"Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway" (PC) Review
Back in 2005, Brothers in Arms (BiA) became the third major World War 2 simulator and was on par with Medal of Honor (MoH) and Call of Duty (CoD). The first game released was Road to Hill 30 and the sequel, Earned in Blood, followed in the same year, which is quite rare. However, the sequel felt more like an expansion due to its lack of new features. It also used the same engine and had the same graphics as its predecessor.
Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway (BiA:HH) has taken three years to appear since its predecessor was released, and the time seems to have been reasonably well spent.
What Is Brothers in Arms and Why Is It so Popular?
World War 2 has been a popular time period to explore in gaming for many years and although some people complain that it’s getting a bit tired, most of us enjoy seeing new interpretations of an old favorite aspect of gaming. There have been tons of games that take place in the WWII era and the Brothers in Arms series has been praised as one of the best.
It introduced new combat situations and instead of the more run-and-gun approach of MoH or the script-based CoD, it relied on using cover, suppression, flanking, and other real tactics to keep players from getting killed. The team that developed Brothers in Arms made sure to do their homework and even enlisted seasoned veterans, Col. John Antal and Capt. Dale Dye (of MoH, Saving Private Ryan, and Band of Brothers) to help shape the game's authenticity.
The game's story takes place in a rarely explored area of World War 2, Operation Market Garden. The player resumes the role of Sgt. Matt Baker from Road to Hill 30 as he and his squaddies tackle the Netherlands instead of Normandy.
BiA takes a more tactical approach than most FPS titles and the best way to describe this is by comparing it to a very similar series, like Rainbow Six—especially the later titles such as Vegas and Vegas 2.
Why Rainbow Six? Well, not only do the games share the same goals, i.e. eliminate the enemy with as little fuss and loss of life as possible, but they also have other things in common too. They are both published by Ubisoft, both use the Unreal Engine, and they have a similar style of gameplay.
The player is usually in charge of two squads (but can occasionally manage one or three squads,) to take on the Germans. One squad, referred to as a "fire team" lays down suppressing fire which makes it hard for the enemy to move or return fire without being hit, while the assault team comes from a different angle, called "flanking," and takes them down. The option to storm an enemy position and get into melee combat is no longer available, and it’s just as well, because it wouldn’t work in this game because of the unimpressive AI.
In BiA:HH, there are different teams that the player can command. The assault team carries Thompson submachine guns and M1 carbines as well as grenades. The fire team has BARs (Browning Automatic Rifles) and M1 Garands, but there are special units too, and they can be a MG (machinegun) team or a bazooka team. Bazooka teams are the most useful because they can blast anything to smithereens and they are very handy for dealing with MG nests, especially in buildings.
A trait that both Vegas and Hell’s Highway share is the fact that the main character doesn’t have a health meter like he would have in most games. Instead, the screen goes red when he is in danger and he can eventually die if he's in the "danger zone" for too long. Once the player returns to cover, he gradually recovers.
This approach to health in games isn’t entirely new, as it’s been done by games such as Clive Barker’s Jericho, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and Call of Duty: World at War. This is probably done because it seemed unrealistic to have med kits lying all over the place, which is the case in games like Doom or Quake.
Hell's Highway Features
With regard to cover, don’t expect wooden objects to serve you particularly well or last long. Sandbags won’t protect you from much either. A well-placed shot from an enemy panzershreck or 88 will show you what I mean. This also applies to the enemy.
In and out of the action, you’ll have cutscenes that are quite drawn out and dramatic. I think these cutscenes should be short, sweet, and include more action. The cinematics feel similar to those in Mass Effect, although they don’t have the same level of interactivity. In addition to this, there is a zoomed in slow-motion effect on major kills like head shots.
A feature that another Ubisoft-published title, Assassin’s Creed, introduced, and that this game has in its own form, is the ability to recon the area for details. The feature in Assassin’s Creed was more useful because it revealed features on your map. BiA gives you a little recon report that delves into the real life history of the area that the game replicates, during WWII. This seems to take the place of the excellent bonus content that you could unlock throughout the game in the prequels. There are also Kilroys (like graffiti tags) that you have to locate as well.
In BiA:HH, situational awareness is now gone. It was a good tool that helped players see the battlefield, but now there is just a standard coloured-in map with objectives, enemies, and friendly units displayed on it.
Two gripes I have with the game are the loading screens that pop up out of nowhere and the checkpoint systems because they can really destroy a player's plans and strategies sometimes. At the end of a checkpoint, your buddies that were previously downed will miraculously recover, which is good, but you cannot leave squads behind that checkpoint. Your squads will follow you to the next area and if you’re not aware that they are there, and you fail to order them about, they will usually get slaughtered again.
You also can’t backtrack to an earlier part of the mission once you’ve passed a point of no return and any failure to check out recon points, Kilroys, and ammo drops will remain a failure, unless you go to the main menu and start over from the previous checkpoint. No thanks.
Hell's Highway Details
The graphics are much better in BiA:HH than they are in the first two games. There’s a lot of HDR and sun that will get in your eyes, and the gritty details in the character’s worn and weary faces, and the pits in their helmets sometimes makes the game feel a little overdone compared to the airbrushed, anti-aliased features in some games. Not that this is a bad thing, though. The game does a good job of recreating the warzones in detail and there's little to complain about.
The music in the game is performed by the FILMharmonic Orchestra and Choir at Rudolfinum in Prague. There is no music during gameplay, but during cutscenes and at the menu screens, music plays.
This game pretty much has everything you’d expect from a World War 2 shooter here; there are explosions, gunshots, and lots of other wartime noises. The weapons from the era all sound accurate.
One aspect of this game's sound effects that I didn't understand was that there are no footstep sounds when you're running on pavement or roads, but for some reason you can hear footsteps when you're on grass.
The controls in the game are okay. My only complaint is that sprinting is a bit awkward. You basically have to be running along a straight path, otherwise you’ll be bumping into things and getting caught in the crossfire. Maneuvering while sprinting seems to be a no-go for some reason; perhaps because the developers thought that it would add a realistic touch to the game. After all, a soldier who is carrying all that ammo and equipment probably isn’t very agile or fast.
The cover system is very similar to the one in Vegas, but sometimes it works well and sometimes it doesn't. You can tell your character to take cover and sometimes he doesn’t, or if he does, he’ll exit cover without being told to do so or he’ll refuse to get out of cover unless you ask nicely by tapping the correct button.
The controls feel a little finicky and awkward during these times and that combined with an unsatisfactory checkpoint loading system will lead to some frustration.
Observations and Other Comments:
It’s eerie how Hell’s Highway, Rainbow Six: Vegas, and Mass Effect are so similar. They all use similar gameplay mechanics and they share the same publisher, Ubisoft. I’ve also noticed that they almost act as chronological cousins. BiA takes place in the past, Vegas in the present, and Mass Effect in the future.
Bugs and Other Issues:
The AI can be as thick as two short planks at times, with teams refusing to move or fire on the enemy when commanded. Your squad can also get stuck on objects as well. When this happens, try to take the short route through fire to a destination instead of using cover. Another bug can occur when one of your teams gets close to an enemy; the two factions will stare at each other with guns aimed, but they will not shoot.
Also, some surfaces, despite being perfect for covering from behind, will not "take" when you press the button to "dig in."
- Uses Unreal Engine 3.
- Has great graphics.
- The game has a new cover system.
What I think of the Game:
I liked the previous Brothers in Arms games, and don’t get me wrong, I like this one too, but it just has several niggling issues that really detract from the experience.
Pros and Cons
- The game has great graphics.
- Humour and real life behaviour are woven into the game.
- The game has good voice-acting overall.
- The story is well-written.
- The game has a better combat system than its predecessors.
- The controls take a bit of getting used to.
- The AI and its path-finding can get frustrating at times.
- There's no situational awareness mode.
- Long, drawn-out cutscenes detract from the action.
- There's no bonus content.
It’s not the best game in the world, but it could be a lot worse.
Playing Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway feels similar to playing:
Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30
Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas
What do you think of Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway?
© 2008 ANDR01D