ESRB: Teen [Blood, Language, Violence]
When I first started Call of Duty: Roads to Victory I was, truth be told, kind of excited. The prospect of a first person shooter on the PSP that is actually fun and plays well got me all in a tizzy. For the first hour or two, this excitement remained high and my initial projection was that I would be awarding an enthusiastic four stars to a groundbreaking PSP title. Gradually, though, Roads to Victory stripped itself of merit after merit until its successes were dwarfed by a myriad of missteps.
If you’ve ever played a Call of Duty game, a World War II shooter, or have any familiarity with gaming whatsoever, then you have some idea of where this game will take you. You’ll step, one at a time, into the shoes of three different soldiers representing different sides of the Great War. In this iteration our heroes are members of an American soldier in the 82nd airborne division, a Canadian First Army Rifleman, and a British paratrooper. That’s where the story ends. It’s all over, except for the shooting. Unlike past games in the series – where letters home and journal entries from the soldiers you controlled would be used to give you a better look at the people behind the one-liners – Roads to Victory completely eschews any need for context.
This isn’t all terrible though, because the core shooting mechanic around which the game is based is actually pretty good. A heavy auto-aim feature is used to offset the inaccuracies of using the face buttons (X, Circle, Triangle, Square) to aim the camera and it keeps the shooting from getting frustrating. There’s even some gameplay variety including one particularly awesome sequence where you’re manning the turrets on a bomber trying to protect a convoy. Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly new territory for games, but it’s pretty sexy stuff for it to be happening on a handheld. This is a story that rings true for most of the game. You’ll find yourself thinking at every turn that it’s all pretty impressive for a handheld experience.
The major fault with most games in the PSP library is that they make a vain attempt at duplicating the console experience and end up falling short. Roads to Victory manages to pull it off most of the time. Don’t get me wrong this is not the amazing experience that COD is on the Xbox 360 or PS3, but everything you like about COD is here for the most part, even if it’s considerably dumbed down.
So far it doesn’t sound so bad right? When I reached this point of realization I imagined that I was about one third of the way through the game. Then I looked at my load screen and it told me I was seventy-eight percent finished! That’s right, what I thought would end up being a relatively short six to seven hour experience was in fact nearly half that. All truth be told Roads to Victory took me three-and-a-half hours to complete the first time through. Now granted, there are multiple difficulty settings and a ranking system for every mission that grades your play (the idea being to encourage multiple play throughs to achieve perfection.) This is all just a flimsy attempt to stretch out a game that was obviously rushed to market.
Brevity however, is not nearly enough evidence to make such harsh claims as,”rushed to market.” So what is it that makes this game seem rushed, you ask? It’s everything about the later stages of the game. Every facet of the experience after the first campaign screams unfinished business. For instance, the first campaign is for the Americans and consists of seven missions. The final campaign (the British soldier) consists of only three. It’s not only this though, even the design of some segments are flawed and frustrating. (For the sake of remaining comprehensive I’ll not transcribe these instances here as it would be too wordy to be worthwhile, but feel free to e-mail me if you’re at all curious.)
All of these are evidence for the point that this title wasn’t ready when released, but the best evidence is also the most infuriating. There are bugs. Not just ticky tacky, “Oh look that guy got stuck in the wall! Hardee-har-har!” style bugs; I’m talking about defects in the game code that actually completely crash the entire game. This happened to me four times at random in the final series of missions. I say “at random” because I actually had crashing the game down to a science in one case. I’ll just say this, whatever you do, don’t try to throw a grenade at the first flak cannon you come across in the first British mission.
That is, if you can actually get a grenade off in the end missions. During my play through, roughly one-third of the grenades I threw bounced back in my face when there was clearly nothing for it to bounce off.
Last but not least on my laundry list of complaints, is the multiplayer. Astoundingly the story of the multiplayer is nigh on identical to that of the single-player. Take a solid foundation consisting of the same bullet ridden good time, in some good scenarios (king of the hill, capture the flag etc.) and then make it impossible to play. The multiplayer has no support for online play. You'll need to find six friends with a PSP (if you know that many, hell I don't even have one friend that owns a PSP!) Then you'll need to trick them into shelling out $40 on a mediocre (when it's at its best) game, since there's no game sharing, so that you can play the same game types you've been playing since the mid-ninties.
The structure of this review is absolutely intentional and was designed specifically to give you the same sensation I got while playing through Roads to Victory. Start off with a very solid game with one or two small faults, and then slow but surely (although slowly might not be the right word in a 4 hour game) the major problems just keep piling up until you scoff at your initial four star impression.