Review by Arkrex

Reviewed: 06/11/07 | Updated: 11/07/07

Sibling Rivalry

World Wars I and II are events that will forever be etched into the memories of human kind. The calamities tore apart many great nations and brought about a harsh reality to those living in its wake. The brave souls that fought for their countries in countless battle, who went through unimaginable hardships, striving to make ends meet through a combination of strategy, mortar fire and lady luck - thinking about these soldiers, these Brothers in Arms, incites feelings of courage, patriotism and camaraderie.

In recent times, technology has allowed us to capture the essence of war in digital format; first in movies, then in videogames. Brothers in Arms was one of the first console games to integrate the squad-based nature of World War tactics in a highly realistic, but fun manner. It put you at the forefront of things, in command of your fellow brothers; they would follow your every order you issued, whether it be to provide cover-fire or to flank the opposing contingent. By working as one entity, there was hope that the battalion would reach the end of the road, victorious, and become one step closer to resolving the brutal global conflict. There is no doubt that the game succeeded in being what it was intended to be.

However, the same cannot be said for this port of a mobile phone game, the war story that should have not been told, Brothers in Arms DS.

The World War, shooting-action genre has blown up to gargantuan proportions since we heralded 3D graphics that were able to do the history justice. What made the original Brothers in Arms stand out from the influx was the impression of working within an intelligent regiment. Your team mates were not just attractive decorations that provided cannon fodder to the enemy; they would actually help you mow down enemy lines, give you cover when you attempted make a burst, and draw attention away should you choose to take the indirect and sneaky route. This DS edition retains all of these elements, but it is missing something that played a huge part in the progenitors: NOT having YOU as the team leader!

Instead, you are placed in the unassuming role of ‘just another soldier’, this time playing a mere pawn in the grand scheme of things. With the director’ cap in the hands of the on-board artificial intelligence, this means you are told what to do, when to do it, and if you don’t follow orders... *bang*. Okay, so your commander doesn’t exactly blow one into your thick skull, but if you ever deviate from what the game is instructing you to do, the game is over. Being linear is one thing, but the degree of freedom here is so strictly limited, even retreating two steps too far will see you tagged as having gone AWOL.

And so this story is all about you following orders as the 101st Airborne Division storm their way through 3 campaigns, 16 odd levels, of running, gunning and driving around in jumbo Panzer tanks.

If you didn’t know already, Brothers in Arms DS is a conversion of the popular mobile phone game, Brothers in Arms 3D. The same pick-up-and-play gameplay is translated well across the platforms, and what we end up with is short bursts of World War II action, 10 minute chunks per mission on average. While this is acceptable for cell phones (being secondary gaming devices), a DS port with hardly any single player additions means a DS cash-in that will only last the better part of 2 hours. This is a pretty short ride considering the incredible background going with it. The main reason why you can fly through it so fast lies in the linearity of it all, and the fact that you are always held by the hand and guided towards your next objective without any time for some R & R.

The typical battle plan usually involves defending a fortress from a Kraut assault, advancing past enemy lines and breaching their territory, or hightailing after some German soldiers in a recon car. Of course, your objectives are highly volatile, and as the enemy re-strategises, so to will you. Just like in your average war game there are plenty of scripted scenes, from Panzer tanks smashing through your barricades, to low swooping bombing crafts that casually drop a load to take out the bunker you were previously occupying a second ago. There is also plenty of destructible scenery around the place that a handy bazooka or tank will be able to poke or smash holes through. It adds a lot of intensity to the incessant buzzing of stray bullets and frantic explosions tearing up the battlefields. However, if you are a veteran of the Medal of Honor, Call of Duty and home console Brothers in Arms series, it is difficult to appreciate what was done here. With too much going on, the framerate is hit from all sides. And so every time something so much as wavers, the constant aggravating slow-down takes away what realism could possibly be extracted from such a down-sized experience.

I am surprised at how Gearbox/Ubisoft was able to implement most of the core Brothers in Arms elements into here (leadership role withstanding), but for everything they managed to cram in, there’s a hitch that came with the move to portable. The 3rd person movement and aiming is competently handled by a combination d-pad/stylus combo similar to the model example, Metroid Prime Hunters, but the aiming is a touch shaky, especially in situations where precision is called for with the sniper rifle. The cover system is automatic and your man will duck behind crates or sidle along walls as appropriate, in order to avoid enemy fire. These tactics work as prescribed, but the limited view afforded by the small screen area often doesn’t allow you to catch where you really want to be looking at. Thus you will be tempted to go kamikaze soldier and rush out with rifle ablaze. In the console iterations, this was a way to an early demise, but with the expected senseless AI here, the best defence seems to be to keep on the move. The health system in which you fall upon taking successive hits without rest usually works well, but taking into account your moronic opposition and the fact that you are able to take a direct hit from a point blank rocket (assuming you are at full vitality), means that you never really need to make use of every tactical advantage available to you to come out as the victor.

It may seem quite unfair to lash out at these shortcomings, given that it is a handheld port that not many would have thought was possible. Clearly, hardware limitations are in effect, but they were able to pull it off on cell phones reasonably well, so no excuses. There is always something moving, exploding or soaring through the air (dead bodies included), and the graphical engine does a good job of conveying the severities of war, but if only it would run smoothly. The audio here is superb, full of artillery fire, colossal blasts and even crisp voice samples. It really brings the atmosphere straight to wherever you are playing it, and headphones are an absolute must. There isn’t much in the way of music, but there is so much going on so that such trifles would be plain distracting.

This is not a straight-out mobile phone port though; Gearbox have put some effort into making use of the DS’s wireless capabilities, although sadly WiFi is out for the count. Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes for up to 4 players is served to us via the multi-card play system, but that’s about it; no co-op mode that would have done wonders for this game’s replayability. It is a novelty to be able to play this kind of game with a bunch of mates somewhere not close to home, but it is nothing remotely close to playing it on the big screen, and once the freshness is lost, the bread becomes stale, no matter how much you butter it up.

Just like how the kill.switch port was a technical achievement for the GBA, but not quite there, Brothers in Arms DS delivers something akin to the real deal, but it was too elaborate a project to make it out of the trench unscathed. Flaws concerning the AI, collision detection and pop-up could have been managed better than the mess evident here. And without the team-leader aspect, the point A to point B tunnel-style gameplay does get quite boring at times, seeing as you don’t really need to think much before you step. At least lobbing grenades is always a buzz. Burning the rubber in lightning fast recon vehicles and engaging in tank wars is just as exciting, but the fun here is derived at the expense of any realism; whenever you hop into the driver’s seat, it turns into a somewhat arcade-like free-for-all occasion. This is NOT Brothers in Arms as we know it.

At the day’s end, when the good war has been fought and the remaining soldiers can finally rest on their laurels, there is much to be said about technical achievement, but little with regards to overall accomplishment. In closing, what we have here is a game that looks like a mighty impressive adaptation of BIG Brothers in Arms, but that has the trappings of an overly ambitious project that could have gone a few more rounds in the washing machine. It’s sad to say that this little Brother just made a mess of his dinner.

Arkrex Analysis
Visuals – B-
Sound – A-
Gameplay – C+
Controls – B-
Challenge – Medium
VERDICT – 4.5/10

Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Product Release: Brothers In Arms DS (EU, 06/08/07)

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