Roads to Ruin

It's more than just Call of Duty in name, but that doesn't make it the PSP's first good first-person shooter.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: April 16, 2007
First-person shooters have no place on the PSP in its current setup. It isn't that the system can't really do it, but if two world war shooters and two cyberpunk adventures have both screwed it up, why would porting the action-heavy Call of Duty franchise to the system somehow fix it? The easy answer is that it doesn't, not by any stretch. The result (not surprisingly) is a game that, despite being more of an arcade shooter than the console counterparts yet retaining most of the bombastic flair, still falls well short of being a compelling experience.

There are bigger issues here than just hardware limitations, too. The software itself is riddled with bugs both minor and potentially game-wrecking. In short, whatever good has been carried over from the consoles just gets thrashed by a plethora of annoyances. I hesitate to say the game could ever have been good, but it certainly could have been a better product had a little more time been spent on things. That, or it might have been better to not even attempt an FPS on the PSP in the first place, but Activision and developer Amaze are hardly the first ones to make that mistake.

Let's start with those controls, because efforts were obviously made to compensate for the fact that the game doesn't even bother with offering a way to shoot with the left analog stick. A helpful (and some might say exuberant) auto-aim not only pulls the targeting reticle toward a nearby enemy, but if you hold the L Button to look down the iron sights before squeezing off a couple of shots with the R Button, you can kill even the most entrenched enemies. Given that many of the sequences in the game revolve around plugging constantly respawning enemies until the coast is clear, you'll get plenty of practice at doing this.

I'd mention the storyline if there really was one, but in effect the only thing that moves you through the game is the chance to experience all-new missions and settings from the perspective of the Brit, Yank and Canuck perspectives. Nearly all of these are simple point-to-point weaving lines through a linear level where you'll occasionally stop to get stuck on geometry or curse the lack of a jump button, only to have to grab a panzershrek and take out a few tanks before cursing again at your inept and utterly disposable comrades. Luckily, they're marginally smarter than the enemy, who occasionally either posses the rare and until now undocumented power to shoot through walls or just like to stand around counting how many bullets they can absorb without moving.

Roads to Victory actually does a great job of copying and pasting some of the staples of the bigger games; the "mount a turret and gun down a fixed number of enemies" sequence, the "snipe a fixed number of enemies" sequence, the "escort a guy while dying a bunch of times" sequence, and so on. There are a few variations on things, like calling out air strikes with a pair of binoculars, but really the one new part of the game -- and the one that was easily the most entertaining -- was the mission that took place entirely on a bomber, regularly requiring climbing through the belly of the best to man various turrets and let loose some stuck bomb bay doors. It's just a shame that it was so short-lived.

Oh, but you can make it last if you like. Just let the battery die mid-mission or, if you like a little more randomness in your abrupt mission restarts, you can just play some of the latter missions in the game where the PSP might just decide to randomly freak out and reset or turn off for you. Since you can't save mid-mission -- in a freakin' portable game -- you get to play it all through again, hooray! Sadly, the missions aren't usually a non-stop thrill ride the first time through, so you might not find this as amazing a feature as we did.

Stripped of some of the atmosphere of its console brethren, Roads' gameplay might seem shallow, but it isn't completely devoid of production value. A handful of unlockable documentary clips, and steady streams of explosions, machine gun fire, shouts from fellow soldiers and light chunks of musical interludes at least attempt to ape the sensory overload that's ladled on anyone who plays through the bigger cousins in the series, and with a nice pair of headphones, it actually comes close, though the PSP's tiny little speakers won't really do the game justice.

And headphones can't really help the fact that the game isn't exactly a looker. Granted, World War II wasn't known for being a cheery realm of rainbow-colored pastels and sunshine, but the texture resolution afforded by the PSP probably could have made for more attractive views of burned-out half-buildings and giant craters. If all this were at the expense of a smooth framerate, it would be justified, but even that isn't noticeably fluid most of the time.

Call of Duty: Roads to Victory just isn't the kind of experience most will want to go through. More tempting offerings like online multiplayer would have sweetened things, but frankly the game just isn't interesting for more than a few minutes. If the whole game could have matched the experience of that bombing run, this would be a far different review, but alas all of the things that drag the console versions down don't have the same level of immersion to help offset them on the PSP. In the end, it was a novel attempt, but the PSP was already working against this type of game before it was even made.
The Verdict

Admirable though the attempt to port the console experience to a handheld may be, there's just not enough compelling action here to warrant anything more than the most average of scores.


Fairly complex level designs devolve quickly into an almost rail-like shooting experience, while bland textures and a low framerate just pile on more visual strikes.


Minimal music, but at least there's enough ambient gunfire and explosions off in the distance, chatter from your fellow men and rapports from your own weapons fill in the blanks.


Auto-targeting at least helps things a little, but the PSP's shoulder buttons can sometimes miss their trigger. The control setups never offer anything that approaches being terribly precise, but then that's an issue with the PSP as much as anything.


Game-breaking bugs, brain-dead AI on both sides, repetitive missions -- it reads like a laundry list of reasons not to play the game, and to be perfectly honest, that's exactly why you should stay away unless you your FPS fix on the go.