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First-Person Shooter
Spark Unlimited
November 16, 2004

Call of Duty: Finest Hour

Earlier in the week, we had the opportunity to get our hands on the highly anticipated World War II FPS, Call of Duty: Finest Hour. The last time we saw this title in action, we weren’t allowed to touch anything, but we were fortunate enough to check out three full levels from the game. How good is it? Well, we’ve got plenty of info for you. The amount of devotion that Activision and developer Spark Unlimited have put into this game is absolutely astounding. With support from several top notch military advisors as well as a breathtaking audio production team, Call of Duty: Finest Hour is one of the most amazing first-person shooters to date.

After chatting it up with producer and COO, Scott J. Langteau, we were formerly introduced to two of the military advisors on the title, Hank Keirsey and John Hillen. Simply by talking to these guys, we knew immediately how well this game would play. Hank, or Colonel by his closest friends, is a retired decorated war veteran. He’s seen combat in the Gulf War, spearheading the attack into Iraq. He later became a leader-training model for the entire U.S. Army. With a Master’s degree in history from Duke and experience as a teacher of history and military ethics at West Point, Hank Keirsey is an integral part of the development process seen within Call of Duty: Finest Hour.

John Hillen may be a bit more recognizable to many of our readers. During his career in the military, Hillen served in the 2nd armored Cavalry Regiment, the 82nd Airborne Division and the 5th Special Forces Group. He’s been seen on Good Morning America, World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, Nightline, This Week and other ABC News programs. He’s also written two critically acclaimed books as well as several articles. Hillen has a PhD from Oxford University as well as a Master’s from the War Studies program at King’s College London. To add to that, he also has a Bachelor’s from Duke. As you can see, these two know a lot about war and even more so about the history. Right off the bat, we felt immediately comfortable with the state of the game.



The main flow of the game follows six different playable characters across three different campaigns. Although the campaigns are in completely different countries, they all follow the same, integral time line. The game starts you off as a Russian soldier, storming through Stalingrad. This battle was as important to the Russian army as the D-Day operation was to the entire allied force. As you go through Stalingrad and across the front lines, you’ll play as three characters within this campaign. Afterwards, you’ll enter North Africa as an African-American British Commando. This soldier is mostly experienced in demolitions, making him a valuable asset in his own operations. During the war in North Africa, the commandos would rescue prisoners, destroy supply lines and other such heroic deeds. The squad portrayed in Finest Hour is the 761st Black Panther division, a first for any video game. In the third and final campaign, you’ll fight as part of the American force taking Aachen, the first and most important German city to fall. As part of the 1st Division Infantry, you’ll be right on the front lines, straight into the offensive. All of these campaigns tie into, what should be, an epic World War II tale.

We started our hands-on playtest with the second mission from the Russian campaign. As a new recruit, fresh into Stalingrad, we found the character moving from building to building with a few of his comrades. He’d already landed in port, missed out on the rifle distribution and made his way through the primary defenses. Now, it is his mission to take down three pillboxes in order to tear down the Nazi flag. Certainly a mission against all odds but with the help of your fellow comrades, anything is possible. Our first taste of combat came shortly after the first door was kicked in. Armed with a standard issue Mauser, picked off of a German casualty, we lean around the corner, aimed down the sights and killed our first group of Nazis.

The controls are very reminiscent of other WWII-based first-person shooters out there, save for the aiming system. In Finest Hour, you’ll actually focus on your target like in the PC counterpart. Rather than rely solely on the targeting reticule, your character can physically raise his weapon and aim straight down that weapon’s sight. This system is an excellent example of drawing the player into the action and makes the experience that much more realistic.

As we made our way from room to room, we found ourselves right in front of our destined pillboxes. A .50 calibur machine gun had already been set up, so we used that to our advantage against the infantry. We then moved out with the help of a Russian female sniper, whom the player will take the role of later into the campaign. Charging through the bunkers towards the pillboxes was very thrilling. Although it was certainly a harrowing experience, we could only imagine what would come next.

We then skipped straight to the end of the Russian campaign under the role of a commanding officer. During the winter, just before Christmas as a matter of fact, the Russians would surround Stalingrad forces and neutralize them into a tightly knit pocket. In this all-important mission, we took command of a group of T-34 tanks, rolling into a German airfield. This was definitely one of the most action-packed vehicle missions we had played in the genre. The sheer amount of fire power coming from the three to four T-34s is a sight to see. The physics on the tanks are impressive. It can take a bit to get used to the controls, but once we were into it, we couldn’t help but appreciate the effort it takes to create the realistic treads. Driving over a set of railroad tracks may not be as satisfying as driving over a group of Nazis (and it’s extremely fun), but the experience simply lends to the overall realism. After all, it isn’t just about the killing or the action in the game like this, but more so about the little details.

After making our way through the airfield, destroying as many supply planes as possible, we unfortunately had to abandon ship at a roadblock. Although any member of a tank battalion would tell you that you should never ever leave your tank, it helps the overall flow of the game and/or mission in the long run. Taking up our trusty DP, a Russian light machine gun, we took it upon ourselves to take out a nearby radio station (for enemy intelligence, not the 101.5 FM, the KGB). Making our way through the defenses, we picked up a panzerschrek, which is always fun to play around with. Fortunatley, there were only Nazi foot soldiers to draw our fire, leading to some impressive death animations. We later secured the station and closed out the Russian campaign.

One vehicle mission came after the next as we visited Tunisia in North Africa as part of the 761st. After a quick scuffle with a German sniper, we hopped aboard our spankin’ new jeep and laid down the lead on several advancing Germans. It was non-stop action, albeit slightly scripted, from beginning to end. You can still aim down the sights of the mounted .50 cal, which is recommended for scattered groups of hostiles. This experience was simply loud and breathtaking. It can get a little intense with German Stukas trying to bomb the hell out of our little vehicle, but that’s what health packs are for. Despite being a relatively short mission, the Tunisia campaign looks to be swiftly-paced action through and through. Not to mention the fact that Brian Johnson, lead singer of AC/DS plays an integral role.

We didn’t get a chance to see much of the American campaign, but what we did see rocked our socks. As Chuck Walker, voiced by Tom Everett Scott of An American Werewolf in Paris fame, you’re in charge of a small group of soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division, the first group to storm the walls of Aachen, the pivotal turning point for Germany’s surrender. After surviving Normandy on D-Day and latter pressing on through Belgium, Walker is not about to quit. He’s the kind of soldier who wants to be there when Germany falls. After all, as he says, “it’s not about medals or honor.” Get it?

The primary mission is to escort a group of tanks to a heavily fortified library. The M12 must survive the trip in order to tear down the ancient thousand-year-old walls. It’s simple enough to take cover behind the tanks, but once the heavy fire begins, it’s time to suck it up and find out where it’s coming from. Eventually, you’ll enter a few small buildings to take out some anti-tank infantry, but for the most part you’ll be spending your time on the ground. Unfortunately, the experience was cut short thanks to what the producers on the title refer to as the “hall of death”. We’ll get you yet, Nazi library.

Throughout our entire experience with the game, one thing stood out brighter than any visual effect. The sound production on this title is simply amazing, unlike anything we’ve heard before. The developers actually went out into the deserts of Los Angeles and fired every weapon in order to record and produce some of the most authentic sound effects in any World War II shooter on a console to date. Not only that, but with Michael Giacchino behind the baton, the musical score completely blew us away. For those of you who may not know of his work, Giacchino is known for his amazing work on the PC version of Call of Duty as well as the new TV show, Lost. Not only that, but he’s also providing the score for Pixar’s The Incredibles this fall. In all, he worked with an 80-piece orchestra, supported by a 50 person choir. We definitely don’t have to tell you that the music in this game is gripping and powerfully emotional.

word on the street

Heir. Seeing as how EA’s Medal of Honor: Rising Sun was such a disappointment with gamers, Call of Duty: Finest Hour is looking more and more like the spiritual successor to the Medal of Honor series. After all, it seems only fitting, seeing as how the main development team behind the series post-Rising Sun left to join Spark Unlimited. Sensing a heavy influence from the original titles from the PSX, it’s apparent that this is indeed Spark’s Finest Hour. Not only that, but with the fan base from the PC game as well as its expansion pack counter-part, United Offensive, drooling over this game, we could easily see gamers clawing at doors to get their hands on this game.

press release notes

  • Cinematic Intensity of War – Play through epic battlefield moments that thrust gamers onto the frontlines of WWII’s most intense battles – with the sights and sounds of war echoing all around. Battle the Nazi War Machine across all new authentic combat missions covering the war-torn North African, Eastern and Western Fronts. New missions range from epic battlefield conflicts featuring hundreds of soldiers to coordinated tactical assaults, sabotage, stealth and sniper missions. Plus, gamers engage in greater vehicle combat, which includes the freedom of movement to get in and out of vehicles as duty calls.
  • Brothers-In-Arms – Experience the camaraderie of a squad, bound together through the chaos of battle. Through advanced AI, the player’s squad will act like a trained military unit, with authentic tactics and maneuvers – laying down suppressing fire, providing cover fire and coordinating attacks on enemy positions. Experience the war through six unique player roles, with each character carrying a personal and patriotic story to tell. For the first time, play as multiple characters within a campaign, as new roles are revealed through inter-woven stories.
  • Allied Front – For the first time, console players will be able to experience the war from multiple perspectives – through the eyes of a new cast of American, British and Russian soldiers. Enlist as a raw Russian conscript, thrown into the harrowing battle of Stalingrad; take on the role of a British PPA commando – sent on daring raids in North Africa; and battle Nazi tank forces throughout Belgium as an American tank commander from the famed 761st “Black Panther” Tank Battalion. Battle enemies with an arsenal of more than 30 authentic WWII weapons from the Russian, British, American and German arsenals including pistols, machine guns, sniper rifles, grenades and more.


Call of Duty: Finest Hour can’t be summed up into a small scattering of words. It’s an epic in every sense of the word. It spans across years of history and captures the raw essence of war, sacrifice and brotherhood. How can we say that Call of Duty: Finest Hour is a great game and feel justified? This is the sort of game that makes you feel proud to play. The men and women who gave their lives during World War II have already been honored time and time again. There’s no point in time when there will be no reason to honor them once again. What is Call of Duty: Finest Hour? It’s a homage to the courage, bravery and amazing comradery shown during the great war. Yes, it’s also a great game. Once we get our hands on a final product, however, is when we can make our final judgment. Look forward to seeing this game landing on shelves in the fall of this year. Stay tuned to Nintendojo for further coverage.

Staff Avatar Austin Starr
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"If life's not beautiful without the pain / well I'd just rather never ever even see beauty again"

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