Review by bluej33

"Fire and Forget?"

I'll freely and openly state that I'm not much a fan of war games. Sure, I'll play a title like Fire Emblem, which is completely fantastical, or Advance Wars, which stresses the strategy of war while not actually featuring a real war. But as soon as we get into World War II games, I start to shy away. It's hard to have fun playing a game about an event that killed millions of innocent young men -- for me, anyway. Yet, when Brothers in Arms DS was released, I confess I was a bit intrigued. It received overall good reviews, and I longed for a quality shooter on the DS. So, I picked it up. I was ashamed, and I still am. And that shame is fueled even more by the fact that guiltily and reluctantly, I actually did enjoy this game.

If you've played Metroid Prime Hunters before, then you will already have an excellent feel for this game's controls. Depending on whether you're right- or left-handed, the D-pad or the A-B-X-Y cluster controls your movement. You slide the stylus across the touch screen to change your aim, and touch screen icons allow you to throw grenades, zoom in, and switch weapons. The controls are intuitive and well-executed; by the time the first mission is over, you'll likely have a very good grasp of how the game controls, and will be able to fire and take out enemies with ease.

The weapon variety isn't that great for a first-person shooter, but it seems reminiscent of what weapons might have actually been used. You begin the game with a typical assault rifle. However, as you progress, you'll occasionally find new weapons, including sniper rifles, upgraded assault rifles, and grenade and missile launchers. And while there may not actually be that many weapons available for you to use, the developers have done a great job of really building up each weapon very specifically. That is, certain weapons really are necessary for certain challenges, whereas that same weapon may be completely useless in other situations. Many shooters suffer from the idea that a certain weapon is the “best”; no such flaw is the case in Brothers in Arms DS, however, as each weapon is best in varying situations.

Grenades are also available for you to use early on in the game, and are often critical for your success. For example, if you're faced with an onslaught of coming enemy soldiers, a well-tossed grenade can wipe them out, and save you from wasting ammo in your weapons or potentially dying at the hands of your opponent. To throw a grenade, simply tap the icon on the touch screen, then touch and hold the map portion of the screen. As you hold down the stylus, the power meter builds up, and an overhead aiming reticule appears. When the aiming reticule is where you wish the grenade to be thrown, take the stylus off the touch screen -- and then duck.

The game definitely deserves recognition for the way that it cleverly and subtlety incorporates the touch screen into gameplay, in addition to merely shooting guns and throwing grenades. For example, in certain situations, the grenade icon at the top of the screen will turn into a “Touch” icon. This button is used in a variety of instances; for example, if you get close enough to an enemy tank, tap the icon to hop up on the tank, open the door on the top, and toss a grenade in. The icon is also used for entering vehicles and placing explosives on items (to be blown up at a later time, naturally). The reload feature in Brothers in Arms DS is also unique and takes wonderful advantage of the touch screen. When you're out of bullets, it's possible to just fire, and the gun will be reloaded automatically. However, you can reload far quicker by tapping the clip icon, located at the top of the touch screen, and quickly dragging it down. It's nothing huge, but little touches like this serve to improve the overall immersive quality of the game and make it slightly more fun to play.

The mission variety and design is also well-done, for the most part. Missions are seldom the same twice; they'll have you doing all sorts of jobs in various locales. Some missions have you playing in a tank or a Jeep; these are a blast (pun intended). The on-foot levels are pretty straightforward and similar, yet you probably won't notice it because the locations in which you play are constantly changing. One slight disappointment with the level design is that it's a bit too linear for my liking. The game has mini checkpoints scattered throughout a level (usually 10 or 15 per level) that you've got to hit. This system, sadly, doesn't allow much room for exploration or “doing things your way”, although there is a slight bit of customization, just in terms of how actually to progress to the next checkpoint.

Sometimes, a checkpoint will launch you into a mini-objective -- something that you've got to do in order to progress. The most common mini-objectives are sniping a foe or destroying some key enemy fortification or weapon. These are neat and add some variety to the game, but it's also where the title runs into a little bit of trouble. See, the game is wary of telling you what to do -- all tutorials given to you come out of the mouth of your squad commander. And seeing as Gameloft wanted to make this title as realistic as possible, you won't hear “Tap the zoom icon to enter sniping mode” --you're going to have to figure out that stuff for yourself. So, the game tells you what to do, but it seldom gives you any idea how exactly to do it.

This may seem cool at first, but once you actually experience it, you'll realize that it's a slightly flawed system. For example, during an objective, you're told to “Take out that [deleted racial slur]!” Yet you have no idea where on Earth he is. You can try sniping some people, but if you don't get your man in a matter of seconds, you lose and have to restart from the last checkpoint. The camera will randomly pan off into space, and will give you no indication whatsoever as to what you did wrong. This is extremely annoying, especially when an action that should be simple is complicated by the games lack of guidance.

Another slight problem with Brothers in Arms DS is that environmental manipulation, for lack of a better phrase, sometimes gets into problems. For example, there's a neat little feature that allows you to put your back to a wall and peer around the corner to see who's waiting for you. You perform this action just by running into the wall you want to back up to, but oftentimes this maneuver fails to work, even after multiple attempts. Needless to say, this is really annoying and is crazy, especially considering all the work that Gameloft put into making this game realistic (how realistic is it, really, to see an armed soldier running into a wall three or four times?). Another example is that when you run up to a sandbag or other item that can be used as cover, you automatically duck behind it and assuming a firing stance. Yet, sometimes the system fails to work, you're left standing next to the sandbag, out in the open and without cover. It's even more infuriating when this failure of the game's to automatically put you in cover then results in your death, and you've got to restart from the last checkpoint.

Aside from these occasional annoyances, the rest of Brothers in Arms DS is great. The graphics are particularly of note; they're easily among the best to be seen so far on the Nintendo DS. They're smooth, for the most part, and the detail is great. Of course, this being a handheld game, environments and people tend to fall apart (figuratively speaking) as you get really close to them; the images become blocky and pixilated, and downright ugly. Still, though, as DS games go, Brothers in Arms DS is one of the prettiest that I've played.

The sound effects are also really well done. There's no music in the game, but the sound effects contribute wonderfully to the atmosphere of the game. You'll occasionally hear foes shout out at you in German, or you'll hear one of your comrades shout “I need more ammo!”. The voice acting isn't even that good, but the game is so immersive and fun that it's an easily overlooked problem. Some might argue that music could improve the experience even more, but I really do like the lack of it; again, realism was the goal, and lack of music definitely contributes to that.

Normally, I'd skim right over the plot of this game. Why? Because, quite frankly, it doesn't have any. At first, I was somewhat disappointed; the developers put tons of work into this game, so why not go a little further and add some good storytelling scenes? Well, after completing the game, I realized that the omission of a story was actually a brilliant move on the developers' part. See, the whole premise of Brothers in Arms DS is that you're just a regular, unnamed soldier doing his duty on the front line. Soldiers in in WWII likely had little idea what was going on in the war, and neither will you, in this game. So, while it may at first seem that the dearth of a story arc detracts from the story, it's actually a clever move by the developers that even further increase the level of immersion present in this title.

In terms of both difficulty and game value, Brothers in Arms DS stumbles a little bit. The standard difficulty mode (easy) is pathetic. However, there are two other (higher) difficulty levels, that increase the difficulty for players that really want it. However, even these increased difficulty levels aren't incredibly tough. Additionally, the game is disappointingly short. There are three campaigns, each with only about 6-8 missions each. Each mission, on your first try, will likely take you around 15 or 20 minutes. Of course, there's plenty of replay value if you plan on playing the entire game through on each of the higher difficulty levels, but more campaigns comprised of even more missions would have been a welcome addition to this title.

There's also a multiplayer mode which, while tough to set up, is definitely worth it for the fun that it will provide. It's actually a rather standard multiplayer setup for first person shooters, but it's just great to be able to play through the well-designed levels and take advantage of the game's great controls with a friend or three. However, the big drawback to this mode is that there's no download play for the DS -- instead, each player is going to have to have their own 30-dollar copy of the game. This is a pretty big drawback, obviously -- unless you've got multiple friends with money to burn, you may not ever get a chance to experience the great multiplayer. It's a pity, really, because it's tons of fun -- it's definitely disappointing that the developers didn't include download play, and online play would have also been a huge plus.

Overall, despite a few minor drawbacks, Brothers in Arms DS is a solid DS shooter. The controls are great, the graphics are beautiful, and the game as a package is surprisingly immersive. There are a few issues with it, and it's a bit short for me to unconditionally recommend it, especially with a 30 dollar price tag. Still, if you're looking for a great, fun DS shooter, you should definitely check out Brothers in Arms DS.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 11/09/07

Game Release: Brothers In Arms DS (US, 06/21/07)

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