Hour of Victory Review

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Publisher: Midway
Developer: N-Fusion Interactive

Platform: Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Concerned that the German nuclear program could turn the tide of World War II in favor of the Axis Powers, a team of the Allies' three most elite soldiers has been assembled to quickly quash Germany's fission ambition. Major Ambrose Taggart of the OSS, Lt. William Ross of the SAS, and U.S. Army Ranger Sgt. Calvin Blackbull must escape North Africa and strike at the heart of the Third Reich's scientific schemes.

Kyle Ackerman

Hour of Victory is not the worst game you've ever played. It is, however, the worst game to launch with a $60 price tag that actually runs... at least, most of the time. Hour of Victory runs just well enough and offers just enough game play that it can safely be called a game. It does not enter the hall of shame reserved for those games that reformat your hard drive, or simply fail to run. Antiquated graphics, primitive sound, dismal play and game-crashing glitches certainly make this a game worth avoiding. Top all of those issues with a short campaign and derivative multiplayer, and Hour of Victory becomes Afternoon of Frustration.

The only folks who need to check out Hour of Victory are game publishers and development teams everywhere. The game serves as an object lesson in how not to make a game. This muddled mishmash of middleware thrown together without any of the care or polish that creates a coherent and compelling experience provides a stunning example of poor project management and misguided economy. Hour of Victory proves that it's not enough to outsource everything and assume it will work together simply because the specs do. Gamers are sophisticated enough to expect a modicum of originality and effort on the part of the developers, and games must be built with care and passion to capture the audience.

Marvel at the Mediocrity

Technically, Hour of Victory provides the kind of WWII-themed Nazi-neutralizing experience a PC gamer might expect from a mediocre mod. The graphics lack detail or finesse. Save a few detailed textures, there's little to distinguish the HD graphics of Hour of Victory on the Xbox 360 from a middling game for the original Xbox. As you move around levels, the lighting can change dramatically and drastically, causing a nearby bookcase or table to flicker as if all old German castles were lit by strobe lights.

The sound is no better. Hour of Victory's sound scheme relies on generic music and barely adequate weapon sounds to fill the aural space. Sure, the occasional German will yell "Schnell!", and there is some awful voice acting, but all the noises are unduly sensitive to the player's position. Sometimes the speech is far too loud, and sometimes it's inaudible, changing with the slightest tap of the analog stick. This occurs in cut-scenes, too, as the camera moves, and that's just sloppy on the part of the developers. When you succeed in multiplayer matches, a tiny fragment of orchestral music plays – always the same, far too long, and often abruptly cut off to restart for another accomplishment.

The Criticality of Choice

Good games offer players meaningful choices. Many first-person shooters (FPS) achieve that by offering players multiple routes through a scenario. You might decide to snipe from on high, covertly infiltrate the enemy or just rush forward, guns blazing. With the increasingly standard FPS two-weapon limit, many games force you to choose your weapons and kit carefully so that you can complete challenges as you prefer. Despite the text on the back of the box ("WWII Combat The Way You Want It"), Hour of Victory is guilty of one of gaming's most sinister sins: artificially lengthening the game.

At first, the choice seems exciting. For each level, you can choose from the same three characters, each with his own strengths. The OSS operative can sneak and stealthily stab soldiers from behind, while picking locks and cutting wire fences to ensure he's always at the enemy's back. The commando can take a stiffer beating and can push heavy objects aside. The sniper can scale buildings and jump more easily from rooftop to rooftop. In reality, instead of playing each level as you choose, you can take one of three, slightly different, predetermined paths through a level. It's sort of like playing the same level three times, but with slightly different hats.

Rather than providing a lot of game, and letting you choose your approach, Hour of Victory provides a game that can be finished in a short afternoon, and then expects you to play through three times. More importantly, you are constantly told that you can't do things. Come across a rope as the commando, and you're told that you need the sniper to play that part of the game. Find a convenient route behind the enemy as the sniper, and you learn that you need the stealthy OSS man to cut that flimsy, low, wire fence.

Think of Death as an Endless Cycle

Character choice isn't the only way in which Hour of Victory tries to stretch out your play experience. The game's checkpoint system is painful. If you are unfortunate enough to be killed by the problematic AI Nazis, you might still be lucky enough to restart near where you died. Most often, though, you'll replay many of your accomplishments, sometimes restarting at the beginning of the level (as in the painful stealth sequence through sewer tunnels).

If chancy checkpoints aren't enough, the game also has abysmal AI and an awkward arrangement of enemies. Nazis will often happily stand around, looking at the door you just passed through, waiting for you to run around and punch them in the back of the head. Or they'll shoot through obstacles, or just run in circles. And there are so many scripted moments when bad guys just pop up nearby that Hour of Victory will often seem more like a coin-op light-gun shooter than an FPS. That feeling is at its worst during the final showdown, when a balding bad guy pops back and forth between barricades. He can take more than three shots to the forehead with a scoped rifle, and absorb more ammo that a dozen stormtroopers. I was left feeling like I was back shooting ducks at the county fair.

The poor AI isn't limited to your enemies. Sometimes your allies are so determined to run past you that you'll die as they run you over. In fact, in Hour of Victory a Russian infantryman with a waypoint can be more dangerous than a tank. And however a soldier dies, the ragdoll physics used to animate the death is ancient, awkward and alien.

Not Exactly a Blitzkrieg

Speaking of tanks, Hour of Victory attempts to change up the pace by offering you a few turret sequences and a chance to drive a German tank. Unfortunately, the tank drastically slows the pace, with mushy controls and more Panzershreks than your grandfather's cake has candles. These sequences do little to make Hour of Victory more endearing.

Also the levels are awkward, and filled with both real and invisible barriers. There's typically a single correct path, but that path is often defined by piles of furniture or debris that it looks like an ordinary soldier would step over. And it's easy to get caught on furniture or walls, especially in a firefight. Fortunately for navigation (but not for enjoyment), familiar levels have a way of returning. You'll find almost identical courtyards in the University and Castle areas. To make things more entertaining, those clunky levels often take a long time to load.

Prepare to Punch!

Given that the game is built on the Unreal Engine 3, you would expect that the weapons and multiplayer should be acceptable. Except they aren't. The weapons are fine, but it's often easier to go hand-to-hand then to shoot, making the stealthy OSS operative more powerful than he should be thanks to his knife. In fact, the sniper will often find it easier to use his rifle as a club than a gun. But even melee has its problems.

The game uses the trigger to fire a gun and the right shoulder button to punch. For convenience, the game will convert the trigger to a swing when close to the enemy, but the range on this function is way off. Often, you'll swing through a doorway and end up face-to-face with a Nazi. You want to fire off a quick burst to the fellow's face, ending the confrontation. Instead, you swing aimlessly at the air until you can back up enough to shoot, or close to break his nose.

The multiplayer is... adequate, if clunky. It's just like plenty of other WWII-themed multiplayer matches (with team deathmatch, capture the flag and devastation modes), only clunkier. There's simply little reason to risk the sparsely populated online games of Hour of Victory when there are plenty of better online multiplayer experiences based on the same Unreal Engine 3.

A Lesson Learned

Hour of Victory is a great lesson, but not to gamers – only for those developers and publishers tempted to use a disembodied corporate strategy to cut as many corners as possible by avoiding hiring in-house staff. Did I mention the credits only listed two Q&A testers? It shows. Even the best Q&A folk in the world could never catalog all this game's errors. They are too vast, and too high-level, for an error sheet.

Hour of Victory feels generic, and it's not hard to see why. It has all the errors that come from outsourcing to multiple contractors, and doesn't demonstrate any of the love, passion or talent that comes from a dedicated team. If you find that the music seems generic and often doesn't fit with the action, just look to the credits. The music was purchased from Associated Production Music, a company that helps license established libraries of music. That's why you feel like you've heard the score before. You probably have.

One lazy choice in game development and design might slip by, but Hour of Victory is a graphic illustration of how a host of lazy and sloppy choices build into one horrendous overall experience. At a bargain price of $20 or less, it might be possible to recommend Hour of Victory as a quick lark or a way of pumping your gamerscore. At $60, it's almost as much of a disaster as the German nuclear program would have been for the Allies in WWII.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 8, 2007 4:33 PM.

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