Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 Review
developer: Gearbox Software
PIII 1000, 256MB RAM, 5GB HDD, 32MB video card
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Mar 08, 05
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Really, I'm not the guy to write reviews for WWII games anymore. I'm way too jaded. (Sorry Cubby. Its either you or me and I sure as hell ain't gonna do it -Ed) However, seeing how I've played 'em all, at least I have a good enough perspective on how one stacks up against another. So here I am, once again writing a review for a WWII game, this time, for Gearbox's latest WWII squad-based shooter, Brothers in Arms.
I remember reading press releases a while back about this game that called it the most realistic WWII shooter to come out this year. Granted, you should believe press releases as much as pre-election promises by the candidates, but this one seemed to have some truth to it. As war games go, BiA probably depicts infantry combat in the most plausible and realistic manner: this game is not about mindlessly charging tons of enemies, it's about tactics, first and foremost. Assessing the situation, prioritizing the threats and then using military maneuvers to outsmart the enemy. I'm no military expert but I've discovered one very important thing while playing this game. Retreating is your friend. No, I'm not French (Then explain that smell -Ed), but seriously, if you want to get your ass to your next objective (and in one piece), you will have to retreat at some point in order to regroup and better asses the situation on the battlefield. Brothers in Arms allows you to do that. It allows you to play as an actual squad-leader, the guy who has to make tough snap decisions on the battlefield to keep himself and his squadmates alive.
That is possibly the greatest strength of this game and that is what makes it unique. It allows it stand out amongst the rest of the WWII shooter crop. Big props to Gearbox for trying to innovate in a genre that has been worked over more than Michael Jackson's face (short of removing some critical parts of that face, you just can't innovate any more).
The ability to command your squad (and eventually, even several squads and armored units) is essentially made possible by the excellent and very, very intuitive interface, which allows for seamless command during tough battles and some solid squad AI. But the interface is what really makes this new on-field command system so unique and enjoyable. I wish more shooters would use it from now on. There are a number of details that Gearbox included, trying to make sure that you don't go 'Rambo' on the enemy, like making the aiming much harder with the optional exclusion of the crosshair. Another thing is that when you aim down the iron sight, your hand will move under the weight of the weapon and you won't be able to aim with too much accuracy. If it so happens that the enemy is behind good cover, it'll make it that much harder for you to 'solo' the entire mission. Naturally, the idea in Brothers in Arms is to have you rely on your squadmates' suppressive fire and flanking maneuvers rather than your own skill as a gamer. The game even includes a tactical overview screen where you are allowed to better assess the battlefield from a birds eye view. I must say though, I've rarely (if ever) used this option. An experienced FPS player will manage to take out the enemy even if they're popping in and out of cover, so if you're playing on the 'normal' level of difficulty (there are also two higher levels of difficulty: 'difficult' and an unlockable 'authentic' mode), be forewarned that 'Rambo' tactics might actually work. And this can cause some problems.
You see, this game is far from perfect. While it features novel ideas and at times highly engaging and realistic-looking combat (with special emphasis on having the player make vital snap decisions mid-combat), it also suffers from a number of things that severely diminished the suspension of disbelief for me. Things like VERY restrictive level design, a few broken scripted sequences and some examples of dodgy AI. In one of the missions I had my tank get stuck on a gate and it wouldn't budge even though it seemed it could move without a problem. I had to defend the town from the German counter-attack with just light infantry and a completely useless tank.
I somehow managed to finish the mission by going 'Rambo' style and jumping on the back of a German Tiger tank, but how often would that work in real life? I am *not* Sylvester Stallone (Thank goodness -Ed). Also, certain scripted sequences wouldn't trigger. In the next mission I had to destroy an anti-tank gun that was heavily defended with German machine gun nests. I did, I blew it up with explosives and ... nothing happened. I had to reload the chapter.
For all these reasons, and even though that Brothers in Arms is very fun and highly original when it's working right, the game felt a lot more disjointed and less enjoyable than Call of Duty. Bear in mind here that it's not completely fair to compare the two titles, as they aim to achieve different gameplay experiences (which they do in fact), but as far as just enjoying a WWII shooter goes, I had a lot more fun playing Call of Duty. And it was a much, much bigger adrenaline rush.
From a technical standpoint Gearbox has done a really good job on the game. The engine is not by any means spectacular but it gets the job done nicely, and I especially like how muddy water looks like muddy water and not a clear crystal pond in the middle of a dirt road. Character animation can seem a bit stiff at times, but this is not a glaring drawback as it's not that noticeable.
The musical score is so reminiscent of Call of Duty that I couldn't tell the two apart. The music enhances this somewhat nostalgic and contemplative feel to the narrative, which is, I guess, supposed to have us sympathize with the main character and his buddies. In those regards, Brothers in Arms is not 'Saving Private Ryan.' Personally, I couldn't help but feel that the dialogue was a bit sappy, but that's just me I guess.
8.3 Very Good
Innovative tactical approach to combat, making snap decisions during combat, great interface, squad AI, multiplayer;
A number of factors ruin the immersion factor, very restrictive level design, not as intense or seamless as Call of Duty.