Call of Duty: Roads to Victory Preview
What's that, you say? Another World War II shooter? Yes, well, they do happen to pop up every now and then, but this one is for a handheld, so at least it starts off with an unfamiliar air of originality. After all, how does one go about recreating such an intense experience on a portable gaming machine, especially with the likes of Call of Duty 3 tearing it up on the next-gen consoles? It can't be an easy endeavor, that's for sure, but Activision and developer Amaze are working to bring the idea to fruition, which should excite both FPS and WWII fans. It's called Call of Duty: Roads to Victory, and it should complement the likes of Medal of Honor and Brothers In Arms also making the leap to Sony's handheld. It's a madhouse of shooters goin' portable!
This particular CoD title will offer a bit more in the way of options right off the bat, as the player will be able to join up with the U.S., British, or Canadians to battle the never-ending threat of those nasty Nazis. But the question avid fans will be asking is, "how can the well-established and critically acclaimed depth and immersion so often associated with this franchise exist in a handheld version?" Well, the missions will be a bit shorter, but much of the remaining CoD format will be in place. Several allies will accompany you as you progress through each level, and much like the third installment in the series, your player can carry two weapons at once. And of course, we shouldn't have to outline the weaponry on display in a WWII shooter; you know the major players like the M1 Garand, Thompson, and MP40. Hand grenades and pipe bombs should also make an appearance.
Above all else, control is the biggest challenge facing Amaze. The foundation and environment may be there, but considering the button design and layout on the PSP, it doesn't always present the easiest setup for FPSs. Your adventure takes you through a variety of environments (typical bombed-out streets, countryside backdrops, etc.), and you'll also have a diverse set of objectives to complete, as you generally do in any Call of Duty title. But how do we get through the weird, kinda shifty "analog" of the PSP, combined with the less accurate d-pad? Sure, you might be able to use a Panzershrek to nail tanks or eliminate large groups of soldiers, or use binoculars to spot targets for your own forces (remember that section during the first part of Call of Duty 3?). But that doesn't necessarily mean it will be easy to accomplish.
One little question we have concerns the health meter: in Call of Duty 3, there really wasn't one. You simply had to look at the screen, and the redder it got, the closer to death you were. However, this was sometimes difficult to discern, although you could probably guess just how bad off you were...and considering the much smaller screen size of the PSP, will this be an issue? Will the screen flash red? And if so, will it be really visible and easily noticeable? We can only imagine how frustrating it would be if you couldn't quite sense how close you were to death, so we're wondering if they won't just include a traditional health meter of some kind. Either way, it shouldn't make or break the game (emphasis on "shouldn't").
Well, at least we'll have the auto-aim. It's a feature commonly found in FPSs in recent years, and we can usually turn it off or alter it in some way. One of the first examples of this on a console was Red Faction, where the auto-aim feature essentially placed the aiming reticle directly on the chest of an enemy. Of course, this didn't work so well with enemies who were wearing body armor, but then again, that's why we could turn it off. Now, will this PSP game approach the option in the same way? We've heard the auto-aim in Roads to Victory depends a lot on distance; in other words, how "locked-on" you get is dictated by how far you are from your target, which seems to make perfect sense. We'll just have to wait and see if Amaze can effectively institute this helpful assistance without too much difficulty.
We'll be able to achieve headshots by turning off the auto-aim or by hitting the L button to quickly switch the sight from chest to head, but you're gonna have to be fast and accurate to pull it off. We had best be able to release the auto-aim with a quick press of another button, though, as it may impede our ability to dodge and maneuver. Firing while on the move is an essential ability in any FPS, especially one where so much is going on at once, and one where you're often required to find cover as quickly as possible. This new CoD should be able to offer a fully realized WWII shooter experience, but beyond the control challenge, the rest will focus entirely on how well the immersion is recreated on a handheld.
And it requires a lot of detail jammed onto that little screen, doesn't it? From early screenshots, we can see a lot of impressive stuff loaded into the environment, including exploding planes, debris flying past our noses, and more than a few allies and enemies within the scope of our vision. It's basically exactly what you might expect to see if you took any scene from a recent CoD and shrunk it down in size, without sacrificing much of anything. In the end, the key will revolve around tempting PSP owners to give a mobile FPS a shot, and based on these early gameplay shots, we must admit they've got a lot going for them. Technically, it can't possibly look as good as a shooter on a next-gen platform, but at the same time, Roads to Victory offers an entirely new experience for WWII FPS junkies.
So when you get asked what this game looks like, simply say, "it looks like Call of Duty. That's a great accomplishment, in and of itself. The other PSP-specific bonus comes in the form of a multiplayer option that supports up to six players, although we're not yet sure what the individual multiplayer modes will be. At this point, you can probably expect the standard deathmatch and team-oriented options, and with enough gung-ho buddies, this is something any PSP owner could definitely enjoy. As of now, the game is tentatively scheduled for a March 13 release, which means it's just around the corner...keep an eye on this one, because you could be looking at the first example of just how well a FPS can fare on a portable system. It's a challenge, yes, but not an impossible one...
2/20/2007 Ben Dutka