Given the unabated popularity of World War II shooters on consoles, it's surprising how long the genre has taken to proliferate on handheld systems. Nevertheless, EA and Ubisoft respectively brought their Medal of Honor and Brothers in Arms franchises to the PSP in the past few months. And now, Activision and developer Amaze are likewise working on a new entry in the Call of Duty franchise, which is subtitled Roads to Victory and also for Sony's handheld. The game doesn't stray far from the Call of Duty formula, giving you three sets of missions from the American, British, and Canadian perspectives of the Normandy breakout campaign, which pushed the Allied forces beyond the D-Day landing into the heart of Europe.
This is definitely the Call of Duty style of action you've grown accustomed to on the PC and consoles, though the scale is smaller and the missions are naturally shorter. You'll be accompanied by one or two allies through most missions, and these guys are fully voiced throughout and will chatter back and forth about the goings-on of the battle. You can carry two weapons at any time, which you'll get from an arsenal that includes such old favorites as the Thompson submachine gun, M1 Garand, and the German MP40. Other standard gameplay features from the franchise, such as grenade cooking, are here as well.
The first four missions of the American campaign we played were varied, with the occasional action set piece, such as a plane crashing just ahead of our position (those sorts of things tend to be surprising on a small screen like the PSP's). Otherwise, it was mostly storming through bombed-out villages and towns, fighting off Nazi soldiers en masse. Occasionally we got to jump on an MG-88 to deal with an oncoming wave of troops; use a pair of binoculars to sight in artillery strikes on German armor; or grab a Panzershrek to take out a tank rolling down a tight city backstreet. The last mission we got to play in our preview build was set entirely in the air and had us scurrying between turrets to defend our bombing run from waves of incoming fighters. In short, it doesn't seem like Amaze has skimped on the sorts of activities you'd expect to see in one of the "bigger" Call of Duty games for this portable version.
First-person shooters typically haven't fared well on the PSP primarily because of the limitations of the unit's controls. The genre is simply hamstrung by the lack of buttons and a second analog stick, to say nothing of the unwieldy first analog stick that's actually on the system. Roads to Victory is unfortunately mired by these same issues. With the default control scheme, you have to stop moving to throw a grenade, change weapons, or crouch, though other configurations are available.
Luckily, Amaze has compensated for the control constraints with a rather generous auto-aim feature. You only have to be pointing in the reasonable vicinity of an enemy for your crosshair to snap to him, which eliminates the need to be extremely precise with the PSP's analog stick (surely no mean feat). The farther off target you are, the less accurate your shot. So it still behooves your survival to aim as truly as you can, but this feature does help cut down on the frustration quite a bit.
Furthermore, when you're locked on to an enemy, hitting the L button to go to the traditional iron sights aiming mode will basically make you snap your aim directly at the enemy's head, resulting in a quick one-shot kill if you're fast enough. You can turn these auto-aim features off if you want a really serious challenge, but even with them on, we still ran into the occasional frustrating death where we couldn't get away from a grenade fast enough. But overall, we liked the way the auto-aim made the game feel a little more forgiving and arcadelike.
Amaze seems to be doing a respectable job with the visuals in Roads to Victory; check out the new trailer above for an example. Though the geometry and textures have taken the slight detail hit you'd expect in coming to the PSP, overall this definitely looks like a Call of Duty game, so devoted fans of the series (and WWII shooters in general) ought to feel at home. The game will purportedly also feature a multiplayer option for six players, though we didn't get to test that mode with our single preview build. Look for more information on that mode, as well as the remaining Canadian and British campaigns, when we post our full review around the time Roads to Victory hits shelves in mid-March.