Brothers in Arms Road to Hill 30 Review

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Graphics: 6.5
Sound : 8.0
Gameplay : 7.0
Multiplayer : 7.0
Overall : 7.5
Review by Alex D.
For some time now, the WW2-era themed domain in video games had gone stale. Far over-saturated and longtime uninspired, the genre grows tiresome with each new title announced and never greeted with much enthusiasm. Revealed roughly a year ago, Gearbox’s newest title, Brothers in Arms, was proclaimed a refresher to the tedious platform. Introducing Squad AI and control, comparable to a more interactive Full Spectrum Warrior, said game was to be released on all consoles and ported to computer a little later. The idea of a Gearbox port was still a recurring nightmare for gamers who witnessed first hand what was called Halo. While Brothers in Arms is nowhere near as horrid as Halo, it is not even in the same ballpark as the hype that it cocooned itself with.

Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 is based upon the true story of the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles. The game tells the tale of Sgt. Matt Baker, as he is unwillingly forced into position of Squad Leader. With his life and the lives of his men on the line, Matt and his soldiers plow through German defenses with the goal of eventually seizing the town of Carentan. Sounds familiar, then you may recall the HBO mini-series, Band of Brothers, which was a big hit when it was aired. Though the characters may differ, the game is heavily inspired by the same events and takes you through actual WW2 missions the 101st Airborne undertook. The game features a 17-chapter single-player campaign graced with four different difficulty levels for all kinds of players. Even when on Easy, Brothers in Arms remains a difficult game, requiring strategy over run-and-gun action like conventional WW2 shooters. Spanning over a week, the game begins during the infamous night previous to D-Day. Hundreds of paratroopers were given the task to soften up German defenses for infantry landings upon the French coast the following morning. Missed drops and heavy gunfire plagued the operation and many soldiers found themselves trapped behind enemy lines, unaware of their location or even worse, dead. The game begins as Matt Baker crashes to the ground after his airplane was hit by anti-air fire. The first level serves as a brief tutorial to the game’s mechanics and squad control as Baker begins linking up with other soldiers. Brothers in Arms’ pacing is different than that of predominant shooters like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor. Players are treated to a mixture of chaotic and intense action and slower paced missions who help add to the cinematic atmosphere of the title. It is a nice touch and makes you feel like not everything is a non-stop roller coaster ride of violence and death as depicted in other titles. Objectives and missions get increasingly more challenging as players ease into the game, progressing through the German lines as they link up with more members of their element. The controls are straightforward enough and simple to memorize, squads are controlled using a combination of mouse keys and players navigate employing the keyboard and mouse. Using the left-mouse button to fire and the middle one to line up the sights, utilizing the right-mouse key will display the selected squad’s movement cursor. Pressing the same key again will make Matt’s men rush the enemy and use melee attacks, but clicking the left-mouse button will make the team relocate or fire at your foes depending on what you focus their attention on. As stated in the game’s terse tutorial video, the main idea to dispose of enemies is to flank them, by converging one team’s fire on the enemy as the other sneaks up and guns them down. These two teams consist of an assault team and a fire team, the latter is better equipped for long-range encounters and suppression where as the other packs submachine guns and grenades and are ideally suited for well…assaulting. Sounds extremely close to Full Spectrum Warrior, doesn’t it? In fact, that assumption is not erroneous, but there is one fundamental difference between the two, players are actually directly involved in the action and enemies can be killed while behind cover. Occasionally the game will mix things up and replace a team with a tank, but do not get too excited; enemies will also often have heavy artillery as well, such as tanks and panzerfausts. A noted difference between the Xbox and PC versions are the tank models. The console versions feature a later make of the Panzer as opposed to the computer counterpart who sports an early-war era StugIV. Another issue I came across was my teammates irregularly ignoring commands and just idly, hanging around while taking fire, the same problem applied for tanks. To help aid players in setting up tactics to annihilate enemies is a feature titled “Situational Awareness View” that helps players by slowing the action to a halt and displays the location of known enemies, your teammates and your objective. Since infantry at the time memorized the maps of the area they were inserting into, Gearbox only found it fair to let players have a map of their own to study. The flaw with this system is the clumsy camera movements the view graces players with. A fair distance usually separates players from the Germans and with the restricted camera angle, finding a successful route to flank enemies often becomes irritating and is usually remedied by devising your own trajectory as you go. Even with a strategy, nothing is foolproof; dying is an issue players will come across often. Soldiers in the game are not supermen like in other titles, gamers can take a few hits before a premature departure from the world of the living and there is no health packs or ammo kits hanging around. Healing is done when each level is completed and ammunition can be picked up from the guns dropped from your fallen comrades or foes. Another gripe I had with the game was your squad mates being killed: taking too many hits will permanently incapacitate your friends…until the next level. Teammates magically revive during the course of cutscenes and the following levels unless their deaths are scripted into the story, which injures the immersion factor the game tries to achieve. Accuracy is another issue that plagues Brothers in Arms and tends to be quite tedious when trying to line up an enemy in your iron sights. The weapon sway is over-exaggerated, even when crouched and coupled with the fact that these are supposed to be trained and experienced marksmen, you’ve got a recipe for frustration. The game also sports the Karma physics engine, which adds a pleasant touch but seems extremely under-implemented. Only a few select objects are programmed into the engine and I would have never noticed the presence of physics unless I wasn’t paying great attention to a pole I had just set explosive charges close too. Brothers in Arms also boasts a fresh and interesting approach to multiplayer. The modes of play range from basic Search & Destroy, Last Man Standing and retrieving objects. The maps and objectives are uninspired, negligible and leave to be desired but the real fun resides in the way missions are accomplished. Much like its single player counter-part, the online aspect of Brothers in Arms gives players a team of their own to control in 1vs1 or 2vs2 match-ups. Each player is given a squad to command as teams try to accomplish their objectives before time runs out while their opposition must stop their foes from completing their missions at all cost. A neat feature that is exclusive to multiplayer is the reinforcements. If you happen to be killed, you control your squad mate and so on until they are eliminated. In the occurrence of such an event, players can use one of their limited reinforcement calls, which respawns the entire element back at the spawn point. When your team runs out of reinforcements, the game ends, oblivious to whether or not your objectives have been accomplished. For those not lucky enough to profit from an internet connection, LAN play is also included. Strategy plays an important aspect to the online domain, cooperating with your partner to tactfully ambush the others is key and will get you a lot further than simple and ineffective run-and-gunning. The MP Squad AI is also the same as the one present in SP so the unresponsive and glitchy AI was also occasionally encountered, but was easily overlookable.

Visually, Brothers in Arms is quite disappointing. Ported directly from the Xbox version, no touching up or improvement appears to have been done graphically to the PC counter-part. If it is possible, the console version looks better since its output is on a television screen. The textures look very bland and low resolution as well as the surroundings, which seem very low-polygon and uninspired, sadly due to the Xbox’s limited graphical capacity, something PC users should not have to suffer for. Brother in Arms bragged about the historical accuracy of their environments and the various locales of the French countryside are a treat to look at and seem faithfully recreated. With such a scrupulously created world, one would expect a more open-ended approach to flanking enemies, but sadly, the game’s maps are extremely linear, which is quite disappointing. The model detail is poor and has a large amount of room for improvement; characters occasionally seem blocky and tend to suffer from lifeless facial expressions. Dirt and dust kicks up into the air when bullets whiz by hitting the ground near Baker. Dirt particles stick to the screen, which makes for a nice visual effect and helps identify the location of the gunshots. By default, Brothers in Arms has suppression indicators, but turning them off and making sure the reticule is removed helps immensely to add to the overall immersion of the game. Gearbox’s latest features some gory cutscenes and actions sequences that help capture the gritty and daunting experience of what war truly was.

The audio department may be the most successful aspect of the game; the sound effects and narrating are top-notch. Each level begins with a grim narration from Baker who seems to be getting heavily depressed with each passing day. The game’s sound effects are the culmination of the title. Explosions, gunshots, everything sounds astonishing and crisp, especially in 5.1 Surround Sound. Aside from Baker’s character, the voice work isn’t anything special as squad mates essentially spend their time swearing or telling you to get down when engaging enemies. The music in game is non-existent but a classical / orchestral soundtrack plays during the course of loading screens and through the course of the game’s few menus. Thankfully, the same praise can also be given to the game’s lip-synching, it is almost always on cue and really helps captivate gamers. Listening to the conversations soldiers engage in before the missions and mayhem begins creates a nice effect and helps flesh out the characters.

All in all, when going into Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30, I may have been expecting too much, hype tends to do that to many people. Playing through the game killed any enthusiasm I may have had about a refresher to the stale WW2 genre. Gearbox’s latest port is much better than Halo, but is plagued with a considerable amount of irritating issues. While it offers a unique, new experience to the platform, it is nothing that is groundbreaking but can still be fun to play through once just for the historical novelty. While multiplayer also possesses some interesting concepts, the lack of variety in modes and maps soon becomes apparent and losses appeal quickly. The bottom line is, while Brothers in Arms is not fundamentally horrible, it is not anywhere close to what the hype made it seem like and will disappoint many.