If a shooter is being developed, chances are you are going to bet it’s set during WWII. Most developers would be chastised for coming out with another WWII shooter because it has become so cliché. However, when you have the name Call of Duty behind it, creating a shooter set during WWII isn’t an issue because of the pedigree behind it.
Now Amaze Entertainment is taking Call of Duty to the portable realm with Call of Duty: Roads to Victory (RtV) for the PSP. Set during WWII, RtV lets you play as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, the Canadian First Army, and the elite British Parachuting Regiment. Can RtV do the Call of Duty name justice, and can they do it without a second analog stick?
Looking at RtV, the game is filled with the dusty greys and greens that are common to WWII. The game is bleak with the ash of war covering the walls and streets. The characters look good for the PSP, although some of the backgrounds look like they don’t have low polygons counts for the objects, distracting you and taking you out of the setting. The frame rate stays constant though, without any sign of frame drops.
A WWII shooter like RtV wouldn’t be the same without the “shaky cam” effect, and it comes out in full effect. If a shell explodes near you, the screen shakes violently making aiming difficult. This shaking adds to the immersion of the experience.
RtV doesn’t have a health gauge to show you how injured you are. Instead the border of the screen starts to turn red. The redder the border gets, the closer to dying you are. This is an effect that has been used quite often in shooters now, but it’s a welcome change from the typical health gauge.
In RtV soldiers have a name, and you can see the name of the soldier above them when you have your reticule aimed at them. However, the text is incredibly difficult to read, making the text more of a hindrance than a help. This is also the case when you are almost dead and the screen warns you to find cover to get health back. The developers should have either made the text easier to read or not included it at all.
As you play RtV, there isn’t any music of note to listen to while playing the game. Instead you are taking audio clues from the left and right speakers of the game. You can tell audibly tell where the action is coming from. If you want to play the game the correct way, get a pair of headphones and plug them in to your PSP to get the fullest audio experience.
After several other Call of Duty games, getting the weapon sounds right should be easy. RtV has no problems with this. Your weapons each have a distinct sound when firing. If you are used to a specific sound for a weapon, you’ll hear it here.
There is some voice acting in the game, and it assists to convey the chaos of WWII. Sometimes you’ll be told what direction to go during the game by what the other soldiers tell you. While the levels are fairly linear, hearing orders helps to give some immersion to follow orders of the commanding officer. There isn’t much emotion to the voices though, making the chaos seem less urgent.
When you are dying, the other noises around you start to fade out and you can hear yourself breathing heavily until you recover your health. This is a great indicator of your current status. The intensity as you hear yourself breathing hard, hoping that you recover before getting one more bullet really makes you strategize your attack.
I know that developers have tried to create a control scheme that works for shooters on the PSP. I know that this task is difficult without a second analog nub to control aiming. I know that Amaze tried to do their best with the control scheme, even providing four different control schemes. That being said, the controls for RtV are some of the worst I have played in a PSP game to date.
For the default controls, movement is handled with the analog nub. Looking is done with the action buttons on the right side. Pressing R fires while L looks down the site of the gun. Crouching and going prone is handled with down on the D-pad. Up on the D-pad throws a grenade. Swapping weapons and holding your breath is done using right on the D-pad, while left of the D-pad reloads your weapon.
While moving using the analog nub is fine, looking around is sluggish and unresponsive. There seems to be a delay when hitting the action button to move your view. It also doesn’t move very fast and the level of accuracy goes down when you are looking down your sights because of how jumpy the controls are. An auto-target feature is available and it seems to work fine at times, but there are other times where you feel like you are swinging wildly just to hit the broad side of a barn.
Three other control schemes are available. I tried all three, and I found that the default control scheme worked best. It is nice to see Amaze tried a few new things with the controls to try to get something that everyone could get to work. Unfortunately, the control schemes all fail to provide a playable experience, and they fail badly.
RtV offers you three campaigns. The first campaign is as the member of the 82nd Airborne Division. In the second campaign you find yourself as a member of the Canadian First Army. Finally, you are put into the shoes of an elite British Parachuting Regiment commando. While the American campaign has seven chapters, RtV only has fourteen chapters total. It would have been nice to stretch out the Canadian and British campaigns a bit more. You also don’t learn about any of them men that you interact with or the importance of the person you fight as during the game. This leaves you feeling a sense of disconnect to your allies.
The levels are as linear as you can find in a shooter. Typical missions have you move to a specific point, take down the enemy, move forward, take down more enemies, rinse, lather, and repeat. While there are some moments of divergence, such as when you use binoculars to spot tanks or the US bombing raid, you are doing the same thing over and over again. There are several checkpoints throughout the level so that you don’t have to replay areas you’ve already completed, lowering the frustration of the level.
The enemies aren’t exactly the top of their class. Sometimes they do move to cover and shoot at you while trying to expose as little of themselves as possible. At other times, they’ll run right at you and get a rifle butt sandwich to the face if you are quick enough. Your allies aren’t exactly the brightest bulbs either, sometimes running in front of your line of fire and straight into the enemy line of fire. They don’t always crouch or go prone or take advantage of cover available nearby.
The controls also play a major factor into the score of the gameplay. The enemies might not be smart, but they can move fast. This makes aiming at them difficult. While there is the auto-aim feature, it doesn’t always want to lock onto a nearby enemy, even when you have them close in your sights. If RtV took the speed of your movement into account when facing enemies, RtV would be a more enjoyable game. Instead, your unresponsive controls end up causing many player casualties.
RtV does have some challenging missions that will keep you awake, trying to figure out how to proceed to the next area. The game has the right amount of length for the levels though, making this truly a portable game instead of a console game on a portable system. The load times are actually fast too, making the multiple reloads you perform after dying seem not too bad.
A game like RtV would be great for Internet play. If you want to play with others though, you need to find a group of friends to get together who own a PSP and a copy of RtV. Otherwise you’ll just be playing with yourself, as the game only supports six-player games in ad hoc mode. It does offer you the standard Capture the Flag, Deathmatch, King of the Hill, and Hold the Flag games. It does tie in the WWII theme into the game nicely. Still, most PSP owners won’t ever play it because there isn’t any Internet support, making the multiplayer irrelevant for many gamers.The Call of Duty series has been known for being able to continually create a great atmosphere within the WWII shooter framework, and there is no denying that Roads to Victory has that atmosphere. RtV also plays up the strengths of the PSP well. The graphics are fine, but the sound is incredible for a PSP game. Unfortunately, the same can be said about the shortcomings as well. The PSP controls just don’t seem to handle shooters that well. This is amplified by the sluggishness and slow response time by the action buttons. RtV could have been a good game if it had more compelling characters and a better control scheme. Unfortunately, these shortcomings make the game difficult to recommend except to the most extreme Call of Duty fans.