With what seems to be every major publisher jumping on the World War II bandwagon it was about time Ubisoft jumped on, and jumped on they have. However to Ubisoft's credit it appears they waited until a unique and brand new concept was presented to them before taking the plunge and this appears to have paid off. Gearbox, fresh from creating Half-Life expansions, for their first game decided to make the most realistic WW 2 game ever. Not realistic in terms of weaponry or difficulty, but the fact that is a true story, retold by the soldiers who were there. Brothers in Arms is a game that will go down as one of the most defining World War II titles ever.
The biggest thing about this game and no doubt what makes it such a quality title is the storyline. There is a whole lot of difference when you know every single thing that you do in this game, was done by the soldiers in the real war, it brings out some of the best story telling the WW 2 style has seen thus far and some of the most heart wrenching moments. From the intro, Gearbox was definitely wanting an emotional gaming experience. While the game does not feature D-Day it is centrally revolved around it, and considering it was one of the turning points of the war, it is not surprising. The interesting part about this game is that you get the back story about what the other guys did while Omaha was raided.
Brothers in Arms is a first person shooter with a few unique differences. You play as Seargent Matt Baker and lead your team through a number of missions hoping to get them home to their wives, children and relatives. Your team is your lifeblood, without them you'd have a very tough time of it. In a way the game plays a bit like Full Spectrum Warrior except for the fact you carry the tasks out yourselves rather than watch the soldiers go about their business. This gives you more direct control over the outcome of a battle and you can change orders on the fly giving more control. While most of the game you are only up against small pockets of resistance, the goals you have to complete are different in each mission such as clearing a town, destroying anti aircraft guns and generally other things you've probably seen in other war games.
Where this game differs to other games is the experience and feeling of the game. Rather than coming across as one man winning a war, you really feel like you're doing small tasks that contribute to an overall goal of reclaiming Europe. This is what makes it such an enthralling game. The men show raw emotion in their face and both the Allies and Axis act in a way you would expect if you were being shot at continuously. Pure fear is displayed and your men are loyal to you. If you send them on assault to a missile bunker they will do it, but not survive. The game changes even more once you gain control of a tank in your squadron further into the game because while you may be able to take infantry out more readily, you have to guard your men against tanks and of course anti-tank weapons.
To aid with this the game has what it calls the "situational mode". Pressing back on the controller gives you an overhead view which allows you to determine what to do next. You can only see the enemies if you have discovered them however and there are visual indications all throughout the game to help with this. Red circles appear above enemies so you can see them for quite a far distance, but when they are suppressed by your men, the circles turn gray. This system works flawlessly. The AI of the enemy and troops is impressive as well with units taking cover while suppressed rather then being shot and your guys taking evasive measures even when charging towards the troops. They are very aware of distance as well, get to close and you'll have a bayonet staring you down.
One thing you will find as a major difference between this and other war game titles is the lack of intensity in an ongoing manner. When you come across troops it becomes very intense but because they are only small pockets in country towns, you really don't have that shoot now, ask questions later mentality of titles such as Medal of Honor. This leads to what we feel is a much more realistic simulation of the war. You strategically take out enemies rather than take them out willy nilly. For example you may be able to see a small unit of troops but there is a tank buster in the way so you have to take the tank buster out first. The environments where you fight lend themselves to combat quite well with a number of opportunities for cover and ability to pin enemies down.
Visually the game is a mixed bag. We encountered frame rates which weren't so stable at times but the character models really are superb. They show their emotion throughout the war and have synchronised lip movement with their voices. Thanks to the work of Gearbox they also have a number of differences between each other. The enemy troops are also highly detailed as are the vehicles you will come across in the game and the lack of pop up is something which can make the frame rate problems not so much an issue. The sound effects however really are excellent with superb voice acting, realistic gun fire and music that really puts the game in the somber category rather than the war hero category.
Brothers in Arms: Road To Hill 30 tried something new with the WW2 genre and pulled it off superbly. If you were a fan of last years sublime Full Spectrum Warrior then this is a game that continues that style of play and adds even more playability. World War II games may be getting a bit old but this one is fresh, new and innovative and one of the better Xbox games you will play this year.