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Brothers in Arms isn’t like the majority, it’s actually quite clever...
War Games; whether you like them or not, it seems that thereâ??s no stopping the constant wave of WWII inspired titles. However Ubisoft and Gearbox Softwareâ??s latest offering, Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30, looks likely to offer a significantly different experience to the norm, focussing on a more personalised experience that truly captures the drama of films such as Saving Private Ryan.
Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 begins in spectacular style with an intense prologue mission, quickly before the game throws you into the eight day flashback that provides the majority of the game. Players take the role of Sgt. Matt Baker, a squad leader of the renowned 101st Airborne Paratroopers leading up to the infamous parachute drop behind enemy lines on D-Day. A large part of Brothers in Arms success comes from the personality of its squad mode; you really get to know the guys in your squadron and almost build up a level of care and responsibility over them â?“ certainly way beyond anything weâ??ve seen in other squad-based shooters from the past.
The game takes a very sombre view of war, refusing to bow down to the more Hollywood-esque offerings found in the Medal of Honor series. Every aspect from the downbeat musical score to Bakerâ??s Solemn voice-overs (you wouldnâ??t want him as an after-dinner guess) helps to suit the tone for the game, and helps to capture the feeling that soldiers must have felt i.e. I want to be anywhere but here. In keeping with the likes of Half Life, a lot of the cut-scenes are viewed from a first-person perspective and keep you in control to heighten the sense of immersion. Despite the fact that you canâ??t skip cut-scenes youâ??ve already seen, they certainly provide one of the gameâ??s highlights helping to provide exhilaration, tension and even a dose of sorrow at times.
The actual gameplay is refreshingly compelling, something that I never thought Iâ??d say about a WWII shooter. Iâ??m personally of the belief that shooters grounded in realism can never be as fun as the likes of more fantastical offerings such as Halo, Half Life, Quake, etc..., however Brothers in Arms blows away this preconception on a number of levels.
Firstly the implementation of the squad is one of the most accessible weâ??ve ever seen, allowing for a wide range of commands and tactics. Simply by holding the left trigger a waypoint icon appears allowing you to move your comrades; holding the left trigger and targeting an enemy will command them to lay down suppressing fire and finally pressing the right trigger in combination with the left will issue a rush command. Itâ??s similar to the feel of Full Spectrum Warrior, although taking direct control naturally lends it more of a traditional first-person feel; the combination however creates an experience largely unlike anything else out there...
Taking full advantage of the squad system the game actually introduces a new concept to the world of first-person-shooters, namely the standard operating procedures of fire and manoeuvre to flank and kill your opponents. The game frequently challenges you to eliminate enemy instalments and gives you the techniques to complete these effectively. Enemy characters have a red icon above their heads which gradually changes to grey depending on the fire that theyâ??re currently under and the cover that they have to take as a result; simply set your squad-mates to lay down suppressing fire and you can work your way around the sides to flank their position and deliver the deadly shot.
Itâ??s refreshing to say the least to see developers actually think outside of the box, and while itâ??s not the most revolutionary feature weâ??ve ever seen in a videogame itâ??s nice to see tactics and strategy incorporated at this level within the game.
To assist you the game also includes a rather bizarre feature named â??Situational Awarenessâ?, whereby events on the battlefield are temporarily paused and the camera zooms out to a top-down perspective, creating an almost RTS view on the proceedings. Whilst here you can check your position along with your comrades, whilst also identifying opponents that youâ??ve already spotted. It helps to determine the tactics that youâ??re going to utilise and the movements needed ahead, however we canâ??t help but feel that the feature is a little underwhelming and thereâ??s more that they could have done with it.
Thankfully the AI of your squad-mates is of a high standard and rarely gets in the way of the game, although there will be occasions when they take a dubious path into trouble or donâ??t position themselves quite to where you want to. But on the whole itâ??s the integration of the squad and how you use this to your advantage that provides the biggest hook to Brothers in Arms.
Away from the squad-system the game treads a very similar path to most modern first-person-shooters. Given itâ??s realistic portrayal the pace of the game is slightly slower to the majority of games out there, while staple traditions such as only wielding two guns at any one time and being able to stand and crouch are all adhered to. Due to the lack of an aiming reticule youâ??ll find yourself shooting from the hip largely in the default view, which places the emphasis on lining up your sights by taking close aim with your weapon. Staring down the muzzle of your gun is portrayed accurately within the game and helps to make you appreciate the difference between weapons (a notoriously tricky aspect in realistic shooters), while a neat depth-of-field visual trick ramps up the authenticity. It can take a little time to get used to, but because you canâ??t run whilst staring down the barrel, it helps to eradicate the unbelievable ability to shoot accurately while running at a fast pace that we usually see in most first-person-shooters.
Thereâ??s a wide selection of historically accurate weapons to use throughout the game as you loot the bodies that get stacked up, ranging from rifles to sub-machine guns and heavier artillery such as bazookas and fixed turrets. I find it hard to get too excited about first-person-shooters with realistic weapons as compared to the delights of Halo 2 for example, when you can instantly tell what weapons do what and are best suited for different objectives; but it has to be said that the variety and implementation is one of the better offerings of this kind. In addition youâ??ll also have a short supply of grenades, although the relatively sporadic nature of these and a somewhat clunky implementation make them a less then effective tactic to use within the game â?“ just beware of your opponents chucking them back at you.
Again a problem we have with realistic shooters is that the various objectives suffer from repetition, and while we cannot have a complaint about the levels of excitement generated during the game, issues such as fighting in the same environment and generally just doing the same thing over and over again will put off some people.
The game takes place exclusively in the Normandy regions of France, and whilst Gearbox has done an admirable job of replicating these there are some issues. The environment is often created with paths throughout the game, although there are wide open expanses to combat these occasionally. Naturally theyâ??ve gone with this design to ensure players move through the level as needed, but often this does come across as forcibly rather then carefully designed; one example being invisible walls, something that just shouldnâ??t be apparent in videogames these days and one element that detracts from the overall realistic nature of the game.
Visually the game is impressive, although given its multi-format development there are issues that detract from the overall quality. The various character models have been created with a great deal of thought and itâ??s this that helps them to stand above just being clones within a videogame; while the environment packs a nice level of detail if a little samey after awhile â?“ but then again, beyond expanding the storyline of the game significantly thereâ??s not a lot that could have been done to cure this. However a lack of detail in the environmentâ??s textures and special effects stops the game from being one of the best-looking in the bunch; sure itâ??s better then Call of Duty: Finest Hour or Medal of Honor, but it falls far short of many other titles in the genre and not necessarily at the cause of scale but simply because of its multi-format origins. Another element that sticks out like a sore thumb is the lack of rag-doll physics, with death animations looking canned and repetitive at times, occasionally bordering on damn ugly when rigor mortis sets in instantly and leaves the corpse lying unnaturally rigid in a strange position.
No complaints however can be made about the audio throughout the game with every aspect of a very high standard, from the rousing score to the voice-acting throughout. The game is brought to life with the screams of your squad-mates and the sound of bullets whizzing above your head or ricocheting off objects dramatises the whole experience. Suitably thereâ??s no music whatsoever during the actual game, leaving the soundtrack to kick in between missions and during menu screens â?“ an understated decision that definitely works.
Although the game doesnâ??t gratuitously throw around gore and blood, itâ??s worth noting that Gearbox havenâ??t pulled any punches when it comes to capturing the essence of war; as such profanity runs throughout the game (usually ending with Krauts), while certain cut-scenes are considerably graphic.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the game lies in the multiplayer. Usually deemed as nothing more then an afterthought for realistic shooters (ala Call of Duty), Gearbox have actually worked hard to incorporate the squad dynamics and as such the game feels refreshingly different for Xbox Live! and PS2 Online gamers.
Games are set up for two or four players and take place on the 10 various maps featured with various objectives to complete, such as demolishing something or placing a bomb in a certain location. Each player takes control of a squad element and must co-ordinate tactics to complete the objectives. Death means that you can instantly switch to another member, although if your entire squad gets wiped out youâ??ll have to respawn from the beginning.
Itâ??s fantastic to see a bit of thought gone into the multiplayer mode, and as such the strategic offering is far more welcome then the glutton of run-and-gun modes that weâ??re typically accustomed to. Unlike Call of Duty: Finest Hour, the multiplayer mode within Brothers in Arms offers depth and plenty of replay value, ensuring those online will still be playing this long after the 10-12 hours finishes in the Single-Player campaign â?“ although those that enjoy unlocking everything a game has to offer will be pleased to note thereâ??s a huge amount to be found within Brothers in Arms.
Sure there are issues and we’ll always debate as to whether a realistic shooter can ever be as good as the best fantasy ones, but there can be little doubt that Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 is the best WWII shooter out there and a worthy addition to anybody’s catalogue.
If Medal of Honor is the Hollywood epic, then Brothers in Arms is the harrowing Roman Polanksi equivalent...