Name: Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway is the third entry in the series, continuing the tale of Matt Baker as he marches on towards Operation Market Garden or, as soldiers at the time called it, Hell’s Highway. The series has made it’s mark as the most realistic of the many World War II shooters, asking players to move through the battlefield as soldiers did at the time – carefully, tactically, and bravely. It’s basically one shot, one kill, and compared to the dozens of shooters that turned the genre stale over the past two generations, Brothers in Arms consistently innovated, and Hell’s Highway is no different.
Brothers in Arms continues the tradition of bringing realistic warfare combat to gaming, honoring the war without sugar coating the truth. The only glorification is in the form of cinematic moments, which slow down the combat to show a clean headshot or grenade as it rips the limbs from an unfortunate enemy. These serve as occasional rewards, because there’s nothing as satisfying as a clean headshot on a sniper, giving Brothers in Arms the most rewarding headshots since Gears of War. A well-placed bullet can take off chunks of the enemy’s head, and explosions or shots from high-powered weapons might rip off limbs or even tear the enemy in two. It’s horrible, gruesome, and a harsh reminder of the cruelty of war. The gameplay also reflects the realistic nature of the title, with squad commands and use of cover replacing the typical run-and-gun gameplay of Call of Duty. Teammates have acceptable AI, and even though they will oftentimes run directly into enemy fire, it is usually due to a mistake by you, not them. Trying to flank the enemy’s position with several squads of soldiers while trying to pick some off yourself leads to hectic battles, but brings a breath of fresh air to the shooter genre in general.
The story starts off like it’s predecessors by showing a pivotal moment in the game to begin the story, as Baker works his way through a burning hospital to find Frankie, who has been mortally wounded. After seeing him off, a bomb drops through the ceiling, just feet from Baker’s head, and hangs, unmoving, and unexploded. As Baker scrambles to get up, several German soldiers approach, and before he can squeeze off a shot, one of them lifts his gun and fires. The screen fades to black, and players begin again, three days earlier. The beginning of the story is epic, and this trend continues throughout. Just like in any good war story, the actual interest is invested in the characters, not the plot, and there aren’t any real twists or turns, keeping it fairly historically accurate. The different soldiers in Baker’s Dozen are well animated and acted, and developed throughout the game in well-directed cut scenes, which make their deaths all the more heart wrenching if they don’t make it out of battle alive.
Graphically, Hell’s Highway is a mixed bag. The characters are usually modeled well, though the hands of the main character look strangely low resolution. Like most games on the Unreal Engine there are frequent texture pops, but it is usually restricted to cut scenes. I feel that in the several years since the Unreal Engine 3 was created, Epic should have been able to address this, as it is still as distracting as it was in Gears of War, and takes away from the next-generation feel of the game. Fire and other particle effects are nice looking, and while Brothers in Arms wont win any awards for its graphics it is definitely nice to look at. Sound doesn’t have any of these issues, and is consistently amazing, immersive, and has a polish that fans of the series have come to expect.
There are several different difficulties to try the game on; with the hardest being realistic setting that should test the minds and reflexes of even the most hardcore gamers, removing the HUD and most other visual indicators, so there is definitely a nice amount of replayability. There is also a 10 v10 multiplayer mode that would be fun if it were possible to find 19 other people to play with, but the game’s complexity will keep many people far, far away. Most of the people I played the modes with said “at least the single player is good” before quitting, and none of the games lasted more than a few minutes before everyone left. The game itself might also turn people off with it’s realistic combat, so I definitely recommend everyone rent it before a purchase, but that doesn’t detract from the game’s achievements. When I say “Rent it” that isn’t just a recommendation, it’s an order, soldier. Give it a try; your country depends on it.