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Brothers In Arms: Hell’s Highway Review (XB360)

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Brothers In Arms: Hell’s Highway Review (360)

With WWII being the most exhausted and frequented setting for the FPS genre, it’s easy to understand why reviewers generally approach WWII FPS titles with a sense of apprehension, and more often than not, exasperation. The Brothers In Arms series of games has always prided itself on placing the player in the middle of a deep, engaging narrative whilst encouraging the player to utilise cover, suppression and flanking tactics effectively to achieve their goals.

Gearbox, the developers of the series has left these two concepts pretty much unchanged in the series third instalment, Hell’s Highway, but while they do mostly achieve decent results the third time round, lingering problems remain with both the story and gameplay style, as well as a host of more minor niggles.

Those who are only familiar with Activision’s Call Of Duty series or EA’s Medal Of Honor series, may find themselves disappointed with the relatively slow paced gameplay system that BIA: HH employs. As opposed to the one-man army scenario of the aforementioned franchises, here it’s all about co-ordinating your team to suppress the enemy whilst using cover effectively to save your hide. By and large, Gearbox manage to pull it off in that you do feel like you’re actually using real tactics to get the upper hand on your foe so that you can move in for the kill. Each enemy has a circle above their head, which when grey means they are fully suppressed and when red means they are not suppressed at all and are in all likelihood, about to/or are already firing upon you and your team.

The main issue with this however, is you find yourself re-using the same tactic, again and again, with you ordering suppressing fire on your enemy whilst you inch closer to make the kill or fire from cover. The issue is further compounded by the supposed illusion of different teams with different functions (assault team, base of fire team, bazooka team and MG team) who all serve the same purpose – they just fire on a location so that you can get close enough to kill the enemy – the exception to this rule being the bazooka team whose primary concern is destroying cover and building embedded MG units. What stops this from being completely stale and simultaneously challenges the player, is how you prioritise what targets need to be suppressed. Do you suppress the enemy inching toward you across the field so that you can halt their progress whilst you flank them? Or, do you suppress the MG up in the church the tower that in turn is pinning your men down?

This same mechanic that the whole game hinges upon would be rendered completely pointless if the squad AI wasn’t up to scratch, thankfully this is not the case as for the most part your AI buddies pull off their respective roles with aplomb. When you’re not directing your fellow soldiers to a particular location or telling them to lay down fire, if under enemy fire, they will find the nearest chunk of cover and hide behind it, taking pot shots at the enemy as often as they can. The AI is also surprisingly adept at killing the enemy too, although not too much so that there is nothing for you to do, proving that they’re not just indestructible window dressing as your comrades so often are in the Call Of Duty and Medal Of Honor titles.

There are a couple of niggles with your squad in regards to placing them sometimes, for example, moving your squad highlighter behind some cover results in them 8 times out of 10, getting behind that cover and ready for your next order, sometimes however, they will crouch in front of the cover getting torn to pieces by enemy fire in the process. Not exactly ideal I’m sure you will agree. In addition to this, your AI fellows will also find themselves occasionally stuck in scenery and subsequently non-responsive to your frenzied commands to get them out of harm’s way.

Gameplay aside, the narrative of BIA: HH sets a sombre story of weary soldiers out for revenge and redemption against the backdrop of the most intense military operations Europe ever saw during WWII. Players who have dabbled in the previous BIA titles will recognise characters and the odd plot line being tied up here, but to many newcomers to the series, they won’t really know who anybody really is to begin with. BIA: HH tries so very hard to be the videogame version of HBO’s celebrated TV series Band Of Brothers that it’s here that the narrative of BIA looks a little shaky, as there is simply not enough exposition of the characters to make the player truly immersed in their storylines, or care about them in combat outside of their utility.

While somewhat compromised by the lack of plot exposition, BIA: HH still succeeds in creating a decent enough atmosphere in which the player remains largely engaged in Gearbox’s re-creation of the WWII European theatre of war. Utilising Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 proves to be both a boon and drawback for the title as while there are many nice environmental effects such as rain, reflections and models that look handsomely detailed with scarred faces, detailed uniforms and weapons, there is a LOT of texture pop-in on both models and the environment alike after a new section has loaded.

Compounding the times when the game doesn’t look its best is when the title deals with external environments to the player. An example of this would be a fire fight that takes place in a large munitions factory which although sporting a detailed interior, looking outside the windows reveals a geometrically basic cityscape, with low polygon buildings and streets; somewhat hampering the otherwise effective visual illusion. One visual flair however that Gearbox utilises to great effect is the ‘motion cam’ kills; whereby a particularly accurate head-shot will result in the camera zooming into that shot, slowing down and showing the poor solider in question having half of his head blown off, whilst his helmet flies off after the thundering ‘boom’ of the shot. Don’t get me wrong though, whilst there are holes in the visual facade of BIA: HH, they are not enough to de-rail the overall cinematic experience.

Whilst there is a multiplayer mode in BIA:HH, it’s a mediocre affair, with the inherent slow pace of the game not lending itself well to the game type. Largely, the longevity of the title will be found in the various difficulty settings not to mention the ‘Killjoy’ spray paint locations (places that soldiers mark to show they were there) and Recon points which allow you to see new areas through the overview map.

BIA: HH succeeds in what it sets out to do; namely it’s a decent cinematic squad based shooter that is markedly different to other contemporary WWII offerings. The occasionally glitchy AI pathfinding, thin story and sometimes average visuals don’t entirely compromise the experience and for those of you who want to try a different WWII experience, I would give BIA: HH a cautious recommendation.

Overall Score: 7.4

Review by: John-Paul Jones

Written by bitsnark

December 1, 2008 at 12:04 pm

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