whichever random discarded rifle suits your style. Given the fact that the melee attack is a guaranteed one-hit kill, old Ross can pretty much plow through wave after wave of enemy and hardly garner a scratch.
If Ross does happen to take on a few shots of hot lead, simply back off, stand still, and his health recharges in a Halo-esque way. Thankfully, most of the poorly coded AI enemies will completely forget Ross’ presence once he drops out of view – except, that is, for the few cheap enemies that respawn from previously cleared places.
Another gimmick that Hour of Victory employs is a Gears of War-style sprint feature – accompanied by a similar off-kilter camera angle to better emphasize the frantic dash from cover point to cover point. The sprint is definitely one of the cooler features to come along in the FPS world, but I would by no means consider it to be an innovation.
The sprint is not only cool, but also quite effective. In fact, there are many areas of the game that can be completed quicker and easier by simply dashing past the enemies and laying out a few of the unbalanced melee attacks. More often than not, this method of attack actually proves to be more efficient than actually partaking in the lame gunplay. While we were impressed when the Deus Ex series allowed us to complete its missions without firing a single shot, it feels cheap and unrewarding in Hour of Victory.
And speaking of the lame gunplay – Hour of Victory takes a step back from most of the current generation of shooters, and back to a time when enemies could be eliminated with a single sniper shot to an exposed ankle or elbow. This may have been fine five years ago in Medal of Honor: Frontline, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the Call of Duty series.
Still, even with all the warts, the single player portion of Hour of Victory has some truly exciting moments – and all in all, it is not totally unplayable. The same can’t be said for the generic multiplayer offering, which is so inundated with wacky glitches and design flaws that it is hardly worth the load times required. While the attempt is admirable - offering three variations of gameplay; Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and the bomb-placing Devastation mode – Hour of Victory is obviously vying for the Battlefield crowd. But in the end, it just does not make the grade.
Hour of Victory is a mixed bag graphically, and a lot of that depends on your gaming rig. For the SDTV crowd, the game looks terribly muddy and washed out. But for those gamers who have made the HDTV jump, Hour of Victory looks pretty darn good. And as one of the first Xbox 360 games to support full 1080p, it is a real disappointment that it was lost on such lackluster gameplay.
The cutscenes might not be on par with what we have come to expect from the likes of the Call of Duty series, but they definitely get the job done. The characters’ faces have genuine expression, which does a lot to separate them from the walking cadavers like we often find in our games. The skin textures do seem to, well…glisten a bit too much at times for my taste, but the overall effect definitely delivers a sense of depth and dimension to the character models.
The in-game visuals are a bit blocky and sparse, and possibly not as detailed as they should be, but the flip side is that this low graphical overhead keeps the framerate chugging along at a fairly steady pace. Pop-up is a problem, especially through Blackbull’s scope – it is entirely possible to have distant objects pop in and out of view with miniscule movement of the targeting reticule. While this is not a big deal to have a tree or bush appear and disappear from sight, when it is an enemy soldier – especially one who is firing back – it can be devastating.
Although the Medal of Honor series has become a parody of itself over the past few years, it will always be remembered as the series that set the bar for the sound quality in a WWII game. With the first two titles widely garnering awards for best sound quality and soundtrack, there has not been a WWII title yet that has not tried to match the fully orchestrated soundtrack and realistic sound sampling of those early titles.
Hour of Victory keeps with the formula – and for the most part performs a stand-up job of blending the realistic gunfire and bombing of the ground war, with the engaging and invigorating war-era victory anthems. But while the developers seem to nail the overall ambience of war-torn Europe, they really stumble when it comes to the voice acting, which comes off as cheesy and cheap. The accents do not always seem to match the nationalities of the character they portray, and the dialog is delivered with little genuine emotion.
Even with the awkwardly placed checkpoints that stretch out the length of the game, the single player mode only lasts six, maybe seven hours. Had the single player been more appealing, it might have actually made up for the unplayable multiplayer. Sadly it is not.
Hour of Victory is by no means a total loss, but it is not totally worth spending a hard-earned $60 on, either.
Hour of Victory hardly measures up to its competition in the overall scheme of things. While the game tries hard to deliver solid single player storyline and multiplayer gameplay, it just does not cut the mustard when it comes developing a truly engaging and enjoyable experience. There are hints of greatness here and there, and even a indication of innovation smattered about, but overall the game just seems to be a bit underdeveloped.