Call of Duty: Roads to Victory Preview

Amaze Entertainment is prepared to amaze and entertain with its forthcoming Call of Duty: Roads to Victory for PSP, releasing tomorrow in North America. Can a game as popular and widespread as Call of Duty survive on a handheld when there are so many more powerful versions available for consoles and PC? I spent some time with a preview copy spanning the first four levels of the American campaign to find out.

I have not played a first-person shooter on a handheld that I have actually been able to properly control. Even NST's Metroid Prime: Hunters (NDS), which has very manageable control scheme options, felt unwieldy to me. Just as I began to wonder if FPS games should even exist on handhelds, Call of Duty: Roads to Victory came along and impressed me with its solid controls, sharp graphics, and staple Call of Duty ambiance.

The default control settings in Roads to Victory are close to what console FPS gamers are familiar with--Square and Circle handle turning, while aiming up and down is handled with Triangle and X. Moving forward and strafing are mapped to the analog stick, and firing your gun is tied to the R shoulder button. The controls work well because the developers realize your movements will feel a bit awkward, so a bit of hand-holding is done for you. Auto-aim is something I found myself relying on, and while it certainly makes the game somewhat easier, you can't use it if you are too far away, and aiming precisely with the face buttons is a bit of a chore. By pressing L, you will peer down the sight of your weapon, which essentially disables auto-aiming--kind of. A trick I discovered was to look down a gun's sight, get an enemy in your line of fire, and then press L again to return to normal view. If you are reasonably close, the auto-aim will take over and target the enemy; all you have to do is press the R button. It is a shady technique, but it will help you mow down enemies quicker.

There are some instances in which you are able to aim with the control stick, such as one American mission that has you operating different plane turrets to shoot enemy aircraft out of the sky. Unfortunately, it is a common complaint that the PSP's analog stick is a bit too twitchy to be used on a regular basis, and for Roads to Victory, the argument is a valid one. I found myself preferring to use the face buttons for aiming, as they actually offered more precision.

Pressing Right switches weapons--you can carry two at a time--and Up lobs a grenade, while pressing Down once makes you crouch; hold Down to go prone and crawl on your belly, which will come into play quite often, as you'll be crawling and sifting through plenty of tunnels and trenches. Once I got the hang of the controls, I was able to circle strafe with ease, dodge around corners, and hurl grenades while on the run. One valid complaint many gamers will likely voice is that aiming up and down with digital buttons is beyond aggravating; if not for the auto-aim, I would consider the control scheme completely broken. The challenge is also decreased, as I mentioned, by the auto-aim itself, which picks up on enemies at far too great a range. There are three other control schemes, though after trying each of them for the first level of the United States campaign, I quickly reverted back to the game's default settings.

Infinity Ward's Call of Duty series is well-known for its blend of detailed graphics, immersive audio, and scripted events, and Amaze Entertainment has done a commendable job of bringing those to the PSP. First of all, if you don't have a pair of headphones for your PSP, run out and get a pair; this game sounds fantastic. Air raid sirens, death shrieks, explosions, and turret gun fire are represented beautifully on the PSP, and while voices can get rather garbled at times, the sound quality approached what one might expect to find on the PS2.

As a whole, Call of Duty: Roads to Victory sports very impressive visuals. Up close, you will notice some smeared textures and webbed fingers, as well as blocky weapons and heads, but everything else looks fantastic. Animations for actions such as reloading, tossing grenades, and running enemies are well done, though sometimes it seems as if frames were cut on death animations. It is level construction that really deserves notice here. Though fairly linear in design, the sprawling battlefields and run-down cities have an open-ended feel which lends itself well to large scale battles.

The scripted events, the third part of Call of Duty's successful immersion formula, are showcased well in Roads to Victory, though the game's artificial intelligence allows for some very dumb moments. In some cases, everything goes the way it should. One mission has you crawling down a narrow tunnel to get away from gunners walking around above you. One of your allies loses his self-control and jumps up from his position, firing madly. As you approach, he is shot down, and a friend of his sitting close by cries out in anguish.

At the opposite end of the immersion spectrum is a wide courtyard centered around a gun turret. You have a few moments to get into position before the Krauts coming pouring out to face you and your comrades. It is no wonder the Germans lost World War II, because apparently, a lot of their soldiers were really stupid. They came running straight on, not even bothering to dive for cover behind the chunks of ruined rock around them. All that is necessary is to keep the R shoulder button held down and watch the Germans drop one after the other.

In fairness, though, many of my U.S. buddies were just as dumb. The situation was reversed as, in the same level, my group and I were preparing to flank enemy vehicle. The driver was making use of the tank's machine gun, so I made sure to slink on my belly from one piece of cover to the next. What do my allies do? Run up to the front of the tank and get shot down, one by one. You may as well be walking the Roads to Victory by yourself for all the help the A.I. provides.

I was only able to preview the first four levels of the United States mission set, but I enjoyed my time with Call of Duty: Roads to Victory. Based on my limited hands-on time, Amaze Entertainment has crafted a first-person shooter that isn't too complex to be enjoyed on the limited number of buttons available on a handheld. The artificial intelligence is a bit too artificial at times, but the ability to enjoy Call of Duty's trademark immersion--especially the audio--on a handheld is an opportunity I recommend for PSP gamers looking for a solid action title.

Call of Duty: Roads to Victory will be released for PSP tomorrow, March 13, 2007.