Hour of Victory Xbox 360 Demo Impressions - 05/06/2007

Midway released a demo for their World War II first-person shooter Hour of Victory last week on the Xbox Live Marketplace; we've taken it for a spin and all our impressions are inside.

It weighs in a 937.62Mb and allows you to play through a short level and vehicle battle as one of the three characters. You can choose between stealth, sniper and grunt soldier classes, each with their own unique weapons and abilities. Going for the safe choice first, the grunt was selected and we jumped right in (after changing the sensitivity of aiming – a necessity!).

The first thing that hits you from the cut scene is the graphics. They're nothing special, in fact are pretty dreadful and it reeks of Unreal 3.0. That of course is not necessarily a bad thing, and we all know Gears is just about the best looking Xbox 360 game, but its as if they've just taken the engine and not bothered to sort it out for their needs, failed to optimise it in any way and generally left it all looking pretty scrappy and unpolished for a Xbox 360 game. There are however other reasons the demo of Hour of Victory fails to hit the same standards and unfortunately these are all too numerous.

An example of a frantic, exhilarating and overwhelmingly action-packed battle – something that is a must in this genre, but not shown in any form in the demo.

Firstly, there seems to be a few problems with anti-aliasing in certain places, but more crucially, object detection and control is very skittish. You will be trying to go through a doorway and the game will seemingly restrict you – it actually feels like you're being forced to stop because of an objective or something. When you’re asked to defend a building, I personally tried to run out of the door to get a better angle on the enemy, and it wouldn't let me. On about the third try I actually did succeed in getting out of the door – but it's just an example of the unrefined and unpolished feel to Hour of Victory at the moment. Screenshots and movies of the game look a lot sharper and far more polished, so perhaps it's an optimised build for the demo, as the size was clearly mounting up already, or just a level created on the rush for that purpose – certainly the Forza 2 demo's graphics are supposed to be nothing like those in the retail version.

It could still well be a contender for most glitchy demo however, with many reports surfacing of visibly spawning enemies, spasming bodies and guns sliding across the screen. Driv3r had better watch out.

Loads going on again, which makes you wonder whether it was just a criminally bad demo level.

While a lot of the scenery is destructible, it's all so uninspiring that you really just want to put the game down and go and play something else. It's been done before, and that feeling resonates all too often throughout the demo. However, FPS games will always sell well, and strangely, in the level design and controls it reminded me of Shadow Ops: Red Mercury on Xbox. It's just in that dangerous middle ground between good and horrible, and we really won't be able to tell for sure where it truly lies until release.

There is some nifty stuff on show however, they've kept to tried-and-tested buttons for the control scheme and once you sort the sensitivity out aiming and despatching your enemies is satisfying – even if they do seem to spawn and run at you in a pretty unorganised manner and your own general movement is somewhat sluggish. A nice feature that I personally appreciate though is the way your character lifts his gun to stay in cover when you go next to a wall or object. Most games previously have had you sticking your arms out round the corner, leaving yourself open to shots, or hiding too far away from the edge to survey the enemy effectively. It works well, and gives you a real sense of ducking under a hail of machine gun fire – crucial in a game like this. With that said, your weapons don't seem ridiculously overpowered bearing in mind it was 60 years ago, compared to some arcadey World War II games, which is refreshing if not perhaps to the detriment of the game's pace. There is an auto-aim feature, which was optional for the demo, and clearly makes it all a lot easier.

An example of a snipe point, and destructible scenery – trying to snipe a tank is never advisable, even in World War II

An innovation that Midway will cite for the game is the multiple route system on offer. In the tank battle that comes at the end of the demo, you by no means have to use the provided vehicle. You can take off as the stealth character, cutting through wire fences and sneaking around the battlefield. The sniper has the ability to use a grapple tool to reach high building-tops – but it's a shame that in the next-generation of consoles these events can't be truly freeform. There are fences that all look similar and far too few buildings are scalable. This is something that was original on the PS2 and Xbox in the early days, not a next generation idea, particularly in terms of the execution seen here.

This ties in with the overall linearity of the levels. You're forced down alleyways and streets and there's little sense of the sprawling cityscapes that Call of Duty 2 in particularly boasted so well. It really feels horribly restrictive. However, there can be no denying that the overall action-orientated feel of the game is the general recipe for fun, with huge amounts of health possessed by your character and satisfying death animations, even if they (and the voice clips from your allies) do get a little repetitive.

A well-scripted moment in the background, but you can see how linear the level design is with the narrow streets forcing you onwards.

These are all demo features, so the linearity, graphics, health system and controls may all be different in the retail version later this month, but suffice to say people will not be satisfied with the current showing come release. It really needs a huge coat of polish and some imagination thrown in for good measure at the moment.

This sort of FPS seems destined for co-op play, and it really could be the game's saving grace if they pulled that out of the bag, but unfortunately, despite promises of Live multiplayer, nothing's been mentioned yet. At the very least it was an unwise choice of level and decision in general to launch the demo, with BlackSite: Area 51 having such a strong showing (coincidentally a Midway title as well) just weeks earlier. I love first-person shooters like this so enjoyed the Hour of Victory demo to a degree, but there's no doubt that it was lacking in crucial areas.

Loads of drivable vehicles are in the final game, the tank section in the demo worked well enough.

It was a bit too easy to coast through from this showing, and at times just wasn't enjoyable at all. It seems like it will feature far too few memorable moments that its current competitors have in spades. However, it's still one worth watching, as demos have frequently and famously not reflected the final game's true quality – it's had good previews from play-tests around the Internet, and should benefit from being an Xbox 360 exclusive. There's ambition there in Hour of Victory, it's just a question of whether Midway and nFusion can pull the quality of a final, next-generation product out of the bag.
Let's hope so, for all our sakes.

In short, you should download the demo yourselves (if it's still there) if you've got the time and see if it fits your style of play – it's certainly not worth going out of your way for though. I have to say that despite this demo, I am personally strangely optimistic about the release. I do take silly risks on games just to be out of the ordinary however, but at least we'll be in a position to review it fairly objectively without the demo invading our minds, come June 29th.

- Mike Hazleton


Xbox 360