Review by Evil Dave
"Brothers In Arms is an innovative WWII first-person shooter - yes, you read that right."
World War II-based shooters have become something of a cliche in the videogames industry. Any announcement of such a game is met with derision by the gaming media, and any subsequent editorial content about the title predictably begins with Game XX isn't just another WWII shooter...' For the most part, this criticism is well-founded. The subgenre has been quite stagnant for a while, and although occasionally a game will burst through to reach critical acclaim, the majority of these games are little more than bargain-bin material.
Not all WWII titles are stuck following the same blueprints, though. Set in the days after the D-Day invasion, Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 takes some of the shooter' part out of the picture, and gives you a squad of soldiers to lead in its stead. While it may not be trying to reinvent the wheel, BIA offers a non-traditional take on the responsibilities of a WWII-era paratrooper, and is a game that promises a fresh take on the crusty old formula.
From the moment you drop from your plane into France, Brothers in Arms separates itself from the herd of shooters on the XBox, thanks to its impressive visuals. Character models, from both your side and that of your Nazi foes, are highly detailed, showcasing all manner of easily recognizable equipment on their person as they fight. Faces are highly realistic, and very expressive in motion, although most characters' eyes tend to look rather glossed-over. There's a good amount of gore in the game, but it's all presented in a starkly realistic manner, and fits the overall war-torn theme of the game well. The game animates very smoothly also, save for some choppiness as the game transitions from video sequences to gameplay.
More remarkable than the characters, though, are the settings. 1944 France is impeccably reproduced, down to the battle-scarred landscapes and destroyed buildings. The battlefields you'll traverse cover good variety of styles, and each one looks very much as you would expect it to. Water effects stand out as being particularly spectacular, as do the particle effects caused by bullets flying around. There's almost no slowdown to speak of in BIA either, aside from an occasional stutter when the game spawns new enemies into a level.
In between missions, your character will mill around with his unit to chat and progress the meager plotline. These scenes all take place using the in-game graphics engine, and they offer an excellent opportunity to examine the detail on all of the character models. They aren't very noteworthy otherwise, simply due to the fact that there isn't much plot in BIA.
Even for a WWII game, BIA is a testament to the power of modern game consoles. The combination of excellently built character models and highly reactive, extremely realistic game environments help to create the sense of the war coming to life in front of you.
Brothers in Arms' sound effects are among the strongest you'll hear in any game to date. All of the game's weaponry sounds perfect, as do the explosions you'll hear from mortar rounds and other ordnance landing around you. The sound of bullets flying by you, hitting the ground and objects you're taking cover behind, does an incredible job of engaging you in the fighting. The game supports Dolby Digital surround sound, which kicks the intensity of the fighting up even further.
Another constant chorus you'll be listening to as you play is the sound of your allies and enemies screaming out orders and information. The Nazis are all voiced in German, and players with knowledge of that language can pick up tactical information from the bits they'll hear their foes screaming to each other. Your teammates are the real stars, though, and they steal the show with their incredibly lifelike chatter throughout the course of the game. They're always giving you hints, by (for example) screaming at you to get behind cover, or muttering lines about the war in general, and they rarely repeat themselves. The voice acting in general is top-notch, although some of the lines outside of the fighting come across as a little forced.
You'll hear all of the battlefield commotion as you play without any distractions, thanks to the complete lack of any background music during actual gameplay. This helps keep you in the moment of the fighting, and makes the few tracks that kick in at the menus really achieve that war-movie feel.
With any war game, conveying the chaotic sense of being in the middle of a battle is always a very important aspect of the sound design. The audio in BIA accomplishes this goal with ease, allowing the player an even deeper level of immersion in the gameplay.
The tactical spin Brothers in Arms gives its gameplay changes the pacing and feel of the game almost entirely from that of a typical shooter. You'll end up moving along at a much more deliberate pace, spending a few seconds to plot your moves before sending your soldiers out into the open. Ultimately, the mix of styles really works, and creates a gameplay style that is a blast to experience.
You control your character much the same way you would in any other first-person shooter: you move and look with the analog sticks, shoot with the right trigger, and so on. There isn't any type of crosshair on your screen, though, so shooting from the hip is very impractical. You'll need to raise you gun to eye level and look down the sights to get an accurate shot, and doing this slows your movement to a crawl. From the get-go, you'll learn that you won't always be able to take all your adversaries out by yourself you'll definitely need your squad to survive.
All of your squad orders are relatively easy to execute while playing the game. The left trigger serves as your context-sensitive command button, and to tell your squad to perform any order, you simply point your crosshair and let the trigger go. In practice, this takes a few tries to get used to, but the process is incredibly intuitive, and by the third or fourth mission you'll be maneuvering your soldiers around with ease, thanks to a host of well-designed markers that indicate what exactly is going on with each unit around you.
The real meat of the gameplay lies in squad-on-squad combat between entrenched German troops and your team of soldiers. Once you encounter an enemy unit, you'll use one squad to pin them down with suppressing fire, while moving your other squad (or just yourself) around the side to flank the enemy. It's a very simple gameplay, but the incredible presentation and broad variety of battlefield environments keep the game fresh and exciting all the way through.
Besides the squad mechanics, there are a handful of situations where you'll have another objective besides clearing out the Nazi resistance in front of you. You'll demolish a bridge, guide a Sherman tank through an enemy-controlled town, and even defend a fortified position with a sniper rifle. Each new objective helps keep the formula interesting for the time it takes you to accomplish it.
It's unfortunate, though, that the time you'll spend with BIA is rather brief. The main storyline campaign may cover eight days in the lives of your soldiers, but it will probably end up only taking at most ten hours of real time to move from the opening credits to the final mission.
To compound the problem, the game isn't all that difficult on the default setting. Contrary to the game's intent, you can often (but not always) park your squad somewhere, run out on your own, and pick off the Nazis in your path one by one by ducking back and forth behind some cover. Heck, your entire team comes back to life at the end of each mission, so even if they buy the farm during a level, you won't have to worry about having them there later on. Setting the game to Difficult makes the campaign more of a challenge, but it does so mostly by reducing the amount of damage you can take before dying, and not by making those Nazis any smarter.
And smart they aren't. They're good at recognizing your position and firing on it when they aren't suppressed, but they'll never move to flank your squad when they have you pinned down; in fact, they'll only move when they've been flanked themselves and even then, their only actions will be trying to get away. If you're patient enough, and a good enough shot, you can dig in and pick off all of your enemies without having to move your squad at all, which is a darn shame.
At least your squad has some brains. For the most part, the soldiers under your command know what to do when they encounter resistance, and are very intelligent about finding cover and using suppressing fire. They'll occasionally wander out into the open or take a bad path to their objective and get mowed down, but you usually don't have to worry about babysitting them. In a game this reliant on A.I.-controlled teammates, this is a very good thing.
BIA plays extremely well for a game covering experimental new territory. The new twist it adds to the typical WWII shooter offering results in a tremendous amount of original and fun gameplay. It's annoyingly short, though, and might be too easy to really appeal to strategy fans.
In addition to the single-player game, Brothers in Arms features a full multiplayer mode, complete with options to play either split-screen offline and online over XBox Live. The game is also Live Aware, which means you can access your Friends list and send or receive messages while playing the single-player game.
Outside of this multiplayer, though, there is little else to do in BIA outside of the four difficulty levels of the single-player game. Completing the campaign on all of the difficulties unlocks research material and a few in-game cheats, but none of these are very spectacular.
The multiplayer component to BIA presents a good amount of replay value for those who enjoyed the single-player game's play style, but there isn't much else to do in the game once the single-player campaign is complete.
The online multiplayer available in Brothers in Arms feels like a much more strategic take on the shooter genre than what's available in most other games. You're still a single soldier in control of a squad or two, and you'll still be using the squad commands to travel through the levels to achieve your objectives, which are usually to demolish (or prevent demolition of) a target.
With the ability to control multiple soldiers at once, the gameplay takes on the same calculated ambiance as the single-player game, although you'll need to move a bit quicker to react to a human opponent. Good decision-making in moving your squads around is important, but good aim is just as important in head-on encounters.
A strong multiplayer community for this game has already been established, and as such it might be rather difficult to get a footing in the rankings of the game. It's fairly easy to learn to play once you've experienced the single-player mode, but learning to play well will take you a while longer. It's a fascinating and distinctive multiplayer game, though, and so if you enjoyed the campaign, it may be worth your time.
The multiplayer mode in BIA is very different from that of its competition, but it's highly playable, and it proffers a good challenge to anyone wishing to get into it.
It doesn't happen very often, but every once in a while, a talented game development team comes along and creates a game that defies expectations by being original and fun. Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 took a tired old template, that of the World War II shooter, and updated it with a very fresh and unique take on the combat experienced by ground troops in the days following the D-Day invasion. It may alienate some hardcore shooter fans, but the combination of an admirable presentation and solid underlying gameplay mechanics make BIA undoubtedly one of the most surprisingly fun games to be released in a while.
Any gamer with even a passing interest in WWII or the shooter genre should definitely give BIA a shot. Any shooter fans who have grown tired of the genre's repetitious nature would also do well to give the game a rent. Finally, any fan of action games who is looking for an innovative and well-designed game to spend some time with should try their hand at BIA as well.
Score: 8/10 (not an average)
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/13/07
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