Posted – 1.18.2008
WW2 is not the easiest genre to get people excited about thanks to the flood of FPS titles that try to reinvent D-Day, Market Garden, or a score of other battles, making it harder for developers using it as a hook to come up with something unique and exciting in order to get players to take a chance on them. Midway’s Hour of Victory, backed by Epic’s UE3 and allowing the player to tackle each mission with any one of three protagonists, seemed like it had the start of a great idea.
HoV’s twist on history isn’t based on any of the real battles in WW2, throwing you instead into an action packed race to stop Nazi Germany from building a nuclear weapon. As one member of a trio of specialists, you’ll head in behind enemy lines as black ops operatives in order to gather intelligence and wreck their chances to make everyone glow in the dark. Ross is the Commando, a no nonsense fighter that can move large stuff out of the way while being able to soak up plenty of damage. Taggert is the sneaky bastard, able to cut through wire fences, pick locks, and use a silenced machine gun to get behind the enemy although he doesn’t have Ross’ ability to shrug off annoying lead splinters. And the Native American sniper, Bull, can climb ropes and use a sniper rifle. From the deserts of Africa to the heart of Berlin, you’ll cut fences, pick locks, and move giant objects in order to save the Allies from certain annihilation.
The bland narrative is easily forgotten midway through the game thanks to the awful voice acting that tries to bring some personality to each of the characters, or it could be the impression that nothing important really happens within any of the missions themselves and in the cuts between them. It also doesn’t help that some of the characters look like walking wax figures complete with penetrating, glass eyes. The only exciting stuff happens when you shoot things in this game, not when you actually rescue somebody or brace for a story scene that is over too soon to establish any real connection with the player other than to string each mission together.
You start off each mission by picking which of the three specialists that you want to fight through as. Different options on the map become available to you as long as you have the right character. For example, barbed wire closing off an alleyway leading behind the enemy can be cut through by Taggert, although everyone else will have to find another way around. Ross can move stuff out of the way as he’s the strongest, and Bull can climb up on ropes to the rooftops and snipe his way to another position. A lot of this sounds like it could be exciting stuff, but the game feels as if it only pays lip service to what this group can do.
Taggert can pretty much gun his way across a map much like everyone else along with Bull, although he has the ability to hide in certain shadows in order to trick the player into thinking that there is actually some kind of stealth mechanic at work here. Being stealthy doesn’t do much more than give you the impression that you might be like Sam Fisher, but it can be ignored since knifing anyone is an instant kill whether they know you’re coming or not. Ross is pretty much a straightforward fighter with his only saving grace being that he can move the occasional obstacle from his path like the Terminator. And Bull…picking him was usually because I wasn’t paying attention to the menu and was busily clicking buttons to get back into the game if I had died. But he can climb ropes, an ability no other soldier in your group has. Occasionally you have to play through certain sections as one of the three characters, but for the most part, there’s really nothing to convince you that any one of them will impact the story or the gameplay much.
As an FPS, HoV doesn’t offer a whole lot over most anything else that pits you against the Wehrmacht aside from not being anywhere near as exciting as its competition is. If the Wehrmacht had soldiers like these fighting for the Fatherland, it would have been Poland and France that would have overrun Germany instead. Most of the time, the enemy will stand out in the open to shoot at you, run past and ignore you as it tries to take cover around a box sitting next to your feet behind you, or run straight into your fire. The occasional AI ally that accompanies you is guilty of the same thing, often running straight into danger and creating a pile of corpses.
HoV also uses a regenerating health system, only in this case, it can take awhile to actually heal up from damage. sometimes, it glitches and doesn’t heal you even when you’re standing still as the game suggests. This actually happened to me, my vision blurring with squiggly lines that pretended to be the veins that I was seeing on death’s doorstep, until I jumped up and down just to see what would happen. For one thing, it was nice to have a jumping option, and for another, it must have gotten the blood going again because I healed up after hopping like a bunny on speed.
Clown car soldier generators hidden deep behind enemy lines serve up an unending torrent of enemies until you finally move forward to force it to stop which is somewhat unfair since you’re not supplied with as many allied soldiers. But thanks to the offbeat physics in the game, much of the action can be pretty hilarious as solders pop backwards like punched balloons when hit with a rifle shot, or collapse and tumble like stuffed mannequins as if your bullets pulled their skeletons right out from their skin. Or when they fly through the air like starfish, arms and legs splayed out, as if you were trapped in a cartoon. You’ll also be called on occasion to drive a tank and blow up stuff, although the controls tend to make it feel like you’re driving an unbalanced box on wheels.
Some of the levels look great with some nice details such as painted ceilings, piled furniture barricades, and substitution Iron Crosses on the Nazi flags to disguise the fact that you’re not really fighting the armed forces of Nazi Germany. Most of the graphics, however, suffer from a blurred and muddy palette of dingy colors, flat textures, and low poly props that stand out from the scenery. Special effects come off as firecracker sized bursts of flame, and none of the weapons feel or sound as intimidating as they are in many other WW2 shooters going as far back as MOH: Allied Assault. The bombastic score, however, is pretty good but feels very out of place considering everything else.
If the issues above weren’t enough of a hint, the in-game problems add to the pile. At one point, I had to attack a building and clear out the defenders in front of it to get in. I did that, and nothing happened. After wandering around wondering if I missed one soldier, I finally restarted from the last checkpoint and repeated the whole slog again. This time, a tank came up and smashed through the barricades and allowed me to actually finish the mission…which I could have if an invisible wall hadn’t kept me from jumping over the knee high sand bags that blocked my way.
HoV is also rife with problems that other FPS titles have managed to work through. Invisible walls that stick out like sore thumbs keeping you from jumping over certain obstacles, soldiers that drop ammunition and weapons that tend to disappear as soon as you turn your back, and a checkpoint system that will test your ability to take punishment when it restarts you several fights earlier forcing you to repeat grinding battles as the game tries to overwhelm you with soldiers. At the end, you get to fight one of the cheesiest FPS villains in a battle where going outside the room simply kills you because you’ve gone too far. After surviving this, the incredibly weak ending serves as the reward for all of your effort.
Multiplayer is available on Live! with Leaderboards and the usual trappings like deathmatching, but good luck in trying to find anyone online to play against.
Hour of Victory reminds me a lot of the much maligned Mortyr on the PC. There are moments when it looks like it’s going to do something creatively awesome, such as the ascent to a mountaintop castle reminiscent of the scene from the film, “Where Eagles Dare”, or the one man raid on the Reichschancellery in the burning heart of Berlin. And then the gameplay reminds me just how weak the rest of the package is. Did Midway rush this out? Did anyone spend any Q&A on this game at all? I guess we’ll never know. I’m usually a sucker for any FPS that takes place in WW2, but in this case, I think I should have gone AWOL instead.
– World 1-1