Brothers in Arms is a series that has garnered much praise for the developer, Gearbox, most notably in terms of, storytelling and gritty, realistic gameplay set in World War Two. Iím not exactly a fan of the World War Two genre myself yet I quite liked the Brothers in Arms games. It has been a long time in coming but I finally got to sink my teeth into the latest Xbox 360 version, Brothers in Arms: Hellís Highway and see whatís new in this version.
Right from the get-go, Brothers in Arms: Hellís Highway delivers punchy cinematic-style visuals, gritty and humorous dialogue and some excellent character interaction that sets the tone for the new story, which is in-fact a continuation of the previous series of games. Thereís even a Lost like Ďpreviouslyí kind of prologue that brings new players right up to speed. The only problem is that it will reference several events from Sgt Matt Bakerís previous exploits that only fans of the series will get, itís not a criticism however, just an observation.
This game has some fine storytelling, this is top notch character drama with a solid engine behind it to boot.
The game features easy to learn controls and several control sets for people who are used to games like Rainbow Six Vegas 2 (Tactial Six scheme) or Call of Duty 4 and so on. I love Vegas 2 so I chose the Tactical Six setting after playing with the default controls for a while. It could be fair to say that BiA HH plays a lot like an open version of Vegas 2 in WW2 with a similar use of cover, AI team-mates and the ability to give various orders. Whilst this is true, thereís also a greater level of tactical control in BiA HH that allows you to experiment with different methods of dealing with the Axis forces.
I would say that it plays out like a typical first person shooter, you see the world (most of the time) through the eyes of Sgt. Matthew Baker, who is a down to earth kind of guy, cares about the men under his command and as a game character actually feels pretty real. You can take cover (something that WW2 games have needed for a while) and itís possible to issue orders in the game, engage enemies with your team without firing a single shot in some missions.
At times the game puts you alone, in a single location with just your wits and a few guns to deal with the problem. Be it killing a house full of soldiers or silencing a few heavy machine guns that are ripping your squad apart.
You can issue orders simply enough and they are context sensitive depending on the team youíve selected and the distance between you and the enemy. Or if the object youíre asking them to fire on is cover or destructible. You can move your men around the battlefield using a quick-orders system that is slick, it works perfectly and itís simple to use. Theyíll move behind cover and engage enemies if theyíre fired upon, trying their level best to keep alive.
When you go into cover, the game switches to a 3rd person view like in Vegas 2 and provides a better tactical overview of the situation. You can combine this with the informative map screen to give you a grasp of the current battlefield and plan accordingly. Flanking in this game is extremely useful, especially against the PAK-88 guns that are armoured on the front but weaker on the sides. It can also help you get the drop on enemies using bigger weapons, panzerschrecks and emplaced machine-guns.
The game isnít for the faint hearted and sets out to show that war is a dirty, grimy and deadly business. The gore level in Hellís Highway is simulated with a variety of systems in the physics engine. You can shoot someoneís face off, you can blow the back of their head away, limbs fly from a well placed grenade and the attention to detail can be gut-churning depending on the type of gamer you are. Further to accentuate the detail and perhaps provide a spin of Ďcoolí on things is the action camera, this zooms in to show a particularly powerful grenade blast or a tricky shot in action, time slows down and you can watch the whole thing in slow motion.
The graphics in Hellís Highway are solid; they have the right atmosphere and feel to recreate World War Two in terms of close quarters battles and long range engagements. The level design combines nicely with this to give you a sense of freedom but also to lead you down a set path through a linear story. Itís a nice breath of fresh air after playing a lot of sandbox games recently, not as though thereís anything wrong with sandbox titles at all. The lighting during night missions and the eye-candy that results from various explosions is good, dynamic light sources such as fire have been rendered with a decent attention to detail.