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Finest Hour: Combat kicks in Call of Duty

We go to battle in Activision's WWII FPS on console - full report from the frontline inside

PC owners are normally pretty smug anyway, but ever since Call of Duty pissed all over every WWII shooter ever released in the face of a relentless trickle of so-so Medal of Honor console games - well they got even smugger. Thankfully though, living room gamers too are about to be given access to the greatest war shooter on earth - Call of Duty: Finest Hour.

In a few ways Finest Hour's the same game. It has the same death coming at you from every angle, the same daze effect when a bomb strikes the ground next to you, the same peering down gun sights and the same heavy reliance on clever scripting. Hell, it even recreates the best moment in PC Call of Duty in its very first level, where you're forced to run gunless up through the rubble of Stalingrad with hundreds of terrified comrades.

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Otherwise though, this is a new package designed specifically for the wants and needs of the console gamer - and even makes a stab at topping its progenitor by introducing such foreign concepts of depth and characterisation. You'll play six different characters over the three sections (which as before distinguish themselves as separate Russian, British and German campaigns) and you'll generally fight alongside the characters before you leap into their viewpoint.

You start off, for example, as a terrified trooper being screamed at by a Russian superior as you approach the ruins of Stalingrad by boat - while planes barrel over you and deserters are shot on sight. Presented with nothing but a couple of bullets and a companion with the rare advantage of actually possessing gun, you then embark on a training mission unlike any other - with swirling orchestral music rising and falling, towers crumbling, cries of 'Death to the German Invader!' and (if you look around you) up to 200 soldiers charging toward danger.

It's beautiful scripted chaos, and it's chaos caused by a surplus of moving characters provided by memory-saving animation tricks that developers Spark has picked up from the Henson Creature Workshop.

Before long, while you're fighting your way through the deserted factories on the Stalingrad river-banks, your companion snuffs it - meaning that you're on your own until you meet up with Tanya, the slinky Russian sniper who instructs you to scramble through the trenches of an opposing hill and lead friendly troops to victory. And so you find yourself dashing from cover to cover, flushing Germans out of their bunkers and gun positions while bullets pepper the ground around you and she takes pot-shots from nearby bombed-out flats.

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Later on, you'll get to see the world through Tanya's own gun sights before moving into the grimy environs of a Russian tanker.

Another feather in the Finest Hour military helmet is that each mission is preceded by documentary footage and narration provided by Dennis Haysbert (he of poisoned handshake and presidential status in 24). While, bizarrely enough, another celebrity whose vocal talents have been snagged is Brian Johnson from legendary rockers AC/DC, whose own father's experiences in North Africa encouraged him to play the part of Bob Starkey who'll lead you through the British chapter of the game as you fight Rommel's forces in the North African theatre of the war.

Developer Spark meanwhile (which has around 20 staff who are veterans from previous Medal of Honor titles) is becoming notorious for its attention to detail and pursuit of authenticity. To this end when you're charging around in Russian tanks in an effort to blast bombers on an airfield before they take off, the clanking of the gearbox below you will be the same as that which Panzerfaust-paranoid troops would hear all those years ago.

Similarly, the crack and kickback of all your weapons is promised to have been accurately rendered and all tactics and troop movements have come under the eagle-eyes of many and varied war veterans and experts.

Finest Hour, then, looks set to be a breathless ride - as full of on-rail thrill rides in jeeps and tanks as it is packed with tentative cowering behind walls. With 19 levels worth of action and a maximum of sixteen players duke-ing it out in multiplayer, we're honestly thinking that this is the game that'll push things forward where MoH: Rising Sun resolutely held them back with silly guff like manning guns on the top of elephants.

As we discovered when we saw the sweat and taut gamepad-grip of a developer trying to show off the US incursion into Aachen, while consistently getting his arse handed to him by enemies present within a game of his own creation, its going to be a pretty intense experience.

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