March 15, 2007 - You win some and you lose some... and then you lose some more. That's Activision's Call of Duty: Roads to Victory in a nutshell. There's just no other way to describe it.
On some levels, Amaze has done a good job of capturing what makes COD one of the finest World War II franchises out there. Despite having a smaller screen and a different development crew, Roads to Victory "looks the part" by using the same dramatic situations and pacing that its console and PC cousins do. In addition, the game's audio effects are way too big for a handheld -- booming out of the PSP's miniature speakers like they were made for a surround sound system and not a portable device.
You'll spend half of the entire camaign as the USA's 82nd Airborne.
Activision has added a nice bit of value to the package too. Players can relive the 1940s as the United States, Canada, or Great Britain and throw themselves into 14 different missions that include bunker sieges, air battles, and full-scale invasions. None of these scenarios have been in used in other Calls of Duty either (they're all completely original), and each one boasts performance-based silver, bronze and gold medals with unlockable bonus content like vehicle profiles and PSP wallpaper.
Internet junkies may go AWOL over the lack of any kind of Infrastructure support (despite developers claiming such a thing in earlier interviews), but RTV does manage six-player ad hoc with a number of different modes. Capture the Flag, Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Hold the Flag, and "Team" versions of most of these play types ensure that users have plenty to mess around with; there's even a nice level of match customization to go along with them. Just don't be surprised when you can't find the game-sharing option, it's not in there.
A resume like that usually means that PSP users are in for a treat -- and in this case they almost were. But when you take an established franchise like Call of Duty and strip it of some of its more appealing elements while simultaneously ignoring much-needed handheld adjustments, you've got problems. And guess what? Problems we've got...
The default control scheme is best, but all are disappointing.
While it doesn't break the game, Roads to Victory's biggest issue still hurts it pretty badly -- and that's its control. Though similar to most PSP first-person shooters in layout, its modification options aren't very useful. Among the four preset configurations, only the first is really accommodating (the analog stick moves you and the face buttons aim), but it still doesn't supply nearly enough twitch to keep up with the action. Amazingly, there is no way to use the analog stick for aiming either, and given the reaction time of the button-controlled targeting, that's a shame.
The sluggish and somewhat delayed controls wouldn't be so bad if the gameplay accounted for it, but it doesn't. Instead, enemies run about the stage at full speed doing their own thing while you seem to be half a step behind at all times. Strangely, this doesn't create a problem of the game being too hard, but too easy -- as Amaze realized that players couldn't keep up and therefore made an auto-targeting adjustment that makes it close to impossible to miss. It's not unusual for your machine gun to be pointed to the right, while your bullets magically find their way to the guy flanking on the left. Plus, once you figure out that zooming towards a target in-between every shot almost completely guarantees a two-hit kill, you'll walk all over the Nazis like they did human rights.
Ah ha! "But what if you just turn the auto-targeting off?" you ask. Well then, if that's the case, then Call of Duty turns into exactly the sort of unresponsive FPS you'd expect it to be -- with your enemies moving at twice the speed you do, and your slow-mo guns trying their best to keep up.
Regardless of how you approach Roads to Victory, though, it still doesn't change some of the game's other fundamental problems. Enemy AI is the world heavyweight champion of dumb -- often running in place or getting caught in a standstill with its gun drawn at its own downed ally. Moreover, your fellow teammates will stop out of nowhere to create sudden impassible walls with their bodies at bottlenecks, and the stages themselves are the very definition of linear. Other than the US bombing raid, there isn't a single scenario that captures our imagination the way EA's Medal of Honor Heroes did.
The bomber scenario is definitely the most interesting mission you'll find.
Other disappointing things to consider: Unlike the previous Calls of Duty, this one doesn't offer any characters that matter; the storyline doesn't follow anyone in particular and everyone seems to have the exact same personality in no matter what your country or situation is. It's also rather annoying to see that some German soldiers can occasionally do some truly inhuman things (shooting through concrete sticks out in particular).
Here's what Call of Duty does right: Even though it has all the issues mentioned above, its sense of atmosphere can't be denied -- you definitely get the sense that this is World War II (albeit on a tiny little screen), and its faithfulness in recreating the console versions is admirable. Roads to Victory also has some of the best sniping mechanics I've seen on the PSP yet, and it's too bad that there aren't more chances to use them.
As a big fan of previous Call of Duty titles, I found Roads to Victory to be the definite low point of the series. While diehard followers should enjoy the entertaining ad hoc multiplayer options and the second-best representation of World War II on PSP (Medal of Honor Heroes still has first), the game's major mechanical problems, technical hitches, and lack of true customization make it "just another shooter" instead of the standout blaster its console counterparts are.