Review by Maxx
"A decent war game despite the limitations"
Over the years there have been a lot of WWII games that I've missed out on. And it's not like I didn't know they were there. I heard about them. I saw the commercials. I read the reviews criticizing them for being more of the same. So I knew about the games I was missing out on, and I chose to miss out on them. I have no idea how good they were, maybe I was doing myself a disservice by ignoring them but my interest in shooting games has dwindled over the past five years or so, so I really don't regret not picking them up. And now when I look back at the number of WWII games released, I realize that since there have been so many of them I probably would have gotten pretty tired of the whole experience.
That brings me to this game. I really don't remember how or why I started playing it. I think I was just interested in seeing how WWII was handled on the DS. After playing through it, I was only slightly impressed. A little annoyed at some parts, too, when I had to keep retrying a mission because I was killed by someone I couldn't see or if I simply walked into an area I was supposed to (more on that in a bit). But looking past those, I'm not sure if I'd recommend this game to anybody unless they really, really liked WWII. I mean if they liked it so much they couldn't bare going out of the house because it meant they couldn't be playing a WWII game. Well with this game, now they can...but I don't know anybody like that so...
One thing that this game had going for it was that I've never played the console versions of Brothers In Arms. So I didn't immediately compare this hand held port to the strategic team battles of the original title. From what I've read, they sound pretty cool. That team element is still in the DS version...the only difference is you're not the leader anymore. When you jump into this game you are told exactly where to go and when to shoot. If you choose to ignore these orders or if you get a little confused and wander off in the opposite direction, you fail the mission. A little harsh since sometimes the boundaries are not clear. Actually, they're never clear. There were a few times where I tried to do a little improvised flanking in the middle of a firefight, only to have the game boot me to the failed orders screen just because I didn't understand what invisible lines could not be crossed.
The controls are a little shaky. You move with the directional pad and aim with the touch screen. The L button fires and the R button does nothing. The four face buttons also do nothing unless you're playing in left-handed mode, where the face buttons take the place of the directional pad and R shoots. It works decently as long as you don't want to make any sudden movements. Unfortunately this setup made it next to impossible to turn around quickly, which you need to do occasionally when your squad gets ambushed. Hopefully I didn't just miss out on some quick 180 turn button somewhere in there...
These control issues carry straight over to the vehicle maneuvering, which I found to be straight up horrible. As enemies throw grenades or fire rockets around you, debris will be launched into your path. Normally you'd think to just swerve around these obstacles. Good luck. I found it was easier to just plow right into them and hope that whatever you're driving will eventually grind around the contours and you can be on your way. Trying to steer a recon car or tank around a boulder or smoldering wreckage was pretty much useless.
Aiming wasn't too much fun for me, either, but this was a personal problem because my DS is pretty old and the touch screen has seen better days for sure. Something that I'm sure bothered others, however, was the weapon selection. You have to touch a drag-down menu at the top left corner of the screen to select any of your available weapons. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to switch weapons on the fly, you'll see that this slow system is a little aggravating. I mostly kept to the standard Thompson because it was the most effective but when an enemy tank is barreling towards you it's very frustrating to have to scramble to pull out your bazooka in time. Using grenades was sometimes a headache, but this too was because of the deteriorated state of my touch screen. To use them you drag upwards from the lower right corner and let go when you reach your desired range. This was probably just me but I had a problem where I would throw the grenades too soon and end up wasting them.
Your tasks in the game are what I would imagine to be standard WWII fare: shoot those guys, blow that up, or escort these guys. The terrible vehicle missions are really the only thing thrown in to break up the monotony. There are three difficulty levels but the experience wasn't as consistent as I would have liked. There seemed to be some pretty big spikes in difficulty in some later parts of the game. But even so, over all the elite difficulty wasn't all that challenging. You learn quickly to take advantage of the replenishing health mechanic. If you ever get close to dieing you can simply take cover and wait for it to refill. You don't have to worry about enemies figuring out what you're doing and coming to interrupt because they never will. They'll simply stand still and wait for you to pop back out and shoot them in the face whenever you're ready.
Since I brought it up, I should mention that the game automatically puts you behind or against some parts of your surroundings for you to use as cover. This is not always effective as sometimes I found that I was still being hit even though I was ducking behind a fence or crate. I also had a problem where I would stop too far away from cover and I would never duck behind it because I couldn't really tell how close to it I was in the first place. This might have been because I kind of suck...
I may have had some issues with the controls but it's not all bad. I was impressed with the graphics. They reminded me of a lower-end Nintendo 64 game, which I think is a good goal for any DS game to shoot for. There weren't a lot of varied enemy types but the ones that are present have some decent detail on them. I also like that with the sniper rifle scope or the zoom...mode...thing you could tell which gun each enemy soldier was using. So if they had a large silver tube in their hands, you'd know to shoot them quick. You and your fellow soldiers are also pretty well represented so I was never bothered by having to stare at the back of the guy I was controlling for the entire game. The campaigns all have very different locales and climates which gives the game some refreshing changes of scenery. On the other hand there are only three of them, but the number of missions in each one gives you enough opportunities to enjoy the surroundings before moving on to the next. How much enjoyment you can get from them is up to you to decide because like I said, you will die if you try to wander off on your own.
The sound design was pretty well done, too. Lots of explosions, ricochets, and the ambiance of war tried as best they could to immerse you in the battles around you. There was even a good amount of voice acting so I didn't really mind that I was being told what to do all the time because sometimes the game decided to dignify me with audio commands instead of text! One thing that brings it down is that there is almost no music. The main menu and campaign selection screens have their own songs but there is none in-game. I guess maybe this was to increase tension or something...
Speaking of tension, the game has its fill of scripted events which really do a commendable job of portraying the atmosphere of a battlefield. Explosions fling a fellow soldier who, seconds earlier, was sprinting right along beside you. Bunkers you are told to take cover in explode before you can reach them. Enemy bombers make runs right above your head and decimate your support tanks. On top of those, there are also a number of destructible items and buildings in the game that you have to blow up to take out hiding enemy snipers or clear a path to sneak up behind an apparently deaf group of Germans. On one stage I had a little problem with this because one of these effects was artillery fire visibly whipping past your men as white streaks. For a little while there I tried to dodge them because I wasn't sure if they were just there for the atmosphere or if they could actually hurt you. They couldn't, so I guess that made the fact that they were next to impossible to dodge okay.
Replay Value: 4/10
When I first submitted this review I had not tried out the multiplayer. Since then I've gotten the chance to play at least once match so I figured I'd update this. It was a very basic death match layout with me and my brother chasing each other around a pretty small map. There was no radar, which I guess on a small map could be a blessing or a curse. We didn't try the other maps but hopefully they were larger. My only real problem with this mode was the same problem I had with the single player: the controls.
Other than that there are some awards and unlockables but after playing through the whole game they didn't turn out to be very useful. I had gotten so proficient with what was given to me at the start of levels that I just didn't need them and had to make myself use them to try to find moments where they were actually worth it (there weren't many). And honestly, after beating the game once, you won't be coming back very often even with the allure of...well....I won't spoil them.
All in all this was not terrible. I could see it being fun for multiplayer because I assume there are no vehicles in that mode. But from what I saw this is not just another stripped-down port. I mean...okay it is, but the stripping is kept to a level where even without the mechanics of the console versions this is still a pretty solid game. I will admit, though, that if I had chosen to overlook this title I don't think I would have been missing out on too much.
I had originally rated this a 5 but I bumped it up because when I first went into playing this game I expected it to be pretty bad. And since it wasn't I decided that rating it average wasn't exactly fair. It had a decent level of enjoyment to it even though most of the game wasn't very challenging, and coming from me that's saying a lot because I'm not too good at these kind of games. But I didn't have a terrible time with this game so I think that means it's good enough to check out if you're ever in the mood for this kind of game on the go.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 12/01/08, Updated 12/23/08
Game Release: Brothers In Arms DS (US, 06/21/07)
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