Review: Brothers In Arms: Hell’s Highway (360)
Call of Duty for people who prefer grenades to not arrive in multiples of thirty.
Here we go again, yet another videogame with a 1939-45 setting filled with John Williams’ style military-orchestral scores and many a good, young man dying on the field of glory. As a setting go it’s fair to say the whole ‘world war two thing’ has been done to death of late with multiple entries in the Call of Duty and Medal of Honour franchises along with many others like the Battlefield series or Company of Heroes. So can the third entry in the Brothers in Arms series stand out from the crowd or will it become lost amid the ranks of identikit green and beige WW2 games?
Welcome to basic training for BIA:HH, here we’ll take a look at what makes the series different from all the other WW2 franchises and what you can expect from it gameplay wise. Here you take control of Staff Sgt. Matt Baker of the 101st Airborne, a group of American Paratroopers who first entered combat during the D-Day invasions. This time out Baker’s squad is part of Operation Market Garden, the bold but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to use the bridges of Holland as a gateway to invading Germany and bringing about a swift end to the war. The action in viewed primarily in a first person perspective switching to a third person camera when using cover or issuing orders.
You not only control Baker but also the squad or squads under his command who will follow any orders he gives such as move here, shoot that and take cover here, with the fine details being handled by the games AI who will refuse stupid or just plain suicidal orders. As you move through the game you’ll encounter hostile squads of German troops who just like your men will use cover for protection and move and outflank you given the chance.
Such enemy squads are all tagged with a circle icon that will be red for hostile and alert with it turning to grey as they become suppressed by your fire which makes it safe to get closer for the killing blow or outflank them for a better shot. When you order an attack the selected squad will open up with their weapons to suppress the enemy, forcing them to take cover to avoid the fire and even using any explosive weapons such as grenades or bazooka rounds if they have the opportunity.
Suppressing and flanking the enemy this way is what BIA is all about with every encounter becoming a sequence of attacks and flanks until the enemies are destroyed and Baker and his team can move on. Baker himself is no superhuman killing machine if he gets shot he’ll die so if your vision starts to turn red you’d best seek cover before Jerry can get him but the game is generous with its checkpoints so if a particular gambit or strategy fails you won’t be penalised too much leaving you to try another strategy.
Along with battling enemy squads all manor of hostile machine-gun teams, anti-tank panzershrek guards and flak 88 turrets will all try to stop your progress and each requiring you to adapt your tactics as some types of cover will quickly crumble when subjected to enemy fire leaving your squad exposed and most likely killed but it cuts both ways with your bazooka squad able to blast enemy machine-gun teams out of their sandbag hidey holes no doubt triggering an action camera moment in the process.
The action camera is a new feature that will slow down time for a moment to focus on an important occurrence be it the destruction of an enemy position by explosives or you scoring a particularly sweet head shot from fifty feet away with your BAR. This also does a good job of showing off the games gore system with bullets blowing chunks out of bodies and all kids of rag doll psychics being employed for explosions and vehicle impacts.
The later is more apparent when playing the few sections that have you driving a tank through the streets of Eindhoven blasting away with your cannon turret, laying down suppressing fire with its mounted machine-gun and even running them over with your tracks of you get the chance. Although given the fact the tank controls are lose and imprecise coupled with the complete lack of draw distance thanks to fog and weather effects in one area make what few tank sections there are a chore that has to be completed before you can return back to the games far better suppress and flank missions.
BIA: Hells Highway is a nice reminder that gritty, dramatic storytelling can go hand in hand with a tactical based FPS engine. I’m a fan of gritty war games but they need to find the balance between fun and realism (Operation Flashpoint anyone?). This game comes close to getting it right.
This latest instalment has added destructible environments and new squads to command like the Bazooka and Assault teams, which are welcome as I found the original got a tad repetitive on some missions with a lack of variety in firepower meaning a lot of the battles felt samey after a while.
The gore engine has been overhauled and caused some controversy too. Get a headshot and the ‘Action cam’ will zoom in at your target to see your well aimed shot hit its mark. The action slows down and is shown from a different angle as the bullet tears through the victim’s head, their face caving in realistically. Use an explosive and the action cam will start up again to show bodies and sandbags flying into the air (complete with severed limbs). Some people will find the gore excessive but I think it fits with the game’s setting perfectly, after all this is war.
The cinematic scenes and orchestral score flesh out the campaign mode, and a well executed multiplayer could have made this game a contender against CoD4 and Bad Company, but it’s been poorly done. Bugs galore, animation warping, textures disappearing and only one mode to play means it feels like multiplayer was an afterthought. It’s a shame too because the tactical gameplay can make for some enthralling battles.
Hopefully the game will get patched because, as good as singleplayer is, there isn’t enough depth to make you want to keep replaying.
Secondary Score: 5/10
The missions rage from open country fields with windmills and haystacks through to bombed out urban areas filled with broken walls and barbed wire with several sections set during a night mission inside burning buildings and a downright creepy sanatorium that’s so well staged it could easily have been taken from something like Resident Evil or Bioshock. The presentation throughout is first rate particularly the sound design and context sensitive speech that will range from whispered through to screaming depending on the situation be it a recon mission or full on fire fight and the amount of work that’s gone into the background details be it a allied fighter roaring over head or the interior of a bombed out cafÃ© filled with derelict furniture and period decorations.
The graphics are above average but suffer from the usual UnrealEngine problems of texture pop-in and graphical glitches that conspire to break the atmosphere the game tries so hard to maintain. The cut scenes are all presented in real-time with the character all looking good and more importantly distinct so if you want to follow the games now novel like plot you won’t have to spend long trying to remember what character died when or who is part of what squad.
As far as criticisms go there’s no one game killing flaw here just a few niggles that combine to sometimes detract from the fun to be had. As far as the WW2 setting goes I can’t fault it but having played so many games of its type it sometimes fells a little generic and when the gameplay changes for either a tank mission section or a solo mission be it clearing a house of Germans or providing sniper cover for civilians it just remind you how well the squad system works and makes you resent the game for making you play the non-squad sections.
The melodrama can get a little thick from time to time but stick with it as the further you go the better it gets with some later missions even having Eternal Darkness style insanity effects. Everything else will quickly be forgotten be it the imprecise grenade throwing or your squads occasional dopey path finding or even the cover button working a little too well, leaving you to crane your neck to see the German shooting you on the other side of the doorway.
Brothers In Arms: Hell’s Highway manages to rise above the now over familiar WW2 setting to be counted as tactical squad based shooter worthy of anyone’s time and money in an overpopulated marketplace filled with copycats and clones that lack half as much soul as this game.