I'm concerned that we need a new world war. The WW2 fatigue in gaming is unavoidable. So much so that even at Midway's hands-on event for Hour of Victory, the presentation began with a defence for why another Second World War shooter was necessary, before we were even told what this one was about. And while they argue effectively that there's still room in the market, surely this can only be for a limited amount of time. What are they going to make all the videogames about in fifty years time? For the sake of the industry, we have to start nuking each other.
Until this next advantageous destruction of human life, WW2 will have to do as the event on a large enough scale to keep providing a backdrop for our shooters. And at least nFusion's offering provides an original angle.
While certainly very similar in appearance to the Call of Duty series, Hour of Victory takes its own approach to giving the player multiple perspectives on the explosive events. For the majority of the game, three characters will be available to play, each with a different set of skills, and hence a different methodology for encountering the game's challenges.
Meet sniping, Sioux-trained, Sergeant Calvin "Blackie" Blackbull, super-sneaky covert soldier Major Ambrose Taggert, and Lieutenant William "Willy-Billy" Ross, commando extraordinaire. (Willy-Billy? Really? And according to Midway, he "prefers to buttstroke surprised enemy soldiers". Well now). Rather than giving a series of levels to each, HoV will allow you to switch between the three at certain points within each mission.
The idea, producer Jeremy Ray told us, is to improvise the best approach on the fly. "What I want is a player to look at their situation, and then see a place where they can change roles and try from a different vantage point. Perhaps they spot some barbed wire in the distance behind the enemy's station, so they can choose to be Taggert and sneak behind the enemy."
But rather than letting the player pick a favourite approach and stick with it, the aim is to encourage us to switch back and forth frequently. But for a couple of exceptions, each level can be completed by any of the three, but it will certainly be a lot harder for someone who tries to stealth their way the entire way through.
"I want the players to play all of them," says Ray. "We found at first that people gravitated toward one of the characters and stuck with them. That was something that we wanted to avoid. That's why in a couple of spots in the game, we added levels that were specifically tailored for specific characters' POV, so the players had enough exposure to all the characters to allow them to make an informed decision about how they want to approach certain situations. The game is still made for people who want to focus on one player, but we wanted that decision to not be made based on the default weapon and the way that character looks. We wanted them to experience each until they understood each."
The idea goes way back. One of the first games Ray worked on was Blizzard's Lost Vikings 2, where Eric the Swift, Olaf the Stout and Baleog the Fierce each brought their own specific talents to the 1994 side-scrolling platform game. "While we were influenced by FPS games that preceded us," explains Ray, "the main influence for me was Lost Vikings." It's not clear how many others on the team would see the game in quitethis way.
It had been implied previously that Hour of Victory was going to be a lighter and less serious approach to the subject matter. Sitting down to play it, we were surprised to find it much more straight-faced than we'd been led to believe. Was this an effect of the subject matter?
Ray explains his perspective. "Personally, from the research I did - I read a lot of books, listened to recorded interviews with veterans - I now know a million times more about it than I originally did. And it's amazing - it's hard to not be reverential about the sacrifices they made." But still, this isn't the focus they're aiming for.
"From HoV's perspective, we felt an homage to those characters, to have the sombre serious tone of Saving Private Ryan, was already well served by the market," says Ray. "We'd not really be adding something if we did something like that." But that doesn't mean they've gone mad. "The flipside of that, is it didn't make sense to throw in aliens or zombies. For us, a good feeling for us, was taking ideas from movies like Where Eagles Dare, or Indiana Jones, and trying to make it like an action movie. People still expect action movies to get the weapons and vehicles right, but when I blow up someone with a grenade they can go that little bit further, because it looks cooler. That's the sweet spot we were going for."
In fact, one of the game's levels we were shown is based upon Where Eagle Dare's infamous cable car sequence, and the subsequent storming of the castle. Such set pieces are intended to create a different atmosphere in comparison with CoD's faithfully recreated beach landings, or sieging of key towns.
Multiplayer is being handled by a separate development team, which Midway says gives it the attention it requires. There's going to be the necessary Capture the Flag and Team Deathmatch, but also a third, mysterious mode that will be called Devastation. However, the team is keeping tight-lipped about what this will be, although we're assured it will be completely original.
So we're getting another WW2 shooter, and despite the sighs the battle weary might emit, it seems that such a response is not in the majority. It's perhaps a point of concern that Midway approach the development based on focus group testing rather than inspiration and artistic desire, but says there's no question that the demand is out there for more Second World War action. The sales figures don't lie.
"When Midway wants to make a game, and to get it greenlit, they're all concept tested. We do a one page write-up and they're sent out to these groups. They take a poll on their interest level in the game. For HoV we've done hundreds of these. This is the second highest rated concept we ever did. You can also imagine that the first highest is in development too..."
From what we've played, it does everything a first-person shooter should do (but for some concerns over the overly-sensitive nature of the targeting, but that will surely be an option by the finished version). It looks splendid, sounds great, and explodes impressively. But at this point, it also feels remarkably familiar. Will the three-character dynamic be enough to hoist it above the crowd? We'll surely let you know just as soon as we can.
Hour of Victory is due out in June. Meanwhile, see if you can incite any other major world powers to launch missiles at each other - it's for the sake of gaming, man.