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Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway Review
developer: Gearbox Software
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Sep 23, 08
|» All About Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway on ActionTrip|
For the uninformed, BiA is a squad-based tactical shooter, focusing on combat strategy and group tactics, as opposed to putting you into the role of a highly trained one-man army (like a majority of modern-day action games). Ubisoft promised few twists for the latest addition to the series, with heavy emphasis on realistic combat and characterization.
In Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway you assume command of a group of soldiers who were part of Operation Market Garden, which was regarded as the largest airborne invasion at the time. The purpose of the attack was to seize a corridor through Holland in order to punch through German lines. The ambitious plan became a shambles, since Hitler had his best units stationed in the area. They counter-attacked, destroyed the corridor and achieved what was to be one of the last great victories of the Nazi forces. Allied paratroopers who battled there named the corridor Hell's Highway. Sgt. Matthew Baker (you) and his squad were caught right in the middle of that mess.
Okay, we all know how difficult it is coming up with an original universe and we see very little innovation and creativity from game designers in that sense. Of course, in gaming, World War II is as stale as it gets. Yet, the developers of Hell's Highway wanted to make things a bit different, which is why they've strived to convey realistic combat situations, as opposed to merely charging into the fray armed to the teeth and shooting everything in sight. For what it's worth, they seem to have pulled it off, at least in terms combat authenticity and overall atmosphere. It's WWII, no doubt about it - explosions everywhere, traumatized soldiers getting their limbs blown clean off, making hasty on-the-spot decisions to survive the battle, fallen comrades, etc. You can literarily sense the pain experienced by soldiers in combat. For that, I think Gearbox deserves two thumbs up. The level of realism is great and it's the main catch here, from the screams of the wounded and the sound of bullets whizzing past the main character's ears, right down to adrenaline-pumping shootouts that take place in decrepit burning buildings.
The Unreal Engine 3 played its part very well. Although, I must point out that most of the first portion of the game doesn't look too appealing and seems a bit rushed, graphics wise. Later on, environments look better and make you feel that extra effort was put into making them appear authentic. The voice-overs may not be God's gift to acting, but they work.
In Hell's Highway you can forget about marching mindlessly into action Psycho-style. Almost every action depends on your squad and the orders you've given them. You'll also have to consider enemy movements and make sure not to advance too soon - they get reinforcements such as extra troops, armored vehicles or artillery. Dynamic battles, intense gunfights and tactics are what makes this game fun to play.
Despite its good sides, HH doesn't boast any particularly noteworthy improvements over earlier BiA games. Also, problems occur in combat, so you could easily wind up without a single squad member due to a technical mishap or an order that's been misinterpreted by the AI. During the campaign I had a strong feeling the gameplay kept getting too darn repetitive. You know: place Assault Team here, tell Bazooka Team to go over there and then flank the enemy. The levels were designed with little variety in mind; plus the experience is rather linear. During the last couple of missions it's obvious the developers started to run out of ideas, so they created more linear sequences where you go through several indoor areas alone (i.e. without support). For variety, there's a short sniper mission available (which was way too easy) and a couple of on-the-rails sections where you get to drive a tank, but these are over too quickly.
You'll enjoy the story, characters and the realistic squad-based combat;
Much of the experience is hindered by AI quirks, generally linear and repetitive gameplay.